At the age of 22, it can be hard to believe what Hollie O’Callaghan of Hollie’s Little Cakery has achieved in such a short space of time, with over 4,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook, and the opening of her first shop. Hannah Patterson met with her in Southborough to discover just how she has done it, and what’s coming next…
Tell us, was baking always your dream?
Not at all! I only fell into it about four years ago. It was when I had finished my A levels at St Gregory’s Catholic School in Tunbridge Wells, and the plan was to study biology at university following a gap year. It was during that gap year that I found cakes and baking. I am 22 now, and it was surprisingly late that I picked it all up perhaps compared to other success stories.
So you just fell into it?
Really, I should have known I would end up baking, especially as I’ve always liked making a mess! My mum will tell you. During my year off, for no particular reason, I started making cupcakes with little flowers and basic cutouts. A friend of the family tried one and asked me to make one for a friend. They offered to pay me, which was fine by me! It spiralled from there, really. One friend told another friend, and then told someone else… I owe a lot to word of mouth. The barber on the High Street was actually the first to ask me to make a fullsized cake for his girlfriend. That was the first time I tried baking something other than a cupcake. Then, as they say, the rest is history…
With well over 4,000 likes on Facebook, you’re becoming a local celebrity, aren’t you?
I honestly didn’t think it would get this far. My own shop and a social media following? Honestly, it’s mad! I am very positive and determined, but I still didn’t know that I would make quite this much of it. Strangely enough, before all this, my friend’s mum happened to suggest I go along to a craft fair with her and take some cupcakes. I have to admit, I hated asking people for money, though. The business part definitely came later. There came a point when I knew I needed a shop. Once I knew that, it became my dream and I worked hard to get it. All the time, I would tell myself “You will have your own shop,” and I was determined to make sure I did.
And here we are in your shop in Southborough!
I’m so overwhelmed that people actually care. The shop is in a great location so everyone can see it and look in. I love seeing people I’ve never met before discussing the shop, and that it’s open now and they want to visit me! Even people far away in the north are saying they will come down to visit me in the shop one day! I see all their comments on social media and I can’t believe all the positivity.
The shop feels very homely and relaxed. Can people sit in and eat or just pre-order?
Everyone is always welcome to pop in for a visit. At the moment, in particular, I’m focusing on weddings. It feels so great to be part of someone’s special day, and I feel like I can get really creative. The little bags of things like peanut brittle are nice for people to come in and buy, though. Once settled, I’ll serve cupcakes, brownies and things for people to pop in and have in the daytime with a cup of tea.
It’s an amazing change from what it was before! How was the move itself into the new shop?
The shop was so dark before, and that had to change. Now people are always looking in and asking what I’m doing in here. It’s also different to your usual bakery – more homely. I was quite lucky in that a family friend, Stuart Moore, was able to come in and do the floor. My Dad did a feature wall for me, which I love, and other family members and friends helped out. The sign outside is hand painted. It’s been a long process – I got the keys on July 1 this year – and lots of tears have gone into making the shop into what you see here now. It took so long to do I was worried the excitement was fading as time passed, but now I’m here, I am so excited again! It doesn’t feel real after so long coming, but it does feel like my own home.
Why did this décor appeal to you over a more traditional set-up?
There used to be a cake shop here in Southborough when I was younger, and I used to go there every day to watch the lady make figurines out of icing. She’d always know I was coming, and I’d watch her make new things each day. I have mirrored that atmosphere and sense of welcome here. I want people to feel it’s an open place where they can watch me bake, as opposed to baking out the back and bringing things through. It feels a little warmer that way.
And what kind of bakes will your focus be on? What is your biggest demand?
I do a bit of everything. At Christmas, stocking fillers were popular, but birthdays and weddings are the big cakes. And people are starting to trust me with the design now, instead of following their brief.
Are you booked up for weddings in 2017?
So far, including enquiries, I’m looking at about 50 weddings next year. I’d have to check the diary, but I think there are four in one week in April! I only really started doing weddings about a year ago, so I’m so glad to have so much interest.
Have you got room for any more?
I’d say it’s always worth enquiring…
Is there a favourite cake you’ve made?
The wedding cake pictured on the wall of the shop is my favourite [also pictured below]. The bride came to me without too many specifics, but just said she wanted a cake inspired by her dress. The dress had beautiful ruffles over the shoulder and some pretty lace detailing with a plain satin band in the middle. I did each part on a separate tier. She later sent me a picture of her cutting the cake and it looked great next to her dress – and she loved it!
And the most challenging?
There was once a brief for a five-tier cake that was about 40 inches tall with hanging diamantés. They booked it in when I first started, two years in advance! The nerves sometimes got the better of me on that one. I certainly grew in confidence after that.
Where does all this creativity come from? Did you study art subjects?
Well, I did biology, chemistry, art and maths at A level. I emailed my art teacher the other day, as I had made him a cake for his leaving do. It was a nice art themed cake, which he loved, and I think it was nice for him to see me using my creativity now, as oppose to doing biology at university. There is a certain type of science in baking, though.
Is world domination next on the list?
London, Paris and New York. They are the big three and the dream. However, at the minute at least, I am still overwhelmed by it all, as are my family and friends.
Are your family beaming with pride?
I had a soft opening last weekend, which they all came to. It was very emotional – I did a speech and everything. Everyone kept saying how proud they were and my grandparents were crying.
They must quite enjoy having a baker in the family…
Yes. I had a jar of my peanut brittle at home for my dad’s Christmas present, but he’s already eaten half of it…
At the moment, it’s just you running the shop. With next year being so busy, have you any plans for staff?
Since I’ve opened the shop, I’ve had so many people sending me their CVs. I’d love to take everyone on and give them experience. But, as a new company, I need to focus on budget and who I need for what kind of help. I may need help with baking or help with accounts. I can’t be sure yet. I’ve even had people offering to work for free, which I still can’t believe!
What would you say are the top three qualities needed to be a good baker or cake maker?
Creativity, passion and determination. I’d say patience if I could have four. You have to breathe if anything goes wrong and just keep baking!