The family business is what makes a country town.
After 55 years of 2am starts, it’s time for Denis McKeough and the team at McKeough’s Bakery, in Wingham, to hang up their aprons for the final time and enjoy retirement. One of the longest family operated businesses in the Manning, has been handed over to new owners. Whilst retirement has been long-anticipated, finishing up at the business is not without a wave of nostalgia for the McKeough Family and it feels like the end of an era in Wingham.
Denis’s parents, Mickey and Norm McKeough, purchased the bakery in 1951 and Denis and his brothers, Mike and Rob, grew up at the bakery, also living in the upstairs residence at various times over their younger years.
Denis started working at the bakery after leaving school as a temporary job but excelled in the role and was honoured when his parents offered for him to stay on in a paid role. “I can remember feeling chuffed that Mum and Dad now wanted to pay me for help that I’d always done for free as a teenager”. 55 years later he continues to make the original family pie recipe six days a week. Over the years speciality variations have been added and the pastry range expanded but the meat pie recipe remains unchanged.
McKeough’s Bakery has very much been a family business, which perhaps accounts for its longevity. Mickey and Norm both worked in the bakery until they died. Denis’s grandfather, Glenn McKeough, worked in the bakery part-time in his retirement, and the extended McKeough family have all pitched in to help over the years. Mike, Denis’s brother, can recall baking all night with the family most weekends in his youth when the football or Aquatic carnival was on. “Those nights were always fun as the bakery is just down the road from the top pub and RSL club in Wingham. The shop front door was always open if we were baking, so various people, would all start wandering in after the pubs and clubs closed in the very early hours. Nearly everyone always came out the back to talk as we baked and have a pie fresh out of the oven. It almost felt like a party of its own!”
Indeed, the hours the bakery has kept has meant that it has attracted a few characters who would come in before sunrise for a feed and some company. Mickey and Norm always made sure everyone was welcome at the bakery and it was not uncommon to find family or old friends in the sitting area in the bakehouse chatting to Denis and the team as they work their pastry magic.
McKeough’s baked 20 dozen pies on an average day, which swelled to 200 dozen pies for large events over the years. McKeough’s are proud to have been the food supplier at many of the Manning’s carnivals, shows, fairs and festivals; in addition to the local schools, clubs and businesses, for years. And it wasn’t just the pies that made McKeough’s famous. Their lamingtons, scones, hot cross buns and specialty cakes have been long-time family favourites. “The hot cross buns taste like the proper ones from a time gone by” is the consistent feedback.
Jenny McKeough reflects, “We often had people who left the Manning a long time ago come into the shop on a return trip to Wingham and marvel that we are still here, saying that we remind them of their childhood”. Aside from the pies, the Mushroom tarts and Matchstick pastries are the sentimental favourites and children of every generation have always reached for the Marshmallow cones.
When asked about the secret to their long term success, Denis says, that it has been the Bakery’s staff. “We have been fortunate to have loyal and supportive staff over the years, many of which are now like family. Jenny Foster, our longest serving employee, has been with us for 48 years – such duration of service is almost unheard of now”. We have also had fantastic support from the local community for decades, and for that we are truly thankful.
We hope that the Bakery will continue to serve the community with its new owners and that the legacy of the McKeough Family will live on.