It’s not just a name flip, Capital Pancakes‘ rebranding from the Pancake Parlour franchise is about bringing what should be an inexpensive treat in a relaxed atmosphere back to the people.
Proprietor Phillip Barton, who ran the very first Pancake Parlour in Melbourne back in 1967 and made it the iconic brand that it is today, says the break came when the latest price list from Melbourne listed the classic short stack (two pancakes with maple syrup and whipped butter) for $12.90.
“These are tough times, really tough times. I’ve never known tougher times than this. Money isn’t out there to burn anymore, and it crossed a red line for me. I decided then and there to rebrand and go out on my own,” he said.
With the saving on licence fees, Phillip can now offer his signature dish for $9.90.
“It’s like taking the pancake back to the people where it came from,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of the corporate scene anymore, there’s too much expense involved with it, and the company is being run by people who weren’t even born when I set up that first restaurant. I’m receiving advice on how to do things, and we did that 45 years ago and it doesn’t work.”
There’s no bitterness, “but I’d rather be selling pancakes for under $10”.
Pancakes have been a constant in Phillip’s life for more than 50 years, first learning to cook them at the Pancake Kitchen in Adelaide from a guy from Kansas in the mid-west of the US.
Within six months he was cooking faster and better than anyone, and when they opened the Pancake Parlour restaurant in Melbourne he ran it as a partner for nine years.
Phillip went off to follow a range of other pursuits but somehow always came back to the hot plate.
He opened the original Canberra franchise in Alinga Street in 1984 but sold out a year later, only to return in 1997 when the business was failing to build it up again.
Now at 72, he is winding back his involvement in the restaurant as his sons Jefferson, 40, and Luca, 21, take more of the reins.
“My boys are rushing me out more and more. They reckon I grumble and moan too much about what they are doing in the kitchen, which is probably true,” he said.
“I still enjoy just being around it. My body doesn’t work that well in the kitchen any more but I still can do it. I like the involvement, it’s a good cash flow and I truly love the business, I love hospitality. You actually have to like people.”
Phillip also says his staff is the best he has ever had, singling out cook Aoy and his wife Thapanee, who are like family.
He says Jefferson does the hard yards now, managing the business and cooking on the weekends.
So what will change at Capital Pancakes besides the prices? The menu for a start, as it can no longer follow the franchise range. But that is not a bad thing, says Phillip.
“I don’t want to,” he said, saying he has added some dishes such as blueberry cinnamon pancakes.
The franchise menu was getting too big in any case.
“The more items on the menu the more suspicious I become as to what the quality is going to be like,” Phillip said. “I want somewhere that specialises, and we specialise in great pancakes.
“A great big huge menu trying to appeal to everybody appeals to nobody. If you are going to be special you have to specialise, you have to have something that is truly different. And truly really good.
“It doesn’t matter how humble it is. Let’s face it, pancakes are a really humble food and we do it really well.”
And the secret to the perfect pancake?
“It’s no secret, I’ve been giving it away for years and nobody listens,” he said.
“The secret is the surface you cook it on. It’s got to be thick steel, it’s got to have a three-quarters inch of steel to get the evenness of heart and you’ve got to lock that in with a lot of gases.”
He says it’s all about getting the ‘rise’.
“You’ve got to have it hot enough so it forces up the dough when you turn it,” Phillip says. “It’s got nothing to do with the leavening agent, that keeps the mix alive, that’s all it does – it’s the oxygen in it that does it. When you turn it you hear that pfsst and that’s the temperature about 180 degrees F. See that rise, and if you can’t see that rise, you haven’t got a cake. People don’t realise it’s a pan-cake, a cake in a pan or in our place, a hot plate.
“I could make a great pancake out of any mix you gave me, it’s the temperature and the timing and when to turn. You’ve got to get that timing right, oxygen in the mix, and it’s got to be a fresh mix.”
And that’s what Capital Pancakes aims to do – keep it fresh.