By David Schout
Early last year, Michelin-trained pastry chef Aidan Robinson went from working frantic 80-hour weeks to being jobless. What he did next is an inspiring small business success story in the age of COVID-19.
It was Valentine’s Day 2020 and pastry chef Aidan Robinson had just worked his last shift at Dinner by Heston at Crown Casino.
The CBD resident and his colleagues were told just one week prior that the restaurant, helmed by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, had gone into liquidation.
Life had quickly flipped.
The UK native who moved to Melbourne in 2017 was not only jobless, but had his visa sponsorship attached to the now-defunct company.
“We got a week’s notice,” he tells CBD News.
“I’d been on the sponsor with them, I didn’t know if I had a visa after that, so it was just a nightmare. Then COVID happened, so that was even worse.”
Aidan went from working 80-hour weeks to “sitting on the sofa”, and was at a loss what to do next.
His residence, the heritage-listed Port Authority building on Market St, had a WhatsApp message group to communicate with other residents and during his now copious downtime, decided to tell others his story.
Aidan said he had been a pastry chef since the age of 15, was now out of work and was willing to cater to bespoke orders in the building.
“Straight away, people started saying ‘oh I have a birthday this week’ and within no time I had 20 orders,” he said.
“Because no one could get out, right? And everyone still wants to celebrate their birthday. So, it all started here in this building.”
In his home kitchen, he began making (now popular) classics like Portuguese tarts, macaron cakes and boozy brioche.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
Support from other residents, Aidan said, was “amazing”.
And from there, he decided to make a real fist of it alone, launching online cake business Chic de Partie.
In a short time, he acquired a relevant home-based food licence and a space in his apartment — once a second bedroom — became a dedicated baking area.
Business came from both individuals (“people just message me what they want and I’ll make it”) and businesses.
Soon enough, he landed regular work with a prominent Melbourne businessman, supplying cakes and other pastries to his connections and associates.
The week before speaking with CBD News, he had flown back and forth by helicopter to the foothills of the Victorian Alps for a special lunch put on by the prominent client.
“All my contacts are very CBD-based. I’ve just signed a contract with Cartiers, I’m doing Chanel for their events and VIPs. It’s getting really busy.”
To put the icing on the cake, Aidan and his partner applied for a de facto visa and were swiftly approved.
At this stage Aidan is happy to be a one-man band, and continues to do everything by hand which he admitted was tough, but rewarding.
“Obviously because I’m doing it at a small scale it takes a lot longer. If I had a machine I could laminate the dough, but I’m doing it by hand … I’m happy with this though, I’m not looking to expand yet,” he said.
And while busyness has returned, it was the all-encompassing work that he savours.
“I won’t go work in a restaurant again. Working for yourself is stressful, but a different type of stress. I’m definitely enjoying it,” he said •
Caption: Pastry chef Aidan Robinson established a small business from his CBD apartment during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown.
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