Monday, 27 August 2012

Bitter-Sweet Taste of Cupcake

It was one of London's rainy Wednesdays when Melissa Morgan was heading to the Greenwich Market with three dozens of handmade cakes to sell. It was her trial day. With her mum by her side, who came specially for that day from Canada, it seemed like a first day at school. 
It was cold, Melissa wasn't sure if she had made a right decision and she was scared of other traders who would be following her every step and observing her throughout the day. Despite all that, she and her mum stayed at the Greenwich Market for the whole day - freezing but filled with joy as they sold all the cakes long before the closing time.

That was in 2010. Now Melissa Morgan is well-known London vegan sweets maker. But she is not going to finish planning and dreaming, because as she says, every time one dream is fulfilled another is born. And her cupcake oriented mind stores many dreams – having a stall and a shop was only the beginning. With her own cook book on the horizon, having a TV show will be the next step. 

From teaching to baking
The story begins some time before the stall in Greenwich Market. She was teaching drama and music in primary schools and doing a lot of consultancy, so she traveled extensively around the UK. Melissa loved her job but everyone around encouraged her to do something about her passion for baking. She had always loved making sweets and was giving them to family and friends as gifts. As a vegan she had been looking for suitable treats in London but found nothing interesting. Nagged by her friends and family she started researching how to run business from her own kitchen and sell hand-made products at the market.
She had no idea about running a business but was good in asking questions. "I went to several workshops. I phoned different kind of authorities to find out what my kitchen had to have to be considered safe. I also researched London markets to find out where could I sell the most but also where I would have a chance to build relationships with the customers" Melissa recalls.

Ms. Cupcake is born
When she was given a stall for a trial at the Greenwich Market she was ready with the products and business idea. She had already set up a fanpage on Facebook and an account on Twitter and was communicating with potential customers. For them she was Ms. Cupcake. Because of the relationship she had built, customers started coming to Greenwich. That's what market owners liked and allowed Melissa to sell there few days a week on a regular basis.
Soon another opportunity came - this time it was an offer from Brick Lane market, one of the trendiest markets in London. - I thought I would be teaching few days a week and the rest would be baking and selling cakes at the market. Very soon I realised it was impossible and I needed to  make a decision what to do. My family gave me a year to try. We made an ultimatum, if it didn't work, I would go back to teaching" says Ms. Cupcake. This is how she became full-time market trader. "I was waking up at 6 am, packing my car and from 8 am to 5.30 pm I was at the market. Boxes with supplies were everywhere, even in my bedroom" Melissa laughs. She needed help "I hired Derek, who is now Ms.Cupcake's shop manager, to help me. It meant I had a stranger in my kitchen while I wasn't at home".
In the beginning it didn't seem like fulfilling a dream. "Very quickly I realised I needed to change something, otherwise I would go mad. We had to move to a permanent shop" admits Melissa. Asked, if  it didn't happen too quick, she answers firmly "I had already made a decision that I was not going back to teaching, so I had to make a move. It meant even bigger responsibility but  it was also a chance to get closer to the customers."
Before opening a shop she took two weeks of 'holidays'. – I toured some of  the biggest American cities – NYC, Jersey, and Philadelphia and visited vegan cake shops. The owners were more than happy to talk to me when they heard I was going to open something like this in London." With every conversation, she picture of her business was getting clearer. She was on a mission of fulfilling her customers' dreams of vegan birthday and wedding cakes. She not only had the idea but also location to make it come true - it was in Brixton market in south London where she is still based. Three weeks before opening she realised she still needed around ₤1000. With her team they set up the stall in front of the shop-to-be and started selling the cakes to earn that money for. They made it.

More than just a cupcake
Shop opened the Brixton shop on anniversary of her first day at the market. It was 1st April 2011, Fool's Day. But the business wasn't a joke at all. "Once we started, I again had to think outside the box because the shop wouldn't earn all the money" says Melissa openly. She started giving classes. After hours she was teaching how to decorate cupcakes but also how to run a business from home and at the market. The classes proved successful and are now organised regularly. If you pass Ms. Cupcake's shop on some of the evenings you will see a group of several people starring at her and soaking every of her word. Asked, if she is not afraid of competition, she answers that it’s her duty to share the knowledge she got and let others open their own businesses. She knows what they need to go through, because she had to do it herself. – Each person who comes to the classes has different personality and also the business they want to set up is different than all others. This is why I’m not afraid of selling my ideas."

If that wasn't enough, Melissa speaks at the conferences, writes for magazines and is preparing a cook book to be published in 2013, as well as a TV show. Her growing popularity is not only the consequence of high quality of her products but also of Melissa's personality. "Name and character of Ms. Cupcake came before everything else. It helps me to express myself. Even my shop and home look similar" she says.

Love and passion for vegan sweets of this energetic Canadian woman, who has lived in the UK for many years, is visible and contagious. As she says, she looks at business from non-business perspective. She enjoys every day in the shop and every part of her business. And is always on the look for new opportunities.
She also does manage the business in a fair way. "I don’t pay minimum wage, because it would mean staff involvement is also minimum. By paying them fair money I get great and passionate people who are fulfilling their dreams in the shop" admits Melissa.
Derek, Sara, Fibi, Jhenn and Tracy couldn't live without Ms.Cupcake and her products. And she couldn't live without them. Every day they have great fun creating new recipes, especially when they try to turn non-vegan food into vegan. Recently they tried it with lemon curd! That must have been real fun. "I hire the most creative people from different parts of the world and we all together make this company fun" says Melissa.

Is Ms. Cupcake ever going to stop? "My brain is like one big cupcake. I want to go on a national level but I'm not ready yet". Even though different supermarket chains wanted to sell her products she keeps saying no. "I’m not yet ready. I am also not yet ready to open another shop in a different city. I feel you can only grow to the point you’re really ready for" she says. Maybe it’s not a usual business approach but Ms.Cupcake knows why and what she is doing and sooner or later she will bake many more cupcakes with her attitude. 

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