For London-based entrepreneur Chinelo Awa, the need to support family back home in Nigeria has always been a very real and present feature of her professional path.
But her creativity and a desire to find ‘purpose’ has seen her take something of a diversion from the academic path she started upon as an 18 year-old-student. Here’s her story.
You can understand the motivation of someone wanting to create a cake business – surely. What’s not to love?
Imagine spending all day cradling a bowlful of cake batter and getting to legitimately taste-test every batch, just to be sure you’re ‘pitch perfect’ for your discerning clientele.
But to think that would be the motivation of entrepreneur Chinelo Awa, couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Okay; like all of us, she admits she ‘loves to eat cake’; but her intentions and her purpose are so much more than merely to create a saccharine business which hangs on producing row after row of vanilla sponge in her London home.
Born in Nigeria, Chinelo may have been university-educated in the UK from the age of 18, but she’s so acutely aware of the community she has – perhaps temporarily – left behind.
Today, by formal qualification she’s a very successful lawyer, and couldn’t have made her family more proud. But three years ago, her heart was telling her that her soul was neither content or complete.
“I wasn’t unhappy, or disappointed with what my life looked like, but there was something deep within me that was missing,” she confesses.
“Every time I was meeting up with friends, I would be listening to them talk about what made them passionate; what they loved; what got them out of bed in the morning.
“I knew that I loved my career in law and was very proud to have achieved my degree and be in a great firm in London, but I kept experiencing a kind of internal ‘voice’ which was telling me that I needed to find that passion.”
This conscious path led Chinelo, who turned 30 this year, to spend more time thinking about what made her happy, and what made her feel more of a ‘contributor’ to the world.
It was through this soul-searching that she recognised that the hobby which brought her so much joy, could equally be a professional calling.
“I’d always made cakes for friends and family, but was very much self-taught and hadn’t, until that point, ever thought of it as a commercial avenue,” she continues.
“Around the time I was doing a lot of internal reflection about where I wanted to be, I stumbled upon an email message about an online course, so I investigated a little further, and decided I’d go the route of teaching myself online.
“The course was really good value for money and meant that I could learn to create ‘really good cakes’ through tutorials and forums.
“It seemed like exactly the sort of thing I could commit to out of work hours, so I threw myself in, bought lots of professional equipment while I was on a planned trip to the USA, and got started from my own kitchen.”
Making herself extremely popular with colleagues, friends, neighbours – and anyone else who fancied a slice of cake – Chinelo spent the best part of a year producing and perfecting every conceivable kind of sponge creation, determined that she wouldn’t know if she truly ‘had a business’ until she was receiving rave reviews.
“I’m not one to do something by halves, and I like to perfect things, so there was a great deal of trial and error,” she laughs.
“I found my own way with most things, and kept testing and testing and testing the ideas on my various friends and family, before I was then confident enough to go the route of pop-up events.
“At that point, I felt I’d really got a business which people wanted, and I formally registered late in 2016 as Good Day Cake, but even then, it wasn’t the full picture.”
Coincidentally spurred on by hearing a relative in Nigeria discuss the poverty of families back ‘home’, Chinelo became convinced that her enterprise was meant to be about spreading happiness in more ways than simply serving up delicious slices of double-chocolate heaven.
Her professional earnings as a legal practitioner for a property firm had always revolved around sending money back home and ‘delivering good’ to the community from which her ancestors had originated.
The new chapter, she decided, should share the same intention around ‘paying it forward’.
“It dawned on me that many families back in Nigeria just weren’t able to afford to make a simple birthday cake for their child every year,” she continues.
“I was saddened by that and reminded of how fortunate I had been to be sent to the United Kingdom to develop a formal education in a profession like law.
“I decided to seek out a cake-creator in Nigeria, and to propose a social enterprise plan, whereby we could grant children in my village back home a celebration cake every year.
“I then found a woman who has a charity which cares for terminally ill orphans. Knowing they would be going without a birthday cake – which might even be their last – broke my heart. I knew it was the project to work with.”
She says: “It took a fair bit of organising, because logistically I knew it was never going to be me sending my own cakes across to Nigeria, but it felt like it was an absolutely critical part of what I wanted to achieve for my cake-making business.
“Today, we’ve been gifting handmade cakes to the children in that charity since early 2017, and it’s something I’ve also found an opportunity to do here in London.”
On UK turf, the same approach has been somewhat simpler to navigate, given that there is already in place a project called Free Cake For Kids.
Chinelo is now a supplier to this project, and is given a regular list of children in the area of Camden who would otherwise go without a birthday cake, if it were not for the generous donations of makers and suppliers throughout the capital.
“That’s the work which makes me feel most proud,” she admits, smiling.
“To be able to contribute in such a positive way to families both in Nigeria and here in London is a really satisfying thing, and it makes me feel like, finally, I have the sense of passion and purpose which I used to feel my friends had – but which I lacked.”
While Chinelo is still employed as a lawyer, her business is steadily building in scale and awareness.
She believes that with confidence, and with the recognition of a true ‘purpose’, she has found a way to shape her enterprise with a clear USP for the future.
“I’ve learned that its not about merely ‘producing something’ but knowing that you’ve got a really sound reason behind it, and that you feel it is having an impact.
“Sure, you could say it’s ‘just cake’, but how often have you ever seen anyone react with sadness or disappointment or anger, at a cake.
“I feel I’m creating things which are bespoke and meaningful among my ‘everyday’ customers, but that beyond this, I’m part of two really special schemes which are bringing inordinate amounts of sunshine and happiness to those who, just for that day at least, deserve it beyond many others.
“That feels to me like the biggest motivator to make my business succeed.”
Chinelo Awa runs Good Day Cake. For more information about her business, and to discover her range of ‘Blush’ cakes, go to https://www.goodcakeday.com/
For any reader looking to purchase a cake before September 2018, Chinelo will apply a 10% discount for those quoting ELOQUENTLY.