Cake making is no longer business as usual. It requires creativity and aesthetics. These are the tools the Founder and CEO of Nikkycakes Studio, Irenita Nneka Ezeh employed seven years ago when her business got off the ground. As her creamy works take her across Nigeria and Africa, she is set to raise the bar for other entrepreneurs whilst stirring plans to launch her world-class bakery this year, Rebecca Ejifoma reports
To break the ice we went down memory lane. I was struggling to grasp how an ordinary cake business transfigured into a magnificent cake studio in Shashilga Court, Jabi , Abuja FCT where arrays of cakes are baked, displayed and wired across boundaries to satisfy the buds of cake lovers.
Of course, without cakes, events – weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and luncheons – will be orphaned. This is because cake makers have skillfully employed artistic tools to create true works of arts that are appealing. One of such abstract caterers is Enugu-born Irenita Nneka Ezeh.
Just in her early 30s, Ezeh is an actress, film producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and CEO of Nikkycakes Studio. Her cake studio conceived and birthed in 2013 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, where her inexplicable fairy cakes are rated the cream of the crop.
At first, the conversation began on social media then metamorphosed into a regular call of about an hour.
Indeed, there is something that could make you listen to her for ever, it is her creamy voice with rich laughter.
Today, she is bent on being ahead of the pack with her cake studio.
Nikkycakes Studio came into play when this graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of Calabar saw a need in her immediate society. She recounts her pleasant ride.
“Wow!”, she exclaimed as sweet memories gushed in. “I wanted cakes. So, I went to a cake shop in Abuja. I was told to come back in two weeks. That took me aback. From that moment, it popped into my mind – we need more cake shops in Abuja. And I already loved to bake.“
And as quick as a flash, her sleeves were rolled up; she delved into cake making that same year 2013. She turned her living room into her office for mixing, while her dining was her space to embellish the nude cakes. “I started from my living room to my dining where I designed the cakes. I had no shop though I got the necessary tools”.
Training in US, Dubai, Turkey
Before her business took off, she had to learn the ropes at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality in Dubai UAE; Sugar Room, New York US; and Le Cordon Bleu, Instabul Turkey.
“I went to Dubai to brush my skills. Afterwards, I moved on to the US to further strengthen my hands then to Turkey. I returned to Nigeria and the rest are pleasant memories”.
She continued: “I came across this cake studio in Dubai. It has pictures of cakes done about 20 years ago. The shop looked very much like a cake gallery with works splattered across; very appealing and inspiring. I decided I wanted a studio, too. So I called mine Nikkycakes Studio. Nikky is from my name Nneka as I’m fondly called.”
Clientele across Nigeria, Africa
Undoubtedly, there are a thousand and one creators of cakes and bakes across the country, but one thing that spurs her into giving it her best shot is her clientele. “I have an amazing clientele. They have kept me going these seven years. They are in and out of the country – Namibia, Uganda and Kenya”.
Having etched her cakes in the hearts of her clientele, they thirst for more. “I couldn’t shut down for more than four days during the lockdown. I worked from home as clients kept placing orders. We had to send cakes to Namibia, Uganda and Kenya. It’s just interesting how amazing it has been for us at Nikkycakes Studio”, she expressed.
Of course, just like many entrepreneurs out there, Ezeh says to keep one’s eyes on the ball, consistence and passion are ideal. “You need to know what you want to achieve first. Wake up. Pay attention. Then be consistent. When you start a business, you might not make any profit at the first stage but when you remain consistent, you will have a smooth sailing”.
Just in her early 30s, Ezeh has used her rapt skills to bake dreams. She has successfully employed over 30 people in seven years. She plans to take many others off the labour market.
On if there was ever a time she felt like going down swinging, the edible cake designer enthused boldly, “Not once have I felt that way in this business, whenever a negative thought wanted to cross my mind, energy will gush into me to give the best shot, as a result I’ve never really felt that way, I have the zeal and energy.
