According to the official history of Pancake Parlour, the company started when an entrepreneurial and mild-mannered guy by the name of Roger Meadmore took a trip through California in 1959. He and his friend Allen Trachsel were eating a lot of pancakes along the way, which inspired them to start their own pancake restaurant back home.
This is exactly what they did. Back home in Adelaide they opened their first restaurant in 1965, eventually expanding into a chain with an annual turnover of $40 million and a series of restaurants across Victoria.
Fast forward to 2017 and this is the origin story Pancake Parlour prefers to tell. The fact that its founders also enjoyed a long and winding association with the Church of Scientology, even helping the controversial religion to set up in Australia, barely rates a mention.
That part of the story begins in June 1955 when Roger Meadmore was only 21. He'd just finished six months of national service before going to work helping to organise the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International (HASI) on Spring Street in Melbourne.
Even in those days, Meadmore was a salesman, and he put his skills to work hustling for the Church, bringing in 68 new devotees by selling personal improvement as a gateway into Scientology for what was then the equivalent of a month and a half's worth the average pay.
As Meadmore would later tell journalist Steve Cannane for his book Fair Game, he was fired from the group due to internal politics. But never a quitter, he left for the US, and then the UK, where he studied Scientology directly under L Ron Hubbard.
It was during that journey Meadmore and Allen Trachsel, who was also a committed Scientologist, had the idea for their restaurant and went into business together along with Roger's ex-wife, with whom Roger had had two children. These children come back into the story later.
As mentioned, the group opened their first pancake restaurant in Adelaide, just off Hindley Street, and eventually sold it onto other owners. At that point, Roger left to run his "personal efficiency business" and chase his hobby as a hot air balloon pilot.
The Trachsels eventually moved to Melbourne where they opened another Pancake Parlour and pushed ahead with its rapid expansion during the 70s, opening restaurants throughout Victoria and as far away as Perth. The Trachsels would become a respected family among Melbourne's community of Scientologists, with Helen Trachsel remembered fondly.
This history forms the origin for the urban myth about the company being "a front" for the Church of Scientology, though the company insists it has never had any involvement with the Church of Scientology, ever.
"The Pancake Parlour has had no involvement with the Church of Scientology," explains Managing Director Mandy David. "We are also not privy to the religious beliefs of any of our employees, as we do not see its relevance in a modern, non-discriminatory workplace."
"I have worked for The Pancake Parlour for 30 years and I assume these questions arise because one or two people who worked for us over the 51 years happened to be Scientologists at one time or another."
Yet despite going through generational change of late, company management has not quite been able to shake its association with the Church.
While Founders Allen Trachsel passed away in 2006, and Helen in 2016, the company remains under ownership of the Trachsel family trust and their children have at times taken an active role in the company.
Their daughter, Samantha Meadmore, has now left, but previously worked as Pancake Parlour's Group Training Manager, while Simon Meadmore currently serves as CEO and appears to have taken up the faith of his parents.
According to leaked completion lists, Simon Meadmore reached Operating Thetan Level VIII (OTVIII) in 1994, currently one of the highest possible levels attainable within Scientology and achievable only after spending time on Freewinds, a 134 metre cruise ship with a 360 person capacity that provides a "safe, aesthetic and distraction-free environment" for those at an "advanced" level of "religious service".
Elsewhere, founder Helen Trachsel and former Pancake Parlour General Manager Gerhard Wittwer, both appear in at least one list of donors to the Melbourne Church of Scientology.
And while the parent company maintains it has no formal involvement with the Church of Scientology, their Canberra-based franchise appears in a leaked 2006 directory of member companies in the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE), a secular offshoot of the Church with the stated goal to "bring [L Ron Hubbard's] administrative tech to every organisation in the world."
Among ex-Scientologists, the meaning of this is not always clear. One ex-member, who declined to be identified, said WISE will often include names and businesses of known Scientologists to boost its numbers as a selling-point.
Eric Kleitsch, another ex-member who spent 12 years in a punishment camp for criticising L Ron Hubbard, considered a WISE listing as a sign of an active Scientologist—and he should know.
In his long membership in the Church, Kleitsch spied on the South Australian Government and once had the job of helping members rescue troubled businesses, until WISE took over the role.
When asked about the membership, Mandy David said she could not speak for her licensees due to the company's non-discrimination policy.
"There are two restaurants under a license—Ballarat and Canberra. Upon application for a license, we do not ask applicants about their religious beliefs as we do not consider this relevant," she said.
Industrial relations law may stop the company from discussing the religion of its employees and licensees, but Pancake Parlour also remains sensitive to public talk about the history of its corporate management and Scientology.
In one case, former employees recalled being reminded by management not to discuss religion in a letter responding to posts made on a closed Facebook group.
The group was used to organise what would be a successful legal action for the underpayment of Pancake Parlour staff, and someone had joked about the company being run by Scientologists.
Citing "a number of complaints" about religious discrimination, management reminded employees that Pancake Parlour has "no links whatsoever to any particular religion".
Tim Sarder, an admin of the page who helped organise the lawsuit, said he deleted the posts when he received the letter but denied they were offensive.
"I think it was in response to the company taking away the free employee meals because of the legal action and someone may have written, 'The Scientologists have taken away our short stacks'," he said.
"It definitely wasn't something like 'all Scientologists are scumbags'. Basically, someone made a reference to the company being run by Scientologists."
Whatever actually happened, it's hard to blame Pancake Parlour for trying to keep a lid on chatter about its relationship to Scientology, real or perceived, given the light it could cast on its brand.
But then other companies such as Gloria Jeans and Chic-fil-a in the US have faced scrutiny for the origins, beliefs, and personal relationships of their board and upper level management, and Pancake Parlour company should be no different.
That said, these days Pancake Parlour looks and feels more like your garden variety, profit-maximising restaurant chain whose senior management may hold reactionary spiritual beliefs.
So unless a document is leaked showing donations to the Church, or a whistleblower comes forward, the next time you order a short stack with maple syrup, you are probably not putting money in Tom Cruise's pocket.
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