The entrepreneur behind The Caker, Jordan Rondel, is taking the business of baking by storm. What began as a hobby has transformed into a successful career, with a cookbook The Caker: 50 New and Unusual Cake Recipes, a "by appointment space" and kitchen on K Rd, and handfuls of high-profile clients.
Jordan tells us how she got to where she is today.
As a teenager, what did you want to be when you "grew up"?
An architect, town planner, or interior designer. I have always obsessed over the idea of owning and decorating a house.
What did you study? Is university or study worthwhile for your field?
I did a business degree (a BCom) at Auckland Uni, majoring in marketing and international business. If I'm being totally honest, university was more of a gap filler for me while I figured out exactly what I wanted to do. It was a theory-based degree, with lots of exams testing your memory from what you'd studied from a text book, and it's true to say that I've learnt so, so much more being in the real world of business.
Occasionally things I learnt in my marketing papers do help me understand how customers perceive things, and the power of branding, so it was useful in that sense, but the degree definitely wasn't crucial to my success with The Caker. In saying that, it gave me four years to grow up a little, and by the time I'd graduated I was ready to run my own business.
Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
Not really. I think winging it, working hard and making some mistakes along the way was the best way to learn.
Best and worst parts about your job?
I've always felt extremely lucky that I was able to turn a hobby into a full-time job, so I'm grateful for that every day. I could never be happy in an office job so getting to set my own hours and not working for someone else are the main perks. The worst parts are not having a regular paycheck, and having to think about tax and GST returns and all that boring stuff.
What does your typical day entail?
I generally wake up at 6am, get to the kitchen by 7am, bake until about 3 or 4pm, depending on how many orders I have, then go home and do emails for a couple of hours. It's often like this six or seven days a week, with Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays being a little more easygoing. I don't ever really take a break or sit down while I'm at the kitchen, so by the end of the day I have pretty tired legs!
How did you start your own business? Where did it all begin and how did it develop into what it is today?
I have been into baking for as long as I can remember; since I was tall enough to reach the kitchen bench. It was my French grandparents who first triggered my love for it, I think; I would help bake apple tarts, cherry clafoutis, jams and other delicious desserts at their knees. To some degree my competence in baking might have been passed down from my great grandfather who was a successful bread baker and pastry chef in Paris. I never really thought I could make a career out of baking though, it just seemed like a hobby and passion that would fit nicely alongside a day job.
I would bake a cake a week for my family while I was still at school and university, and then one day after baking a particularly successful one, my parents suggested I make a career out of it. So I started a blog called The Caker in 2010, which became a vehicle for selling cakes. Because I've always been involved in the fashion industry, it worked out nicely that some of my first customers were quite high profile fashion people. The day that I really thought The Caker could become something was when Karen Walker asked me to make cakes to supply The Department Store cafe at the time.
Ever since then, word of The Caker seemed to spread like wildfire and before I knew it I was making my first wedding cake. I think that's the beauty of Auckland; it's so small and everyone talks, so it was really easy for my business to become well-known almost overnight. I hadn't been baking and selling cakes from home for long before I decided I needed to be in a commercial kitchen. I looked long and hard for the perfect space to run my business from, and baked from a few different places which didn't quite work for me. I finally now have my own space on K Rd, with a beautiful kitchen, as well as a little shop front with tables and chairs, which I use to host baking classes and special afternoon teas.
What do you look for when you are hiring someone for an entry-level position?
I don't want someone with too much professional training, because it usually means they come in with preconceived ideas of how to do things, so they are less open to the way I do things. But it is very important that potential employees have a true passion for baking and do a lot of it in their spare time. Extreme cleanliness is the other major thing - I'm a total clean freak.
There are several other people and companies in the local cake business - what do you think has made yours so successful?
I think timing has a lot to do with it. When I first started The Caker in 2010, there really were no other people creating bespoke, made-to-order cakes, so I think I found a great niche. Since then several other cake business have popped up, but I think this competition is healthy - it pushes me to make the best cakes that I can.
If you weren't doing this, what would you do?
I honestly haven't thought about it. But I think I'd always choose to work in food, so perhaps I'd train to be a pastry chef. Or else maybe I'd like to work in fashion PR or something like that.
Three top tips for success in your industry?
1. Be original.
2. Take absolute pride in what you do, and never settle for less than perfection.
3. Work ridiculously hard!