John Oundo has the ebullient voice of a bulwark with amazing baking skills that make it easy for the eyes. Behind this charismatic character lies a long journey to where he currently is now directing The Gifted Hands Pastry School Uganda with his wife, Christine Oundo. Enjoy the Interview as we dissect his successful ideology!
When did you start baking?
As an individual, from 2001.
So how did Gifted Hands Pastry School start?
I was at a baking school called Jovay back in 1999. After my spell there is when I got a job at Bakers World, Crown House in 2000 as a trainee baker for 6 months. I later worked at Hotel Africana for eight years. While at Hotel Africana, I went for a Fresher course at Utali
College, Nairobi. I later came back to Hotel Africana thereafter, I had a stint in Grand Imperial Hotel then Imperial Royale and that was the end of my hotel work. In 2009, I started working solo as a freelance Chef going to homes for three years then I opened Gifted Hands in 2013. It’s both a bakery and a school.
What or Who inspired you to start baking?
It was a passion I pursued after school. We didn’t have a baker or Chef in our family. Like in every single thing I do, I gave it my all. Baking came and I gave it my all and God blessed me.
What knowledge did you absorb from Utali College?
I learnt a lot from there! Being practical is the way to go! The notes would be for only that day. If the lesson of the day was bread, then the notes you compile at the end of the day are strictly bread. It’s pointless for schools to have theory after theory and then only one practical lesson. I decided to open up my school with practicals every day! We get people from the corporate world who have been writing for a long time and they want to learn the process straight up. That’s what Gifted Hands has to offer.
Another is Standard recipes; whatever you bake, you make the best out of it, whether it’s a samosa, red velvet cake or a pizza. They have moved around, eaten from different places and probably tried out other schools. Until they land on your products and say finally this is what I have been looking for.
What is your best selling product at the moment?
It’s quite hard to specify one product because of the wide range. We have Cakes, doughnuts, bread, samosa, pizza. Most of the students look forward to the Pizza day. They love it so much.
What has been the highlight of your career?
It was the day Utali College approved my application. I had previously thought it was automatic. I didn’t know the Kenyan Hotels pay levy to it.
Utali kick-started my career. It really boosted me. I got a promotion at work from Pastry cook to Assistant Pastry Chef. The recipes I have, I didn’t have them before Utali. I grew up in Nairobi and used to pass Utali but I didn’t think it would be a career I would venture in. I still consider going there as the greatest highlight of my career.
What Challenges are you battling?
Space is currently an issue. We make very good products but operate on a small space. If we got a larger space, we could teach more people & get them equipped with the skills we provide because we don’t dilly-dally. Then again we don’t want to dilute stuff, we shall teach in small numbers even if it means grouping them in different rooms so that everyone is professionally catered for.
How do you market yourself?
The best marketing tool I am currently using is Referrals. They cannot fail you because one speaks like the disciples of Christ of what they have seen not been told or hearsay (lugambo). The chain can go as long from the student to her friends to her family to her clientele referring you to others. Then Social media also comes in as well as the posters.
Where can Potential clients find you?
You could find us at Facebook at Gifted Hands Pastry School Uganda or come to our premises at Hotel Migra next to Oil-Libya Petrol Station,Kireka along Namugongo Road just before the Bypass fly-over.
Does your job affect your general lifestyle?
Not really because I have a schedule. I have 9:00-12:00PM, 2:00-5:00PM and before COVID , 6:00-9:00PM. I have a class on Saturday afternoon and Sundays, we don’t work and evening classes aren’t every day, mostly Tuesday and Thursday.
What advice would you Recommend for the Novice Baker today in the Industry?
Let me address the ones opening up schools first, just do the right thing and make sure you know what you are doing! A lot of these students come with knowledge from previous professions and experience and they come to learn from you.
There are no shortcuts! If the recipe demands butter, use butter. In case one of the ingredients is powdered sugar, then use powdered sugar. If you can’t break even, it would be better to count your losses but always maintain the quality of your work because instead of building your money, you will kill it. Once someone tastes the real Red Velvet, they will know that you are a “mufere”. Get it right!
Another piece of advice for the Novice bakers is to rush into renting. First start small, build your clientele slowly by slowly. Most people close because they are doing the right thing but the clientele isn’t there.
Know your target market. The bible says Don’t throw your pearls to pigs.
Also focus on the customer care. People think that when you’re doing a good thing or an established baker, you don’t need to apologize to a customer and that’s neither realistic nor good. Apologies it will take you far. During CHOGM, we were all taken through a customer care course (all hotels)
Could you mention a few bakers in the Industry currently who have transitioned through Gifted Hands?
There are so many success stories from us out there. Some of them are BeckyBakes,
Dorsch Treats, Val Cakes, Awesome Bakes, Bakes by Spencer, Atiz Cakes, BakeStar, Pagy Pastries, Lambert’s Cake Garage, 3J’s Pastry (Kasese), Tetaz Tasty Cakes, Tam Bakes Entebbe, Gum Bakery Kitgum, Tori’s Bakery, Bake it up, Carlz Yummy Cakes, Liven’s Tasty Treats, Laura’s Bakery, Touch Treats Cakes & Pastries, Wow Cakes & Pastries, The Cake Lab Kagadi, Tender Loaf Bakery, Chacha cakes and Pastries UG, Favour Cakes and Kesha Pastries.
Any Inspirations in the Industry?
There are lots of people doing a good job in the Industry like Cake n’ Cakey, Cakely Uganda, Heavenly Cakes to mention but a few.
Any Future plans you would like to share?
Expansion. God willing, we will build a bigger spacious place.
I also want to assure people that we shall never change the way we work. We shall not dilute our quality or be taken by money. It will always be like the Utali style– few people, hands on.