Jacqueline Weche bakes from her kitchen at home. “I started my business in February 2016,” she tells me. We are in her living room in Lang’ata. Jacqueline – Jacque – is 29; she’s the last in a family of four kids. She lives here with her nephew (he’s seven), and their house help. “I started the business because I couldn’t get a job,” she continues. “My first degree was in human resources. I studied in Pretoria, South Africa. I moved there in January 2007, immediately after high school. I didn’t anything about life! Ha-ha. I graduated in November 2011 then came back to Kenya. I wasn’t able to find a job so I went back to Catholic University for a second degree in HR and business. I graduated in May 2016.”
By the time her name was being read out at the graduation ceremony, Jacque had already registered her bakery business, Sweet & Sleek Creations. “I’ve always loved being in the kitchen,” says Jacque about this inviting space where she nursed her passion. “I’ve cooked since I was young. My family used to wake me up every Saturday and ask me to make them eggs. “ Jacque chortles. “And I love cake. I loved the fudge cake from Java. I remember buying it one day and thinking I could bake this at home. That’s how I started off. I’d sample different recipes from the Internet and bake with the ingredients I had in the house. I baked for my nephew mostly. It was my friend Yvette who pushed me to turn it into a business.”
Jacque believed in the viability of her passion to be a sustainable income earner for her. “When you believe you will fly with the eagles,” she says with emphasis, “you will. I didn’t procrastinate, I went for it.”
Finance was a hurdle, though. “I approached my Mum and told her I wanted a hand mixer,” she says. “She asked me exactly how much a quality mixer cost but I didn’t know. I rushed to Nakumatt to get her the price. I got the cheapest one – it was an Ariston for Sh3,500.”
Jacque went into the kitchen that same afternoon to kick things off – she had her brand-new mixer in her one hand and blinding determination in the other. “The first cake I made backfired,” she says in a fit of giggles. “It was a simple black forest cake but I didn’t even reach the forest part. I threw it out then cleared my work surface to try again. I called my friend and she asked me about the measurements I’d used. I tried again until I got it right.”
Jacque would try a new recipe of flavour every day after that – vanilla, strawberry, carrot. Her strongest cake was chocolate. She’d call her friends to walk her through her mistakes whenever a cake didn’t turn out as she’d wanted. “Always ask for help,” she advises. Jacque gave away all these trial-and-error cakes; she gave them away as free samples to her friends and neighbours. “Most of them later became my regular clients.
“I sold my first cake in July,” Jacque continues, “...a 2kg black forest cake to my sister. I sold it for Sh3,500. It was for my nephew’s closing day party. I’d already done my costing and set my price list by then. I was cheaper than most popular cake houses.”
Her client list slowly grew through referrals from then on into the rest of the year. “My peak season was between September and December,” she says. “On average, I baked 70 cakes a month. Low season was between January to mid-March this year. I baked around 10 cakes each month. The most popular cake amongst my clients is the one-kg black forest, which goes for Sh1,800, and one-kg chocolate cake for Sh1,600.”
The major hiccup with baking at home is how to account for electricity and working around the frequent cuts. Another hiccup Jacque had at the beginning was nailing the dynamics of making deliveries to clients outside Lang’ata. “A courier company now makes the deliveries at the client’s charge,” Jacque says. “I’m also limited to baking cakes on client orders only. Unlike a restaurant, I don’t have the space for a display.”
Jacque joined a business mentoring network in October 2016 – it has helped her grow her business in the right direction.
A boost of confidence came that December when Jacque volunteered and was selected to bake wedding cakes for the media-dubbed ‘100-bob wedding’ couple, Wilson Wanjohi and Anne Muhonja. “I had a fear of wedding cakes before that,” she admits. “I baked them two chocolate cakes and one vanilla cake. These were for the parents and the couple’s take-home cake. The main wedding cake was made by a popular cake house based in the CBD. I got another wedding cake client in April.”
Jacque’s growth plan for 2017 is to get corporate clients and supplier contracts with restaurants and schools, where she can be making daily deliveries. Locking down such contracts means assured and consistent volumes for this young business.
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