Nikos Cakes in Oakleigh is the labour of love of its owner and founder, Nick Poupouzas. Nick began his life in hospitality working as a waiter and kitchen hand at a young age. Keen to impress and seize every opportunity that came his way, at the young age of 18 he was offered a partnership in one of the most iconic and busy cafes in what was then the “Little Athens” area of Lonsdale Street in Melbourne’s CBD. It was there that he learnt the trade, skills and techniques that would become his vocation. Chief among those skills was the art of pastry cheffing.
The year was 1986 when Nick, rather than settling, began to look elsewhere for an outlet for his growing confidence and skills. He surprised everybody with the decision to head out of the CBD to the quiet suburb of Oakleigh. Many doubted this decision as at this stage Oakleigh was very much an industrial zone. Even the leasing agent advised him that he would surely lose his money, but the vision was clear to Nick, and Oakleigh, with its emerging Greek population would be the perfect starting point.
Nick believed that once he established an outlet for his products the clientele would come, and to this day Nikos Cakes continues to draw customers in droves.
The business started as a single shopfront bakery at the top end of Portman Street in Oakleigh. It comprised of a modest sized kitchen in the rear of the shop and a small display and seating area in the front. After only two years’ word had spread about the quality of the produce and the need for more room became evident. An opportunity to take over the adjoining premises presented itself and was swiftly taken. Now spanning two premises the business was more able to cater for its growing clientele and product range and the move proved to be a success.
Going from strength to strength it was clear that Nicks future, and that of the business, was to remain in Oakleigh. The area was slowly evolving from industry based to retail, knowing the importance of position, the decision was made to move to a more prominent location on Portman Street, closer to Eaton mall. The new premises was a breath of fresh air and with people starting to develop a taste for coffee, pride of place in the middle of the new shop was a shiny new espresso machine.
The shop now seated close to 50 patrons and was full with people enjoying coffee and cake from the morning til the evening. By this stage, the shop had grown not only in size but also reputation and whilst still catering for the locals, people started travelling from further parts of Melbourne to come to Oakleigh.
Ten years flew by quickly and it once again became apparent that more space would be needed. It was perfect timing for Nick. The owner of the neighbouring dress shop was looking at an early retirement and without hesitation, the offer to occupy the premises was taken. The position was incredible and gave the business the whole corner of Eaton Mall and Portman Street. This resulted in another full refurbishment of the premises from the ground up and with the ability to now utilise Eaton Mall, a large outdoor dining area was developed with seating capacity skyrocketing from 50 to 180. Peoples dining preferences had also changed and for this reason a comprehensive variety of breakfast and lunch options were now available. With all the baking still done on premises daily at the break of dawn, and the close of day would be at 8 in the evening.
At this point in time, after 3 renovations and expansions, the sheer size of the business was astonishing. The volume of coffee, cakes and food that was being produced had nearly tripled and the atmosphere was bustling but still warm and inviting. It couldn’t be imagined that one day, this too would be outgrown.
Surely enough however, in April 2010 Nikos Cakes would open its doors once again newly renovated and expanded. Now comprising four separate properties, the most recent transformation is larger, modern and more comfortable and is capable of seating over 300 patrons. This is the businesses fourth and most impressive renovation. With the new development also came a change to operating hours and the business is now open evenings due to customer demand. Nick has never been someone to rest on his laurels and is constantly reinventing the business to keep up with customer demand and expectations. It is his belief that to be successful there must be constant improvement and development within the business.
Cafe Beautiful cakes are the cornerstone of the Nikos business model, but now there is also a large range of food and snacks, breakfasts, a refined menu, liquor license and of course great coffee.
The relatively small original cake shop has now evolved to a cafe that is the centrepiece of Oakleigh’s now vibrant marketplace. It is a popular topic of discussion amongst lifelong customers and locals, who believe that it was Nick and his shop that put Oakleigh on the map. Since then Oakleigh has flourished, with its main attractions being fresh food and an amazing cafe culture that is traditionally Greek in style and theme, but also embraces a totally modern approach.
Freshness and quality is a philosophy within our walls and are key factors in the continual growth of our business. You could say that this is the secret ingredient to Nick’s success. Everything on offer is produced fresh daily using only the best ingredients available. He has devoted a great deal of time and effort over the years in order to source the best quality products and ingredients to produce his famous cakes. Once a supplier is found and trusted they are rarely changed, resulted in complete consistency in the finished product.
Over the span of our 30 years in operation, Nikos Cakes has gained a respected reputation and is often the meeting place of choice for many politicians, touring Greek singers and celebrities. One of the most memorable moments in the shops history was when Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis visited Melbourne in 2008 and insisted on visiting Nikos after recommendations about the cakes. It was amazing to see the streets lined with thousands of people trying to get a glimpse of him and even more proud for us that he would choose to visit.
Nikos Cakes is a family affair and the future of the business looks just as promising and vibrant as its past, with Nicks children now learning and managing the business. The passion for pastry cheffing is in the blood, youngest son Michael is now a qualified pastry chef, continuing the legacy by creating the cakes that made this business an institution. The front of house is attended by Michaels older sibling, Yianni and Denise who make sure that the customers leave with a smile and their sweet tooth satisfied. Tass produces some of the most unique and challenging designs for weddings, christenings, birthdays and engagements and has become the preferred supplier for many function and reception centres across Victoria.
It goes without saying that it would not be possible without the extended family, and by this we are referring to the staff. Our team has grown to comprise over 60 staff members, many of which have been with us for over 10 years. It has been the passion and support of staff members past and present, which has helped make Nikos what it is today.