When Nikkycakes Studio bumped into challenges, it rolled with the punches. “Staffing has been a challenge. There are people you see roaming the streets tirelessly for jobs. When you employ them, you find out they don’t key into your vision, they give zero attention to the job, such could frustrate you.”
However, she noted that there are productive and reliable ones who will always fit into the vision. “So, if you have good staff, you are lucky”.
Carving a Niche in Taste
Despite the turbulent headwind faced by many entrepreneurs, Nikkycakes Studio mapped out quintessential features for itself to remain afloat.
“It is all about the taste. When you hear the word ‘cakes’, you think Nikkycakes studio. That is our destination. Wherever we send our cakes to, people call to find us. This is thanks to the taste of our cakes and the overall frilling”.
Although resident in Abuja, the cake studio has its presence across boundaries, it has even more exciting plans for cake lovers whose primary focus at events is dessert. “We are coming up with something extremely big. It’s not just going to be cakes anymore but everything baked; cakes, pies, ice-cream, yogurt, pastries, bread and more. It will be a shocker.
“The new bakery we are about to open is world-class, it will include everything bakes to satisfy the teeming population of cake enthusiasts, create more job opportunities and leave a lasting legacy,” she said.
Ezeh has not only donated her entire strength to cakes, she has also channelled it towards philanthropy and humanity. Last September, she was honoured with multiple awards for her show of love and heart of gold to some orphanages in the country.
The awards were: African Royalty Awards 2019; World Humanitarian Award 2019; Independence Hero’s Award; Association of Northern students; Competent Governance for Accountability and Civic Trust among a handful of others.
“It’s not something I talk about. I have a few orphanages I take cakes to from time to time. I just love doing it. There is this pleasant emptiness in my heart that only can be filled with the joy and laughter of those kids. And I’m pleased with it.”
Truly, the economy slid so suddenly. Almost everyone – businessmen and professionals – were sapped financially though not equally. Hence, Nikkycakes fashioned special offers for its clientele. “We have been doing a lot of friendly discounts on cakes to encourage people. Times are hard”.
Effect of COVID-19
On this, the entrepreneur bemoaned how events and cakes have parted ways in the last three months of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
‘’We have been selling in Abuja only since the lockdown. That has affected business. No weddings happening. Some who booked wedding cakes asked for refunds.”
Sadly, the pandemic rocked her business. A few clients who had booked for cakes and made payments called for a refund. “What would we do? We felt bad but then we can relate with that understandable reason – it was global”.
She and her staff, however, kept hope alive. “Parties are done in-house. We are making sales. We are booked daily and we are baking and creaming it all,” she says with her trademark rich laughter.
Leveraging Social Media
Today, Nikkycakes Studio has joined the bandwagon of those using social media to reach its audience. “We are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Social media has really enhanced Nikkycakes Studio, and introduced us far and wide.
For Ezeh, leaving a lasting legacy is her dream. “I have been doing mentorship programmes to train people on business, empowerment skills, and enlightenment in churches as I get invited. I have a heap of invitations. You need to pass on the skills to someone somewhere”.
Word for Upcoming Entrepreneurs
Having been in the industry since 2013 and waxing strong, Ezeh lends her voice to upcoming entrepreneurs yet to take their first baby step. “Choose what you are passionate about. Don’t do what someone else is doing because he or she is making some penny. You don’t know what the person goes through behind the scene”.
She further harps on passion as being most compatible with entrepreneurship. “Truth is, when you choose your passion, there won’t be traffic, but straight to your destination successfully. That way, you won’t throw in the towel when the wind comes tossing.”
While in the driver’s seat, the eloquent cake maker pledges to leave patterns for new entrepreneurs to instinctively mimic.
Today, Nikkycakes Studio is set. “We will continue to up our game to ensure everyone has a cakeful celebration with the launch of our new bakery – everything baked”.