You’ll have seen these at over 300 cafes around Sydney and even churned into a Gelato Messina special. They marry perfectly with a strong latte and leave your fingers sticky with cinnamon syrup. Inside, twisted layers of buttery, pudgy dough are laced with spices, and most often they are huge, fist sized and certainly big enough to share. They are the signature cinnamon scroll from Oregano Bakery in South Hurstville, and they have a reputation such that people travel from all over Sydney to pick them up by the dozen.
If you’d asked husband-and-wife team Sonia and Tony Jabbour what was going to drive their business four years ago when they opened, they would not have said ‘scrolls’, and according to Sonia they wouldn’t have even said sweets.
“When my husband said, ‘I’m going to make some sweets to generate a bit of money to pay the bills,’ I just couldn’t believe it,” says Sonia. “He’d never made a sweet in his life. I didn’t think he was serious!”
When the bakery first began it was a dedicated Lebanese pizza stop. The Jabbours had come through some pretty tough times and they were looking for a fresh start. Sonia was front-of-house making coffee and chatting to the customers while Tony (a trained Italian pizza chef), had re-skilled and was making Lebanese pizza.
“We still have the best pizza in Sydney,” says Sonia with contagious enthusiasm. “Actually in Australia! I’m not just saying this, you ask anyone, I have people coming from Bankstown, Burwood, Liverpool, from the North Shore, just to taste our pizza. We had conquered the pizza, but we just weren’t busy enough back in 2010.” But despite tweaking the pizza dough recipe until it was just right and having a huge belief in what they were doing, business was slow and it was hard to make ends meet. So eventually Tony hit on the idea of making some sweets, just to help pay the rent.
“We actually had no more money to buy the ingredients with and I said to him, ‘what are you going to do? We’re a Lebanese bakery, what are you going to make?’ He looked at me and said, ‘my favourite is a cinnamon scroll’.”
Initially Sonia was against the idea, but relented on the condition that they would use ingredients that they already had. This meant that Tony adjusted his dough recipe and turned out his first batch of scrolls, baked in the roll-through pizza oven.
“I looked at it and thought, ‘it’s nice’, but when I tasted it … it was just amazing.”
Sonia started by giving them away to customers as a little freebie for good karma.
“Never ever did I think people would come back for them. But people just started coming in – more and more of them. It was just word of mouth and people smelling them in the street.”
Fast-forward to 2014 and people are travelling to the bright, white and unassuming little cafe specifically for their scroll fix. It’s not very big and the open kitchen is all about the pizza still, but it’s up above the cafe that all the scroll magic happens. Up some rickety stairs you’ll find a dedicated bakery space that was kitted out a year ago for the scroll production. The oversized mixer and double bank of ovens (the same model of pizza oven as downstairs) means that scroll production can begin at 4pm and continue through to the early hours, getting batches ready for delivery all across Sydney.
“In November 2010 we were doing 20 scrolls a week. In December 2013 we did 35,000,” says Sonia.
Customer comments and Sonia’s enthusiasm have all contributed to the development of around 10 scroll flavours – from tahini to salted caramel, or cookies and cream, with one customer request for Nutella on top of a coffee scroll leading to the new mocha flavour. But Sonia’s favourite story by far relates to the huge size of the original cinnamon scroll. These days the signature scrolls come in two sizes (small and large), but originally they were just the one size.
“My husband puts three fingers down to measure and cut the dough and nobody else can ever get it quite right. Now, there is a custom measure, but it’s just not quite the same. When Tony makes them and uses his three fingers, you get the original big fat scroll.”
Next time you’re in your favourite cafe and you notice a large, syrupy, sugar-dusted scroll, ask where it’s from. You might find that it’s one of Sonia and Tony Jabbour’s.
Oregano Bakery 56 Connells Point Road, South Hurstville (02) 9546 3666
Hours Sun 7am–12 noon Tues to Sat 7am–4pm