There’s nothing half-baked about Victoria Yum, or its ‘chief cake girl’ Kiersten Donohue. Even the Rolling Stones can’t get enough of her sweet satisfaction.
It’s an unusual career leap from personal trainer to cake maker (since, presumably in the former incarnation she spent some time steering her clients away from the produce of the latter), but in the ten years since she started Victoria Yum, Kiersten Donohue has not looked back. Mostly, as she says, because she’s barely had a moment for such luxuries as reflection.
I caught up with the entrepreneurial baker at the end of a busy Friday after a 4am start in the week before Valentine’s Day.
“Everyone’s gone cake crazy for Valentine’s Day and so it’s been an especially busy time,” she enthuses. “This is a seven-day-a-week operation and on a Friday I like to get in early so I can see off our delivery driver at 5am and check everything’s OK.”
Given the mouth-wateringly inviting Victoria Yum cake range, Kiersten’s infectious enthusiasm for both business and baking is both palable and absolutely justified.
“My product is my business and, as corny as it sounds, you really are only as good as your last cake,” she explains. The confections – which include cupcakes, layer cakes, brownies and bespoke numbers for any celebration – are reliably excellent. And as if to underline that point, last year the business became a supplier to Harrods’ Foodhall, which takes around 400 cakes in three deliveries every week – and whose every beautifully presented morsel represents the crème de la crème of British and worldwide produce. It is an accolade indeed.
Rock royalty the Rolling Stones are – it is strongly suspected – also fans. The last time the band played London’s Hyde Park, Kiersten was the official ‘cake girl’ with a special edition cupcake bearing the band’s iconic red tongue image.
“We had a stand there for 10 days and sold our entire stock of 3,500 cakes in one night,” says Kiersten. “The runners kept on coming to us to take cakes backstage, and so I like to think the band were eating and enjoying them too.”
Heady moments at major music events and supply agreements with the likes of Harrods are a long way from the nascent days of the business, which started almost by accident, according Kiersten.
“It began in earnest after my first child was born and I eventually began baking for school functions. It kind of grew from there,” she explains. “I didn’t know how to sell cakes at first, but then a coffee shop in Broadway Market asked me to make some for them, and that was like a lightbulb moment for me. I had assumed that cafés and shops would be buying from huge companies, but in fact there was a market for a smaller company with a passion and a personal touch. That coffee shop in Broadway Market has a lot to answer for,” she laughs.
These days, explains Kiersten, the business employs three staff – “Michael our amazing delivery driver, Maxine who keeps everything ticking over, and Emily who is the perfect right-hand girl” – and boasts more than 80 clients, including a number of cafés and galleries.
Sales are split 50/50 between wholesale clients and Victoria Yum’s own retail business, the main outlet for which is the so-called ‘cake castle’: a three-by-three metre bedsit-sized purpose-built cabin based at London Fields.
The business is mainly focused on serving the London and Greater London areas, although clients from Essex, Kent and Watford have cottoned on to Victoria Yum – as well as a few further afield too.
“We get sent amazing photos of our cakes in all sorts of far-flung destinations,” says Kiersten. “My favourite was a customer who took a cake back to Paris – the city of the pâtisserie. That felt really great.”
One of the big turning points for Victoria Yum was the Harrods opportunity, Kiersten believes. “That really changed everything for us as a business and it made me take a long, hard look at how we were operating and making sure we were doing our very best.”
She adds: “I’m very lucky to have an amazing team and great support from my family. My husband has been my project manager all the way through in every business development – and he even took two weeks’ holiday from his work to come and help out when we were at the Rolling Stones gig.”
What, then, does the future hold? Despite the long hours and hard work, Kiesten says she’s in it for the long-haul. “I’ve never really been interested in creating a big commercial concern and then selling it on or anything like that. I’ve cared for the business and nurtured it and I love all we’ve achieved; it is as much a passion as it is a business.”
She adds: “One of my biggest self-criticisms is that I’m prone to taking little steps forward in business. But one day we are going to get that new big unit; that’s the dream.” It can’t be long before it’s in reach.