The tasting challenge that won Wincer Cake House mega deals

Emily Muema, the founder of Wincer Cake House that is based in Harambee Sacco Estate in Nairobi's Donholm, in her bakery on November 14, 2023.

Photo credit: Elvis Ondieki | Nation Media Group

A blue-chip company calls bakers to submit cakes for a blind tasting session to determine who will supply them with the sweet goodness for an upcoming celebration.

Emily Muema, the founder of Nairobi-based Wincer Cake House, submits hers. Many other top names in the cake industry also bid.

When the verdict is out, the consequence is that Mrs Muema’s ovens in the Harambee Sacco Estate in Nairobi’s Donholm will be busy henceforth. She emerges the winner!

That is how the baker has managed to supply banks and top corporates in the city with cakes for customer service weeks and other celebrations. This is on top of the birthday cakes (which cost Sh1,800 on average), wedding cakes, graduation cakes among others that she has been making since she ventured into the business 10 years ago. 

Photo credit: Elvis Ondieki | Nation Media Group

Looking at us from a glass shelf as we interview Mrs Muema is a high-heel shoe, a folded pair of jeans, a couch, a bowl containing chicken, a kettle, among others. Well, that may sound like an insalubrious part of a market but it is not. All of them are cakes. Clients have been requesting that she shapes her cakes in different ways and, as they say in business, their wish is her command.

“We create new things every day. A good baker and a good cake decorator will create new things every day,” she says.

The interview happens at the front section of the cake house. Mrs Muema lays her signature Black Forest Deluxe on a plate and brings the forks from the back section of the establishment, where her staff are busy working on one thing or another.

As we dig into the palatable, brown gooey serving encased in white icing, she gives the story of the cake house that she believes is now ready to take a huge slice off the market of the top players makers in the market.

She was in Form Two when she made her first “serious” cake. Emulating her industrious mother, she learnt the art of making cakes early in life.

“I remember my first cake was done in Form Two without so much skill. But it was a wedding cake that the couple still remembers today,” says Mrs Muema, who was born and raised in Bondo, Siaya County.

The passion ignited, she knew where to go after secondary school. She took up a three-year course in catering and accommodation at Kibondeni College. Part of the course was on cake making and decoration.

“It’s not something that I was forced to do. It’s something that came naturally. And when it comes naturally, it is the best,” notes Mrs Muema.

Her husband, Mr Wellington Muema, later paid for her to be taught how to make and decorate more complex cakes.

“After that, he opened my first business and encouraged me to work at it and do my best. That is how we have got here today,” says Mrs Muema, adding that her husband, being her top taster, typically approves any new recipe she is introducing before it goes to the market.

She started off in Nairobi’s Komarock, where she was doing everything alone at a shopping centre. When the business needed more space to accommodate staff and machinery, she moved to her current location in Donholm. Today, she has five permanent employees.

Wincer Cake House has a growing number of clientele, some who reach them through their social media handles. Besides corporates, churches are also regular buyers.

So, does she have peak seasons?

“Being a household name, we are well spread throughout the year. But we have seasons where functions are so intense, like now this season that we are getting into, the December Christmas season, and then August and April for the weddings. But I thank God that with birthdays, it is well spread,” she says, putting the average number of orders per month at 30.

Mrs Muema says one of the ingredients for the success is sticking to quality. That is why they call their clients after a day or two.

“We want to get feedback on how the cake was. Feedback is very important to us. It’s what grows us up. If it is good, we are grateful and we are happy. We know those are clients who are going to market us. And, as humans, sometimes things also don’t go well; once in a while. We can’t say we are always perfect. Most of the time, we are good, but in case of such things, we always also want to understand where the problem was,” she notes.

Some of the missteps done in the early days included entertaining customers who ordered cakes but went underground after the product had been made. That is why she nowadays works with a contract model. Whether it is a corporate or an individual who has reached out, there has to be a signed pact.

“When you’re placing your order, I have a contract that you’re going to sign that is legal and binding. This helps me in that a client will not turn around and leave me with cakes once they have paid something. Before, I just used to operate on the basis of faith,” she says. “A contract also protects the client from a bad supplier. So, when you come and sign, Wincer Cake House will make sure your cake is ready and delivered on the agreed date.”

The hardest orders for her, she says, are those without specifics — where a client just asks for a cake of a particular quantity but with no design or flavour in mind. But she also enjoys such challenges.

“When I am given that kind of a challenge, I go out of my way and build the best cake. I even find myself doing more than what was expected of me,” says Mrs Muema.

She has also had to learn how to handle staff, as there have been times an employee quit after being trained painstakingly. She ensures those who work in the bakery are well-trained so as to make cakes to the required standard.

“I know how to take care of my staff. I am not the kind of person who underpays. They get value for what they do,” she says.

Sometimes, she offers free baking lessons to youth in children’s homes so they can have a money-making skill when they come of age.

“These skills that I have learnt and nurtured through the years, I don’t want to go down with them. So, I also train young girls and boys on this cake baking and decoration,” says Mrs Muema.

Another business decision Mrs Muema has had to make and stand by is never to lower prices because of a competitor’s pricing. She notes that she has seen bakers come and go as they tried to engage her in a pricing war.

“I don’t get swayed around by competitors. I have reached a point where I know what I am doing and I go with it. So, that is something that also just maturing in this business has taught me,” she says.

She has also had to activate her artistic side. Admitting that she was not the best of friends with art in school, she notes that cake making has forced her to be a 3D artist.

“I don’t think you can do this thing if you are not artistic. That comes from passion. You know, when you are passionate about what you do, you get tired of doing the same things every day. You want to create something good, something unique,” says Mrs Muema.

She has also notes that maths is a compulsory skill in the trade, same as having a good handwriting.

“That is a skill that you practise, and it comes with consistency as you go on,” Mrs Muema notes.

Her expansion plan is to take the business beyond Nairobi.

“I want it to grow, to go to different counties, so that even as I train and give back to the community, Wincer Cake House products can be felt on the ground,” she says.

The interview ends as more and more cakes are coming out of the Wincer Cake House production line, getting donned in icing and all. We’ve had our cake, been asked to try exotic-sounding flavours like “salted caramel butterscotch” and “poppy seed cake”. It is not always vanilla and chocolate, apparently. But we’ve had our cake; can we also have it?