Tireless couple keeping Ipswich fed
Ins and outs of Billy Mac's
- The name Billie Mac's was the brainchild of Bill and Bev's son, Scott.
- The Hoe Inn use 200 wraps, 200 rolls, and 75 loaves of bread per week (not including catering).
- The Hoe Burger and Schnitzel Burger are the most popular items on the menu.
- Brassall Village Hot Bread supplied every sporting body in Ipswich back in the '80s and '90s with products for their canteens.
- The first school fundraising drives were started by the McConochies. This included hot cross bun, pies and lamington drives.
A legacy spanning nearly five decades
If YOU'VE ever gone to order lunch and heard "would you like chips with that, love?" or had the same person ask about your child who was sick last week, chances are you've been to one of Ipswich's most popular and successful businesses, the Hoe Inn.
You can judge the success of a business on its longevity, and 22 years with two owners is certainly a success story. Current owners Bill and Bev McConochie haven't just found success at 57 Limestone St since they took over the Hoe Inn in 2007. Their Ipswich legacy spans back nearly 50 years.
Mr McConochie was an apprentice baker when he met Bev in Dalby in 1969. They moved to Ipswich in 1972 so Bev could complete her hairdressing apprenticeship and married at Sacred Heart Church, Booval the same year.
Mr McConochie quickly put his new trade to use, joining the team as assistant foreman at John Scholte's Bakery in North Ipswich, the last remaining bakery of 23 that existed in Ipswich.
"John Scholte's was a big, automated place doing some of the jobs that were usually done by hand. It was a real eye-opener. The technology was just amazing for me, coming from the country," Mr McConochie said.
After 10 years, Mr McConochie moved on to Brassall Village Hot Bread in the old L-shaped shopping centre. Mr McConochie made what would turn out to be the first of many good business decisions by deciding to buy it.
The McConochies flourished at Brassall Village Hot Bread for 15 years until the centre was set for an upgrade. A failure to see eye-to-eye with the shopping centre owners influenced the decision to leave.
"The owners were going to put us into a smaller shop, and they were setting restrictions about what we could and couldn't make; we couldn't even make sandwiches, and we wanted to make everything," Mr McConochie said.
The McConochies were building a house at Emerald Hill which meant they would prefer to stay in Brassall. Mr McConochie was about to make another good business decision.
"There was an empty shop that looked like a rainbow up the road from the village that had sat vacant for three or four years. I approached the owner and he was only to happy for us to move in there," Mr McConochie said.
Mrs McConochie still had some reservations about how successful they would be in the new shop.
"When we moved, there was nothing but vacant blocks around us. No McDonald's or service station like is there now. We couldn't take anything from the old shop because it wouldn't fit. We had to get all new equipment, so it was truly like a new beginning. But after the very first day of trading we knew we had made the right decision because we were so busy," Mrs McConochie said.
The year was 1997, and Billie Mac's was born.
It was a labour of love for the couple, with Billie Mac's open virtually 24 hours a day.
"I was working 120 hours a week and the shop only closed for an hour and a half on a Sunday night. Today I look back and wonder how we did it." Mr McConochie said.
They prided themselves on their customer service, but the McConochies often had different ideas about what that meant.
"People used to come to the shop on their way home from the nightclubs at 3 and 4am and Bill would sell them everything for a dollar," Mrs McConochie said.
"The same people would come back in during the dayshift and would wonder why I was charging them $3.20. They would say: "But the baker in here sold me a pie for a dollar on Saturday night!"
"'You've got to stop doing that, Bill!' I'd say to him. But it's part of why people loved Billie Mac's," she said.
Over the course of 10 years, Billie Mac's became an Ipswich institution but the intense workload was beginning to take its toll.
"I had been working seven days a week for 52 years, and I'd had enough." Mr McConochie said.
Billie Mac's supplied bread rolls to a successful takeaway shop called the Hoe Inn.
Over the years, Mr McConochie got to know owners Rhonda and Lachlan and appreciated the fact they always had weekends, public holidays and a few weeks off over Christmas. He approached the owners about a possible purchase.
"They weren't even thinking about selling, but I spoke to the owners and let them know if they were ever interested in selling, could we please have first option. They eventually took up the offer. So we sold Billie Mac's, took six months off, and bought the Hoe Inn in 2007," Mr McConochie said.
While customers appreciate the quality food at the shop, the couple loves the personal and professional relationships they've built with their loyal customers.
"When one of our regulars comes in the door, Bill often greets them by their name and is at the fridge ready to make what they would usually order. Even (employee) Kylie can see a customer walking across the road, and she'll have his coffee getting started before they even step foot inside," Mrs McConochie said.
So, what is the secret to running a successful business for 38 years?
"Good food, good service, always being friendly and never saying no to anyone," Mrs McConochie
"If someone calls us at 7.15am to tell us that their supplier has fallen through, and they need 20 loads of sandwiches by 8.30am we say, 'no problem'".
It's easy for customers to judge the success of a business, but how do the owners judge their own success?
"By the legacy we have left," Mrs McConochie said.
"We do the catering at some retirement facilities around Ipswich at Christmas time. We see so many people who used to be our customers back in the day. Every year it's like a family reunion.
"It makes you feel good that you've done something right over all those years".
When commitment to the job means losing a finger
IF ONE image tells the story of Bill McConochie dedication to the job, it is this one.
As you can see from his battle-scarred mitts, Mr McConochie has sacrificed much more than just sleep and holidays for his life's work. The missing ring finger on his left hand is not the result of a mishap with a kitchen knife or cutting machine, but actually a sacrifice he willingly made to get on with the job.
In his rare moments away from the store, Mr McConochie was the wicketkeeper for a local indoor cricket team. He kept without gloves and dislocated his fingers a few times.
Usually he would just pop the finger back in and carry on with the game, but after taking one hit too many, he broke the ring finger so badly that it stuck out sideways.
"When I went to work, the broken finger kept catching on things and was very sore. I went to the doctor and he told me he could fix it," Bill said.
The doctor had a plan to straighten the finger and put a brace on it, but it would have put Mr McConochie on the sidelines for 12 weeks.
Not being able to afford to spend that long off the job, he told the doctor to make his problem go away, literally.
"I don't have time to be out of action for that long. Just get rid of it," he said to the doctor at the time.
Mr McConochie was working 120 hours a week, only shutting the store for an hour and a half on a Sunday night.
"We were just too busy, and too dedicated to the business. If we slept two hours a day that was a good day," he said.
"Taking 12 weeks off just wasn't a consideration. So, we chopped it off."