An interview with superstar baker and cake business coach, Pia Cato, of The Vanilla Pod Bakery & Make Money With Cakes
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This is the second of a series of posts in which we’ll be catching up with some of the most influential and exciting bakers out there. They’ll be sharing tips and tricks of the cake trade and giving you an insight into what inspires them. Hopefully these posts will inspire, empower and motivate you, too. Check out with our first interview with Britt Whyatt of She Who Bakes & #BakersHour fame here.
Today, we’re in the kitchen with Pia Cato, the baker behind The Vanilla Pod Bakery & founder of Make Money With Cakes. We’ll be talking Easter recipes, baking essentials and the Great British Bake Off!
Why do you bake? What first got you into it? How long have you been baking for?
I got into baking when I was a small child. I used to make jam tarts with my dad on Saturdays and when I stayed at my grandma’s I always remember making drop scones. As I got older, around 8 or 9, I used to bake scones and cakes constantly. I liked to think I was Delia Smith and talk to my imaginary camera crew as I was baking!! I think even if I didn’t have a cake business I would bake, because it is just so joyous creating something from nothing and in turn making people happy with food.
I started the Vanilla Pod Bakery while I was still at uni. I entered a business planning competition in 2008, managed to win and the launched the business for real in 2009.
Who inspires you?
I have so many people who inspire me from my parents who set up their own business (not in cakes), to hugely successful cake business owners such as Peggy Porschen, to women entrepreneurs such as Denise Duffield-Thomas, to all the wonderful cake makers who are just starting out their cake business journeys. To me everyone has an inspirational story to tell.
What is your personal favourite thing to make?
My personal favourite thing to make (and eat) is a lemon sponge sandwiched with lemon buttercream, lemon curd and fresh raspberries.
What is your most popular cake at The Vanilla Pod Bakery?
The most popular flavour cake is tie between Victoria Sandwich and Lemon Drizzle Curd. The most popular style of cake is the Naked or Semi-Naked Cake.
What are your baking essentials? What ingredients or equipment could you not be without?
My baking essentials are my small angled palette knife, my trusty red spatula and my agbay cake cutter/blade (which is my pride and joy!)
Hint: try this Kitchen Craft cake cutting wire for similar!
Do you have a baking motto to live and bake by? We’d love to hear it!
I say this is myself and to my team all the time. Happy Bakers Make Happy Cakes. I think I need to put this on a team shirt 😀
Did you ever think cakes would lead you to where you are today? What would you say to others hoping for the same baking success?
I never in a million years thought I would still be creating cakes. I set up my business because I wanted a small chain of tea rooms. I started with cakes because it was something I could do, I want to raise capital for my tearoom venture. But I fell in love the cake industry. Now nearly 8 years later I feel very blessed that I stuck with the cakes. I have a business that creates beautiful cakes for brides and grooms. I am so grateful that I can help bring joy to their special day.
I would say to others hoping for success don’t give up (you may need to pivot sometimes but essentially if you want it bad enough you will find a way). Plus don’t be afraid to get or ask for help. Whether it is free advice or paying for a mentor, coach or life coach to help guide you forward. There is value in all forms of help and advice. You will have different needs and wants for the different stages of your business journey.
What is an average day like for you, The Vanilla Pod Bakery and Make Money With Cakes?
My average day, well I actually run three businesses (I like to keep myself busy!), so each day is really varied which for me is great. On average the beginning of the week is focusing on my social media clients, mid week is all about Make Money With Cakes and the end I focus on Vanilla Pod Bakery. I am now in a fortunate position that I have a team member to help with the Vanilla Pod Bakery cakes. She is an excellent cake baker, I used to mentor her through Make Money With Cakes and now she works for me on a freelance basis.
Do you have any top tips for:
- Home bakers
- Baking bloggers
- Home cake business owners
Top tips for home cake business owners who want to create a sustainable business, would be to have an overall 3-5 year plan but then break it down into really manageable chunks. Focus on 3-6 months at a time. Take a step at a time and you will meet your goals 😀
For more actionable cake business advice from Pia, check out her guest posts here on Knead to Dough:
- 7 step formula: pricing cakes for profit
- 3 reasons cake business fail & how to avoid them
- 5 super time management tips for your cake business
Easter is on the way! What will you be baking for the holiday?
As the Vanilla Pod Bakery specialises in wedding cakes we don’t really bake for the holidays. We have a lot of brides who get married on Easter weekend so we will be creating delicious cakes for them, but personally I do love a hot cross bun, which I have made on the odd occasion.
And what would your go-to recipes be for celebration bakes?
For celebration cakes I have a whole collection of recipes which I am so slowly but surely creating for a recipe book (a goal for 2018). But really it depends on the individual. It was one of my friend’s birthdays last month and I whipped up a white chocolate and raspberry layer cake with white chocolate drips. Yum,
It’s been a contentious topic, but what do you think about the changes for Great British Bake Off next year, as it moves to Channel 4 and loses key personalities?
I think it will be interesting. I don’t think the BBC should have sold it but life moves on and things do change. So I am not sure, if it is anything like Big Brother I’ll be switching off, however, if it is more like First Dates then I may just be hooked!
Finally, if you had to choose just one thing to bake forever, what would it be and why?
One thing to bake forever! Gosh, umm, most likely a Victoria sponge as it a classic recipe but there is loads you can do with it. Sandwich it with jam, cut it up into squares and coat in icing and coconut (pretty much a lamington), heat it up with custard and more!
Thank you for having me Lauren.
It’s been a pleasure, Pia, as always!