How Simply Delicious Cakes started
I started the Simply Delicious Cake Company in 2002. I didn’t have a business plan or any long term aspirations or huge spreadsheets of hopeful figures! It all started on a Friday afternoon in April when I had a call from a large well known hamper company asking me to make 1000 cakes for Christmas that year. The very nice girl who called asked me if I was sitting down because if not I might need to! (she knew I was a one man band operating from my home kitchen!) We had met at a “meet the buyer” event a few weeks earlier organised by HEFF, a government funded regional food group which operated in Shropshire. I think I had been bemoaning to one of the HEFF ladies that my catering business was taking a toll on family life. With three young children running a catering company was not very compatible as most of the work was evenings and weekends and while we were chatting she suggested I concentrated more on making fruit cakes which I used to sell at the Ludlow Food Festival, whilst promoting my catering business. My response was I wouldn’t know where to start and who would I sell them to?
After receiving the phone call asking for 1000 cakes which I obviously said yes to (I still haven’t learnt to say no to anything!), I went into a mad panic. How on earth was I going to produce 1000 fruit cakes in my small kitchen with one cooker! I made a few phone calls and soon my kitchen was brimming with my best friends who rolled up their sleeves and got mixing! We even had a baby in the corner! Before long every room in the house was full of cakes in various stages of production!
I never took another catering job again. I soon got calls from other farm shops and delis and Simply Delicious was born slowly but surely. We converted the utility room into a kitchen with another cooker and soon grew out of that. Then thanks to very understanding landlords we converted an old dairy opposite the house. Here we installed a fully functioning bakery where we cooked, wrapped and despatched the cakes. That didn’t last too long as we were growing fast. We had met the Fortnum and Mason buyer and hey presto were asked to make all their Christmas cakes and produce a range of all year round cakes! So once again the understanding landlords converted stables and more outbuildings and finally the old sheep shed got the shove and became our warehouse. Not forgetting the various portacabins brought in to help while the building work was going on! The boot room went back to its original use and the old dairy took on the new role as our office.
We have had lots of laughs, many tears and plenty of anxious moments and sleepless nights but we are still here! When I look back I do ask myself, how did we do it? Not long after we had made our first 1000 cakes, a good friend of mine got wind that the food writer from the New York Times was visiting Ludlow. She found out where she was staying and left one of our cakes at the hotel with just a note saying please try this and hope you like it. The next thing we know she has written an article about us in the NY Times. The internet was just beginning, we had hardly done any mail orders and we didn’t have a website but luckily we had a card machine so could take payments. We were at a Christmas fair in London at the time and all hell broke loose!! We had 300 emails all ordering cakes! Help what do we do now. We got back from London and set about making 300 cakes but how were we going to pack them up and send them to USA. We had the bright idea of putting them in tins (which was a good idea) and then putting the tins in jiffy bags to send (not such a good idea but to my knowledge they did all survive the journey!) Many of those customers were very loyal for many years but sadly it is now too difficult sending food to the States with the FDA regulations.
When we started out with F&M we had a fantastic buyer called Jonathan Miller who taught us so much. We started making a few small cakes for them and our biggest ambition was to be asked to make their Christmas cakes in maybe a few years down the line! Jonathan came to lunch with us in Shropshire one Summers day. We pulled out all the stops, gave him a delicious lunch with my children waitressing and Archie (husband/director) said after he left, It would be good to get the Christmas cake contract in say 5 years time. We had a phone call later that week asking us if we would make them that year! In those early years F&M and Jonathan were a great help to us and really took the business to the next level. The cognac we put in the cakes all arrived straight from France in proper glass bottles (not like the huge plastic containers it would come in now) and we had to man handle hundreds of cases into our cellar as we had no warehouse then and nowhere else to put it! Just before Christmas that first year Jonathan sent a couple of cases of champagne to say thank you to all the girls in the bakery (those were the days!).
Another landmark was when Archie my husband joined me in running the business. Much needed and we haven’t had many cross moments since! He is mostly confined to the office but has been known to don a hairnet and apron and cross the yard into the bakery! He is also partial to a slice of cake so great when it comes to new recipe development!
Looking back over the years I do realise we have come quite a long way!
On one occasion when we first started we were lucky enough to be asked to do some tastings in Selfridges as part of a small producer promotion. In those days we wrapped the cakes in cling film, before the arrival of our first very smart shrink wrapper named Bertha. In the heat of the very hot shop floor, the butter from the cake started to come through the cling film, so there I was armed with a roll of sellotape trying to tape the cling film back together.
We now have an even smarter shrink wrapping machine, a flow wrapper and a great rolling machine which rolls out the icing. But apart from that everything is handmade as you would make a cake at home and nothing has changed since the very first cakes I made in my kitchen except we have a few more people making and packing them and a few more ovens! And no more leaky cling film! Above all we couldn’t have done any of this without our fantastic staff, some have been with us for many years and seen many changes!