CHERYL GOVENDER is the founder and owner of The Cake House in Pietermaritzburg. She is a qualified chef and professional cake artist. The Cake House has become a leading provider of designer cakes including engineered life-size cakes. Cheryl's exceptional cakes, each a masterpiece, have been featured in magazines and on television, and The Cake House is recognised as a leader in new age sugarcraft.
Cheryl is inspired by successful bakeries and cake artists. She explains, "This is a tough industry and requires not only talent, but a business mind, people skills, market insight, tenacity, and continuous learning and growth."
One of her biggest inspirations is Buddy Valastro, an American baker who is the star of the reality television series 'Cake Boss'.
Be clear about what must be achieved
Cheryl believes she got to where she is now and reached her goals by being clear about what she needed to achieve and why she needed to achieve them. She says her career started when she was fourteen when she was handed down decorating tools that her sister no longer needed. "Although I was a real tomboy, beating the boys at their own games in the streets, I did girly stuff when I went home, like playing with cake decorating tools and my dolls," she laughed.
Cheryl learned about sugar art by reading books from the municipal library and often left the kitchen in a mess after experimenting. Her Consumer Studies teacher recognised Cheryl's talent; arranged for her to attend a cake decorating course, and gave her a toolset, which she treasures to this day.
This teacher, now a retired school principal, adopted Cheryl as a daughter, helped her to believe in herself, and became her mentor to this day.
Cheryl won a Consumer Studies Inter School Award in matric due to her passion for cake decorating, but at that time she considered it a hobby, not a career.
After a year at college, Cheryl married and became a mother. She joined the corporate world but kept on making decorated cakes as a hobby to supplement her income. When her son was two years old, Cheryl entered and won the Pietermaritzburg Royal Show sugarcraft competition. This led to her teaching sugarcraft on a part-time basis at the now FET College in Northdale, something she continued passionately for 25 years. This Cheryl said, was fulfilling: "empowering women has always been close to my heart".
Focus on one thing and do it well
Cheryl gained wide experience in the corporate world, including ten years in shipping and international travel, before she started her own export business. This business crashed during the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 and she "fell back on her hands", starting a food catering business that also provided cakes. Cheryl made a few designer cakes assuming there was little market for these due to the high prices, but word of her quality and expertise spread and orders increased.
A traumatic divorce, the demands of being involved in catering, wedding décor, training and making cakes at the same time, made her realise that she needed to streamline her activities. In 2012 she decided to focus on one thing only and do it well and opened The Cake House. Cheryl, a single mom had herself, her mother's assistance, two children, and a house. As she had lost her vehicle, Cheryl went everywhere in running shoes while carrying cake ingredients and other items in a backpack.
Nothing was handed to her; she had no money and could not get a bank loan. Cheryl understood the risks involved but her faith and trust in God helped her. She managed to buy all her industrial baking equipment from a helpful appliance store on a three-month cash basis. Her business remains debt-free to this day.
Business skills are unrelated to gender
In Cheryl's view, women and men need the same business approach, as the skills required for a successful business are unrelated to gender. "Tenacity, hard work, honesty, patience and endurance are equally required from men and women." She does, however, concede that women face more challenges. She has had to face abuse, being a mother, and a divorce.
Achieving a work-life balance boils down to discipline for Cheryl. "It is necessary to make time for your family and yourself, and also to rest, but not working can be scary for a business owner with much to do," she says. "I've had to learn to set boundaries, say no, and cut myself off from work when it's time to relax and unwind." Gardening, time with her family and puppies, and doing things outside of the business help create a balance.
Cheryl is happy with what she has accomplished thus far and readily give others credit. Without her mother, she could not have set up The Cake House. Without the help of her husband Alan, her family, and staff members, she would not have been able to grow the business. She feels honoured having recently being appointed a brand ambassador with royal status, for Rolkem Colours, one of the world's largest food colourant providers.
While Cheryl is satisfied with the place she has reached, she is not comfortable about remaining there. Cheryl dreams of making the province proud of The Cake House as a tourism attraction. With a growing support structure in place, she is prepared to take risks within her means and take the business to the next level.