The window of Gerry Pittes features two naked pink mermaids and text declaring the shop as selling pittes that are ‘the first and best in Australia since 1969’.
This Australian food icon is a third-generation business by the Geromanolis family, with the manufacturing base and direct to public sales happening behind a plain, unassuming shopfront in Braybrook.
The story of Gerry’s Pittes starts with Gerry, a Greek policeman who immigrated to Melbourne in the 1960s. One day, while working as a bakery delivery driver, he spotted a sign for souvlaki and decided to try one on his lunch break. To his surprise, the gyro was served to him in a white hot dog bun!
Mortified, Gerry decided he needed to do something to rectify the situation.
In 1966 he opened his first pitte shop in Seddon near his home, later relocating to the current premises in Braybrook in 1969.
Gerry’s pitte recipe has not changed for over fifty years. Each pitte contains only five ingredients, all from Australian suppliers, and the recipe is not written down anywhere. Gerry’s granddaughter Joanna Geromanolis and her mother Maria now run the operation – and the recipe is stored in their heads!
What Joanna can divulge is that their pittes are not the same as a traditional pitte. Gerry adapted his pitte recipe for the Australian market so it could be used for pizza bases and wraps as well as souvlaki.
“Members of the public have always been able to buy fresh pittes directly from our bakery,” explains Joanna. “While the Greek and Lebanese community have always loved our product, we now get Arabic, Asian, and Anglo customers because the pittes are so soft and versatile and able to be frozen.”
“Now the pink mermaid is so iconic that a lot of people don’t even know our product as Gerry’s Pittes but call it the ‘Pink Mermaid Pittes,’”
While the Braybrook site does some retail, the main focus of the operation is on wholesaling – and not a lot has changed since 1969.
The oven, dough cutting machine, turntable, and packet sealing machines are all original. The process of transforming a ball of dough to packaging each parbaked pitte takes about 90 minutes and the relatively small factory produces, on average, a staggering 14,500 pittes a day! Corridors are piled high with cardboard boxes emblazoned with the pink mermaid, ready to be filled with delicious pittes.
As for the origin of the pink mermaid logo? If you visit the Gerry’s Pittes factory there’s a painting of a mermaid by Gerry’s best friend, Greek Australian artist Nikos Kypraios, hanging in pride of place. The story goes that Gerry loved the painting as it reminded him of his childhood island home of Samos (where Nikos was also born), and the pink was chosen for its bright, eye-catching colour.
“Now the pink mermaid is so iconic that a lot of people don’t even know our product as Gerry’s Pittes but call it the ‘Pink Mermaid Pittes,’” laughs Joanna. “There’s even a man who loves our pitte so much he tattooed the pink mermaid on his leg!”