How Esther built a cake enterprise to become a big player

Esther Ngugi eyes to venture into confectionery industry.
More young people continue to venture in the cake industry which has gained grounds owing the higher demand.

Njoroge Kaburo caught up and spoke to a contemporary youthful baker Esther Ngugi at Nairobi’s Two Rivers Mall, she has a third eye in the confectionery industry.

Did you train as a chef or are you naturally talented?

I began as a kindergarten and primary school teacher; I did this for slightly over 10 years.

Then in 2010, I Quit teaching and decided to go into baking with my mum. So we started making soft buns, scones, queen cakes and ordinary mandazi.

I would double up as the baker, marketer, sales person and delivery girl. I did all this with a small pickup. I would drive around looking for a market for my products while back at home my mum would continue with the baking. When my sister wasn’t in school, she would also help out.

Basically, we would involve my dad and brother in packaging of all the baked goods after they were all cooled down. And all this was done from my Mum’s kitchen.

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So, I could say that baking has always come naturally to me, but I went to a baking school to learn the basics for like 3 months. But I realized I learned a lot more from YouTube and doing trials of recipes and decoration.

I had good days and bad days, but the bad days of baking flopped cakes did not deter me from getting it right, so, I turned my small kitchen into a cake Lab.

What lingers as the most memorable moment in your career and which was your first major project?

My most memorable moment was when I met John C. Bravenboer-Zeelandia East Africa’s first MD. It was in a flight from Dubai bound Kenya, and in the course of our conversation, he believed in me and my passion for baking and that is how I got my first professional job as a Baker.

He has been a great cheerleader and support system throughout my career. I was secretly sneaking an eye reading through a report he was working on transit and so when he was done, I introduced myself to him and that was it.

My first wedding cake was my first major project my friend trusted me to make her a 3 Tier “Upside Down” wedding cake.

I was so nervous since I had only been making small birthday, bridal shower, graduation and all other cakes that are not so technical. But this was a big one and she wanted an upside-down cake.

Making a wedding cake, you need to bake each tier of cake in 2 or 3 parts.

Then putting it together and making sure it doesn’t collapse needs some very good creativity and also putting in some architecture works. But I pulled it o very well.

The taste was so good, I had people follow me to my car after the wedding ended asking if I had more cake left in the car.

This gave me so much satisfaction. And confidence.

How did you make or break in the cake industry?

I started making cakes for family and friends as gifts when I visited their homes or when they would visit me.

And I saw how much they enjoyed them so I had a “light bulb” moment and decided I could try my hand at turning my passion into a business.

And I wasn’t disappointed with myself.

What are you plans or where do you see yourself in the next 12 months?

Working for Zeelandia (a leading company for baking ingredients) has given me an opportunity to interact with bakers in and outside Kenya. I would like to see the baking industry upgrade our baking.

Kenyans have a mentality of cake as it being something heavy that will fill your stomach and when they eat a light fluffy cake, they feel cheated as not having eaten cake.

I hope to come up with my own ventures which will address these issues, we can change this in the industry as we have the best ingredients and expertise to change this.

A baking school that charges reasonable fees and gives the best training skills is also something brewing in my mind for the future.

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