Irish Women in Business - Kelly Lou of Kelly Lou Cakes 6 years ago

Irish Women in Business - Kelly Lou of Kelly Lou Cakes

Here at Her Towers, there are a lot of sweet treats sent in and we've become experts at critiquing cake (or so we like to think anyway).

Kelly Lou Cupcakes recently sent us in a selection of cupcakes, brownies and macaroons and let's just said it made for the BEST mid-week surprise.

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Her bakery is located in Portlaoise and where possible, she tries to stick to fresh Irish ingredients.

Cake master Kelly Lou features in this week's Irish Women in Business feature but a word of warning, you're likely to experience serious cravings while reading.


Tell us about how you started your baking career.

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I learned to bake from a young age and always loved it as a hobby but I grew up with a business background. As soon as we were old enough we helped out in the family hardware business and I studied retail enterprise management in DIT with the intention of joining the business.

I enjoyed the ‘softer’ side of the business getting involved in buying housewares and cookware for the shop. I always felt there was a place for a small coffee shop within the store and eventually my Dad gave in and let me have my own little corner, on the proviso that I ran it myself.

Hence Kelly Lou Cakes was born in June 2012. I started baking cupcakes in a small domestic oven in the corner of the shop, and served them with teas and coffees.

I quickly outgrew the small corner oven and needed more space and bigger ovens.

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Financing the bakery was a struggle, especially as the downturn had seriously affected the family business and I had to go it alone.

I got help from AIB and the county enterprise board and one year after startup, I opened a commercial bakery just around the corner from the shop.

What challenges did you face?

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One of the biggest challenges I faced was the closure of the family shop after 24 years in business. It was devastating personally but also from a business point of view as my little café, the outlet where I sold my cakes and met my customers, was within the shop!

For three months, I operated in an empty shell of a building, but thankfully customers continued to support me and in August 2014 we re-opened a smaller kitchen/housewares store which compliments the cake business quite nicely.

Finance is always a struggle as commercial bakery equipment is so expensive, but over the three years I have put all the money back into the business and I think I am finally reaching the stage where we have everything we need to run efficiently.

What sets your business apart?

I keep a tight control over costs but will not compromise on the quality of our ingredients. We bake everything from scratch, we don’t use bakery mixes or preservatives.

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I believe that’s what sets us apart. So many bakeries are using mixes now. I know that they make the product much cheaper to produce but the taste is not the same as using free range eggs and real Irish butter.

I also have fantastic people working with me who often give more than is expected and I am truly blessed to have such a brilliant team.

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There are different aspects to our business. There are the cupcakes, cookies, macarons and other small bakes that we make every day for orders and the café. Then there are the celebration and novelty cakes for events such as birthdays, christenings, anniversaries.

Our wedding cake business has grown incredibly and barely a week goes by when there isn’t a wedding or two to cater for. We have corporate customers who often order large quantities of bakes personalized with their logos.

Recently we renovated a 1970’s caravan, kitting it out as a mobile Kelly Lou Cakes serving cakes and coffees that is hired out for events and weddings. We named the caravan Gloria and we just had a brilliant weekend with her, catering at the Electric Picnic.

How can customers get in touch with you?

We are very active on social media and this is where we reach a lot of our customers. Aside from a few popular wedding magazines we don’t do much advertising in print media any more.

You will find us – kellyloucakes- on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and most recently on Snapchat where I give an insight into the daily happenings of the business.

There is barely a month goes by when there isn’t some special event to look forward to. Just recovering from the Electric Picnic, we are looking forward to the Ploughing Championships next week.

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This will be our third year to take a stand and it has been brilliant for meeting new customers and getting our name out there. It is hectic and extremely hard work, but I have a fantastic team and my family help out. It’s all hands on deck!

Then we’ll be planning for Halloween and Christmas. In 2016 we hope to expand and maybe open a second outlet.

What advice would you give?

You need to be passionate about your business and be prepared to work really long hours. I rarely take a day off and often work 14 hour days. But I wouldn’t do it unless I truly loved it and got satisfaction from it. 

What do you love most about your job?

I love meeting people and I get to meet them when they are celebrating happy events in their lives, be it a wedding, christening or birthday. I love when we have spent days on a wedding cake to see it finished and on display in the venue.

I love creating a new cake for the café or a new flavor of cupcake or macaron. (I love when my macarons turn out perfect - I have had many disasters with them!) I love the smile on a child’s face when they come in to collect their birthday cake.

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What has been the highlight so far?

I have a few highlights: Making the cake in 2012 for the press launch of the tenth anniversary of the Electric picnic was memorable as it was the biggest cake I had made up to then, and I made it in a small domestic oven!

Opening the bakery was a huge achievement and it really took the business up to another level. We are now able to cater for large events and have employed two full-time bakers.

I was a Laois finalist in the Ireland’s best young entrepreneur competition last year and that was exciting because I loved meeting other young people in business. It made me more aware of the importance of networking with other young entrepreneurs as we can do so much to help each other.

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Completing the fit out of Gloria was a highlight as it is something I have always wanted to do and it took three months of working late nights and every weekend to get her finished.

Can you give us one baking tip essential?

Start off simply with vanilla cupcakes or sponge, just butter, eggs, flour, sugar and a drop of good vanilla extract. Start with all your ingredients at room temperature so they blend easily. Don’t overwork your mix once the flour is in.

Once you have perfected the basic vanilla sponge then start looking at other flavours and don’t be afraid to experiment. We all have disasters but we learn from them. Sometimes even the professionals have a soggy bottom!