IT’S exciting times for south Warwickshire entrepreneur Saffron Medway as she prepares to expand her successful cake-making business with the launch of a new cafe.
But for the master baker who admits she ‘doesn’t like cake,’ it marks a huge departure from her previous profession – nine years as a Weightwatchers instructor!
The owner of Caking and Baking in Leamington Spa, Saffron was inspired to join the slimming group’s ranks after successfully shedding a whopping four stone in just 15 months under their weight loss programme, slimming down from a size 20 to size 10 dress size.
The 47-year-old mum of four said: “I had always been active and liked to run and, when I lived in London I was working as a childminder so was always on the go. But when we moved to Warwick I changed my job and worked in an office all day and was cooking less and having more takeaways and generally eating badly, so the weight just kind of crept on.
“So one day I decided to do something about it and I signed up to Weightwatchers and eventually reached my goal weight.
After a couple of years I decided to train to become a leader because I felt inspired by the journey I had been on and wanted to be able to give somebody else the same feeling and same experience I had.”
And so, she quit her long-held position at a Leamington export business, passed her nutrition training and went on to spend nine rewarding years instructing others on how to achieve their own weight loss goals.
“I loved seeing people achieving their goals and changing their lives for the better,” said Saffron. Some of my members lost 10 or 11 stone. It was an amazing experience to be a part of and some of them have become lifelong friends.”
But balancing her classes with the demands of a full time job was taking its toll and worrying signs, including bouts of insomnia and depression, signalled the need to make changes in her own life again.
But, in the meantime, Saffron’s passion for baking was continuing to feature more heavily as she worked throughout the night to perfect her sugarcraft skills.
She said: “I have always liked to bake and cook but I would find myself up in the middle of the night with insomnia trying to find something to do that was quiet – and there’s only so many books you can read – I just wanted to do something constructive. I don’t consider myself artistic funnily enough and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to pick up a pencil or a paintbrush or something, but I did enjoy baking and got hold of some books and magazines and watched You Tube videos and literally started teaching myself cake decorating.
“The children would come down in the morning and there would be a whole array of sugar craft animals or creatures in the kitchen. It got ridiculous because there was cake everywhere in the house. There was cake in the oven or on the table or in the office. And our space was completely taken over with cake making equipment.
She added: “The workload just got bigger and bigger and it had got to the point where I was literally working 24 hours a day. I was running the Weightwatchers meetings during the day, then having the children and doing all the domestic stuff and then it was off to another Weightwatchers meeting in the evening and then coming home at around 9 or 10pm to do my paperwork and then starting on my cakes. I would be working through to about 6.30am and wasn’t sleeping at all.
“I had to make a decision and it was at this point and my husband supported me to give up the Weightwatchers work to concentrate on the cake making but set me a challenge of making a profit within my first year, which I did.
“I also learned that It’s important to remember that things can change and even in the darkest moments there is light around the corner. Your mental health is important and making sure you are taking the time to look after it is vital, healing takes time but it is possible.”
It was time to focus on her new vision.
She added: “We started advertising and the business quickly grew until it became just too big for my kitchen at home. Around the same time a friend of mine was looking to sell her bakery business in Leamington Spa so I took it on.”
As well as a clutch of local business awards, Caking and Baking has already won recognition from all quarters of the industry, including a Certificate of Merit from the world’s largest cake competition Cake International, as well as being featured in Vogue and Cake Masters magazines.
Saffron’s skills have even been given the royal seal of approval when, in 2017, she was among seven teams chosen to recreate the Queen’s wedding cake for her 70th anniversary, right.
She said: “I am a member of the British Sugarcraft Guild and they were asked to find people to recreate each of the seven tiers of the original cake. We spent an afternoon royal icing netting and polystyrene to make the sixth tier.
“It was an immensely proud moment and I felt extremely honoured to be chosen to do that, even if it was just a small part. In fact, I would say it was the pinnacle of my cake making career so far.”
She also does her bit for the local community by linking up with national charity Free Cakes For Kids, (https://freecakesforkidsleamingtonspa.weebly.com) an organisation dedicated to creating birthday cakes for children who, through circumstances beyond their control, would otherwise not have one.
It partners with organisations such as children’s centres and social services who request cakes on behalf of the families.
The irony of the slimming instructor turned baker’s tale is not lost on Saffron herself who even unashamedly admits to some of her best customers being former Weightwatchers clients!
She said: “It was hilarious. It was a never-ending business circle because I would be supplying cake and helping them lose weight and then supplying them with cake again and helping them lose weight again! I would often turn up to my meeting with a celebration cake for one of my members because they’d ordered one.
“But it also helped because I developed a lot of low fat cake baking with fresh fruit or Greek yoghurt.”
But Saffron is keen to point out that you can, in fact, have your cake and eat it!
“You can still have cake and lose weight. Weight loss and healthy weight maintenance is about having everything you want, but just in moderation. There is no reason why if you’re trying to lose weight that you can’t eat cake. You just have to make allowances elsewhere.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with cake or enjoying a little bit of what you like because if you deprive yourself of something you just crave it more and you’re going to end up over-indulging because that’s what we do as people.
“It’s just about self-discipline and being in control. But when you want it enough it will happen. When you want the weight loss more than the piece of cake or more than that glass of wine or more than that bag of crisps, that’s when it changes.”
She added: “People are amazed when I tell them what I used to do. Weightwatchers instructors, when they leave, tend to go into their own weight loss classes or fitness and nutrition classes because they have the knowledge -and then there’s me baking cakes for a living!”
Some 18 months on from the shop opening, her team has now grown to five, headed up by manager Abby Hawkins – and Saffron is already planning for the next project – to open her first café, in the new year, in neighbouring Warwick.
Saffron said: “Years ago, before I even started to make cake, it was always my plan to have a tea room or coffee shop so it’s lovely to see that happening. I always had my eye on Warwick.
“When people refer to me as a businesswoman I say, ‘I’m not, I just make cake!’ I also think to myself, what am I doing starting a new business at my age? But I do feel proud of what I’ve achieved and the business it has become.”