Greek donuts, or loukoumades, are bite-sized, fluffy, sweet, honey balls of dough, deep-fried to golden, crispy perfection on the outside; and fluffy and airy on the inside.
For Dean Giannakis, the quest to create the perfect loukoumas began over seven years ago whilst holidaying on the Greek island of Kefalonia, from where his family originates, during the local annual feasts of Saint Gerasimos, the patron saint of the island.
It was then that Dean developed a taste for the island’s incredible culinary delights, particularly its traditional sweet balls of goodness (aka loukoumades).
Dean was inspired to share this deliciousness with his hometown of Melbourne. So upon his return, Dean sat in the kitchen for countless hours with his dad, perfecting his loukoumades recipe over many months until, at last, he was satisfied that it was just right.
“In my opinion, no one else’s loukoumades come close,” Dean says frankly about his golden, bite-sized pieces of heaven.
At that moment ‘St.Gerry’s’ was born, thus named as a tribute to Kefalonia’s Saint Gerasimos and also to the island’s Sacred Monastery of Agios Gerasimos where Dean’s yiayia served as a nun in the years after his pappou passed away.
Dean had recognised a niche in the market.
“No-one else was doing it,” he says of his decision to establish what started out as the first dessert food truck in Victoria – the only dessert truck to be named in Melbourne’s Top 10 Food Trucks Awards and winner of the Gold Ribbon Award for Best Caterer at the Melbourne Show in 2016.
With 15 years of experience working in the corporate world behind him, St. Gerry’s began as a side hustle for the self-confessed “huge foodie”, who had graduated with a double degree in Business Marketing and International Trade and Senior Finance and Organisational Credit Management.
But before long, the demand for St.Gerry’s Greek donuts was such that it grew into a full-scale business, so Dean left his corporate role to take the reins of the brand full-time.
Dean initially realised the huge potential of his St.Gerry’s Greek donut brand the first year that he took the food truck to the Lonsdale Greek Festival (formerly the Antipodes Festival), which is the largest festival of Greek culture outside of Greece organised by the Greek diaspora of Melbourne to celebrate the cuisine and rich culture of Greece.
Dean could not believe how many people were waiting to taste his St.Gerry’s Greek donuts, forming a queue that was well over 100 metres in length.
“That was definitely a WOW! moment,” recalls Dean. “I remember thinking to myself, “This is really happening!”
Renowned today as the pioneering brand of the Greek donut craze in Australia, you can now expect to see St.Gerry’s appearing at all of Victoria’s largest events, markets, street festivals, shopping centres and other surprise pop-up locations, complete with a roaming retro vintage caravan, food carts and stalls.
The ever-expanding business also currently operates out of two dessert shops located in the Victorian suburbs of Balaclava and Springvale and has also established a catering as well as a wholesale arm.
Boasting over twenty phenomenal flavours, St.Gerry’s bestsellers include Snickers – for which they make their own salted caramel; the traditional honey, cinnamon and walnut; their own take on the Golden Gaytime; and – just when you thought it couldn’t get any better – Nutella with Cotton Candy.
“St.Gerry’s also offers a good vegan option which is popular,” says Dean, “Lotus Biscoff topped with crushed Oreo.”
When asked what his secrets are to making, what he is confident are, the best loukoumades ever, Dean confides that St.Gerry’s doesn’t use machinery to make the dough. Instead, staff are trained to use their hands so that they don’t overwork the dough and can feel when it’s exactly ready.
The result is a light, light dough that once fried remains light and fluffy in the middle with a crispy shell.
Dean also reveals that St.Gerry’s proudly uses Greek chocolate only, specifically ION’s NuCrema.
“It’s a nice product,” explains Dean. “Authentic.
“Customers know me for it and can definitely taste the difference,” Dean says of his very loyal customers who he, in return, remains very committed to also.
In an emotional recollection, Dean tells of a terminally ill customer who loved his St.Gerry’s Greek donuts.
After being admitted to hospital with stage 4 cancer, the customer decided to get married to his girlfriend from his hospital bed so that he could experience marriage before he passed away. They wanted catering from St.Gerry’s for their very special day.
Dean remembers being stuck at an event at the time that he heard the news but managed to leave and drive back to the shop.
“I was able to get the couple’s order of donuts ready and ubered to them in time to cater for the wedding, putting a massive smile on the man’s face,” says Dean, who didn’t charge the couple for the order or the delivery.
Two days later, the man sadly died and his new wife called Dean to say thank you, telling him that his gesture was the nicest thing that anyone had done for their families throughout this very difficult time.
Dean’s business acumen is such that he has received accolades for his entrepreneurship, even appearing on Season 1 of Australian broadcaster SBSs Small Business Secrets – a series created to shine a light on the small business owners and innovators playing a vital role in Australia’s economic growth.
He is contacted by people over Australia as well as from Germany, London and United Arab Emirates for advice on how to successfully start-up their own business.
For Dean, who is now looking to franchise the brand, the road to success has naturally not been without its ups and downs.
“The highs and lows mean that you learn about yourself and the business,” he says.
“Things happen that are outside of your control, but it’s how you deal with them that determines whether or not you succeed,” says Dean whose business strategies to survive COVID-19 included a focus on takeaway and delivery channels such as UberEats etc. as well as the diversification of the business into the wholesale arm – a move that he admits he possibly would not have even thought of had he not been faced with such adversity at the time.
“I have learned to be patient, to think rationally rather than emotionally, and to put trust in staff and processes,” says Dean of his journey.
“Doing so has helped to make the St.Gerry’s brand ‘bulletproof’.”
And for this, we are grateful as it means that we will be able to enjoy the fruits of his labour – St.Gerry’s delectable Greek donuts – for many years to come.
The Greek Donut Masters
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