‘Meera’s Kitchen’ is a lesson for all wannabe woman entrepreneurs. The online cake shop has helped an ordinary housewife earn a handsome income from the comfort of her house in Kochi. Meera Manoj shares her success story.
What prompted you to start a cake business?
I always liked cooking. The idea of a cake business occurred to me about 15 years after marriage. I had attended a professional course on baking but still, I was not thinking to make it into a business. I only had home baking in mind. I wanted to bake for my children. I baked plain cakes for some family functions. Friends who liked the cakes asked me if I could bake for them too. They even sent me their required designs. They posted pictures of those cakes on Facebook. When I came to know about the response, I wondered if I could make it into a profession. I have to thank social media for my success. I then went for an advanced course to be a little more professional.
What are your special offerings?
I make any flavor the customer wants. I get orders mostly for designer cakes. We have a lot of foreign influence when it comes to cakes. Europeans cut a cake for every occasion. We are following suit. From birthdays and wedding anniversaries to salary hikes and farewell parties are occasions for cake cutting. We never used to cut cakes for baptism and holy communion earlier. Now we do.
The western influence is evident in flavors too. We get all European ingredients imported here. We get any amount of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in Kerala as preserved canned fruits. Walnuts and hazelnuts were not so popular here. Now a lot of people demand those. Same with the case of almonds. Still only people who can afford them ask for them since they are slightly expensive. Then there are orders for the common varieties such as praline, black forest and white forest. People who have stayed abroad know a great deal about cake varieties. Then there are people who get familiar with these varieties from YouTube videos. People are looking for variety.
What is your investment?
This is not a business that requires a lot of investment. My working space is my home kitchen. You have to buy an oven, a cake-baking oven, not a microwave oven. You can buy it for about Rs 6,000. Then trays, papers and ingredients. Any woman can do this business provided she has a bit of creativity and imagination. It pays well. I used to be stumped by some designs in the initial stage. But you get a hang of it as you do it. I get a lot of help from my husband. He gives me useful suggestions on color mixing and other creative aspects.
How do you market?
I have not set up a shop though I have plans. I sell cakes mostly through online. Facebook and WhatsApp are of great use. Many people come to me after seeing the photos shared by someone. Word of mouth publicity is vital. Kochi is an important center but I also take orders from Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Kollam and Thrissur districts. I make cakes with hard icing that is not melted if taken in an air-conditioned car. The cakes can be kept in air-conditioning up to three days. Fresh cream cakes are not easy to be handled like this. I still pack it well and deliver. I charge from Rs 850 per kilo for plain cakes. Designer cakes will be costlier.
What is your success mantra?
I never compromise on quality. I do not rely on readymix like the pastry shops do. No preservatives either. Businesses do all these things to increase their margins. I have never done any of those in the five years I have been in the business. I personally go to the shop to buy each ingredient, including high-quality branded flour, powdered sugar and butter. Home bakers will never go for readymix packs. Many of the cakes you get in shops have no butter or eggs. They have nothing. I offer healthy and hygienic cakes. My customers know that. People who have lived in Germany or Belgium cannot eat more than one piece when they go to a shop in Kerala. They know the difference in quality and taste. They get the taste in my home baking. Word of mouth publicity is key here. It is true that I do not have a huge margin but volume business compensates for that. People who have tasted my cakes put in a good word to others. They come back to me.
I also get bulk order inquiries. I accept those orders if I get time. Most often I have my hands full. I need at least 10 hours to complete a designer cake. I have to bake it, let it cool and then decorate it with icing. When I have to concentrate on a designer cake, I have to refuse bulk orders.
What are your future plans?
I have a lot of plans. My business booms in the season. I am fully booked in November and December. I want to start a finishing school in Kochi. I have been mulling it for two years. I will start it if everything goes well. I plan to hire celebrities in the cooking industry or get them as visiting faculty.
I have been conducting cooking classes for five years. I want to expand that activity into a finishing school, where every style including continental, pastry and pudding making are taught apart from stuff like table etiquette. Things that will come handy when you have to manage a hose alone. Not many people know how to manage when you get a surprise guest. Most people buy food from outside or eat out with the guest. We can manage such situations with a little thought. We can get things prepared the day before though you can only make a salad at the last minute. There are a lot of things to learn. We can be free an hour before the guest arrives, if you have planned everything in advance. You can’t keep on cooking once the guest has arrived. What I have in mind is a complete training package.