As we slowly embrace the changes the lockdown has bestowed upon us, we were fortunate enough to interact with Chantal Ochola Mutaahi of Creme de La Creme Kampala. She tells us her side of the story and the complications she has hurdled with. Enjoy!
- When did you start baking?
Unofficially it was 2010. By unofficially, I mean that it wasn’t something I planned on doing full time. I was baking for myself, family and friends. It became serious at the end of 2012, just as 2013 was beginning. It left the hobby section to a more professional frontier.
What preceded baking?
I am a Communications Manager by profession. I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism at Makerere University then a Master’s Degree in Communications Management. So if I wasn’t a baker, I’d probably be a Public Relations Officer.
- How did Creme de La Creme start?
It was 2013, we found the name and started working initially from my mother’s home, building our clientele slowly. The ‘we’ was basically my friends & family who knew I was baking. I started out with only cupcakes and a lot of people would come buying some for their kids to pack to school. I then started supplying the supermarkets in the Kyaliwajala Kireka area with muffins and cake slices. Those customers who took cupcakes started asking for bigger cakes; Challenging me to make more round and square cakes or proper birthday cakes. That’s how it grew, I didn’t move away from the cupcakes, I simply added on to what I was baking.
I continued baking from home for three years after that till we moved to a proper shop still in Kyaliwajala but at-least now we had a firm base. We opened a small shop where you could come buy the muffins and slices and the clientele grew also since we were right on the road side so it was easier for people to notice. This was much better because before it was 100% phone call or word of mouth since we weren’t on social media or advertising anywhere. Currently, there are thirteen of us; there bakers, decorators. It’s a fairly organized operation I can say.
- What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The best day of professional baking actually happened in 2013 when we were still doing those small cakes for supermarkets and friends & family. We used to supply muffins to Abba Hotel for their occasional Rotary meetings. One of our clients being a Rotarian offered me a contract to be their sole supplier. I can say that is the single client who propelled the business and made us think of it seriously to even design the contract with these people. We got someone to supply a cake every week, it might have seemed very small but it was a great deal. These meetings usually have many members and visitors so each week we were showcasing our cakes to different people. Our clientele grew exponentially from there with various calls coming in from the members for different occasions. I don’t know if we would still be open now if it wasn’t for that particular client because most of the orders grew from that contract. That was the major leap for the business.
- How relevant has the Master’s Degree in Communications Management been so far?
Initially I thought I had wasted time and money doing that Master’s Degree but it has really come in handy. In this business, at times you might not have direct interface with the clients but you are still dealing with them either through calls or text messages making orders till the money is wired electronically.
You have to have some communication skills to talk to this person whom you aren’t able to meet face to face and that’s how the qualification has helped; ensuring customer satisfaction. It’s so easy to annoy the client but also to redeem yourself. You have to handle talking to them. In the case of a team, it’s not just me. Sometimes I won’t be able to take calls, someone else will do that. The gentleman making the delivery will meet the client receiving the cake who may also be different. So it has been a game changer in terms of client relations, client communications and customer service.
- What Challenges have you come across?
When I joined the business, I was just a baker. There was more to it; management and accounting skills. Some of the things you learn on the job like operating the premises and maintaining the UNBS & KCCA standards.
Management has also been tough. Our team is diverse with people from various religious and cultural backgrounds, for example there is a point joint close to the shop and we have Muslim staff and initially that created a problem but we managed to compromise.
This job is mentally & physically demanding. I know everyone could probably say this about their job but in baking “Every day is different” Every cake, client, flavor profile is different. Assuming you have ten clients in a day, each of them has to have some space in your mind. Physically, it’s not a short process as some orders can extend as far as three days to bake design and deliver and that could just be one client.
You also have to get the best bakers out there from culinary schools and train them with recipes you have perfected (Quality control). It’s hard to be the proprietor, Human Resource manager & accountant all at once, chances are you might have one skill. I am everywhere right now, I have to be there when we are baking, decorating. Finding my role at the bakery is the most difficult thing.
- How has your current lifestyle been Affected by this job?
Time management can be a challenge at times because I am a wife and mother and I have to make sure that everyone gets 100%. The toughest thing with baking is finding a balance but other than that it’s something I love doing. It’s something I don’t see myself struggling. There’s always something new! It’s very hard to switch off from baking. You never stop doing research keeping up with new trends so as to not be left behind. We might be open from 9:00 to 17:00 but behind the scenes we are still working.
- With your current experience, what advice would you offer for success in this Field?
I know it may sound like a cliché that a lot of people use but number one is “Love the business!” It’s very important that you love what you are doing because then it’s hard for you to be turned off. There are always good days and bad ones and they happen all the time almost in equal measure.
Secondly, look at the successful bakers; What are they doing differently & How? Yes, you cannot copy everything they do but what can you pick. The good thing is there are very many now. After you’ve looked into that, find your niche because you cannot do everything. There are very few people who can do everything. You decide exactly what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. In the beginning, I wanted to do only cupcakes because of their merits; less time spent, less labor, easy to bake, more revenue. However, I decided to add cake, the only language we speak at the shop is cake, not bread or pastries like samosas, simply Cake! I would advise a new comer to start slowly and build on that. I’d also advise to get everything in order. It helps to get the registration papers to clear the taxes, a business bank account, trading license to avoid being harassed by the KCCA. There are organizations you cannot supply unless these documents. So if you want to go big you’ll have to spend some money.
The Baking Business isn’t easy, sure the baking is okay but the other end where you aren’t mixing the dough; the end where you’re counting the money, paying salaries & rent, that is when it becomes something that isn’t easy.
- Do you have any Bakers groups where you share?
A lot! There are many WhatsApp groups as well as some on Facebook like Cake Shop Uganda, Home Bakers Uganda and also African bakers in Nigeria which is a very big baking power house in Africa. I follow lots of them because the idea pool is so wide, you can never really cover it because every day there’s something new: a recipe or maybe an improvement.
- Any Mentors in the Industry?
Yeah! There are many. There are different areas that I pick on. Firstly, there’s Sarah Ntale (Sarah Cakes), I look up to her for longevity and maintaining the quality of the product. She has been in the Industry longer than most of us and in the same location. She has been doing her thing and the quality of the cake, design is high, everything! I admire her longevity & quality.
Another is Heavenly cakes, Ludi (Jajja’s Bakes) and Cake nCakey. I look up to them in terms of design and artistic creativity. You could say they are unmatched at what they do and they are doing a very good job.
There’s also Daphine (Cakement); She hasn’t been baking long but I love the way she has managed to grab social media by the horns & drive up her business. It has grown really fast. She has used social media to her advantage.