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A Hug In A Bun

This week on our food and drink journal blog, we spoke to Rosie McNeill from Rosie McNeill Cakes.

Rosie lives in Lisburn and makes handmade bespoke cakes to order with special occasion cakes a speciality. Rosie started making bespoke cakes 8 years ago and they became so popular she left her job in banking in 2018 to do it full time.

We chatted to Rosie about how things have changed for her and her business since the impact of Covid-19 started to be felt here in Northern Ireland.

Tell us a bit about your business, Rosie McNeill Cakes
My business started by chance really. About 8 years ago I made cupcakes for a charity fundraising event and the feedback was so positive that I started making and selling cupcakes at craft fairs at weekends. Shortly after that first charity event, I was asked to join the monthly North Down Craft Collective. But it was really when a friend asked me bake a special birthday cake that one thing led to another and through word of mouth, more orders for bespoke cakes came in and from there the momentum built sufficiently for me to give up my job in banking.

What celebrations do people order a Rosie McNeill Cake for?
A lot of weddings but also milestone birthdays, christenings and holy communions. Bespoke celebration cakes now make up 90% of my business, with 10% cupcakes mainly through craft fairs and markets (pre-Covid-19).

Do you have a menu of flavours for people to choose from?
Yes, I have a repertoire of 26 flavours and quite a few different frosting options too, but vanilla, lemon, chocolate & raspberry with white chocolate are the most popular.

Obviously in light of the Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings and travel, you had orders cancelled. Tell us about how the shutdown has affected you?
Even before there was the official ban on gatherings and events, I started getting cancellations for older milestone birthdays, so for 70th, 80th and 90th birthdays and golden wedding anniversaries as people were getting nervous even then. Obviously then when the official ban on events came all my cake orders for the next few months were cancelled.

That must have been a bit of a shock to the system?
Well yes it was, but the weather was good and I more or less took a couple of weeks holiday. To be honest I just thought I had no business any longer, but then I would remember that the weddings I had booked in were postponed, not cancelled, so they would come back. So, there was always a glimmer of light that I would get through this time. But at the same time, I couldn’t stay indefinitely on holiday so I needed to do something!

Tell us more about that…
Initially what happened was that other people seemed to be a bit like me and realise that they needed to adjust and still live life in lockdown. A couple of weeks in, I started getting orders for birthday cakes again. People still wanted to celebrate at home, create birthday memories in lockdown, so I got lots of birthday cake orders, especially for 18th and 21st birthdays. People still want to blow out the candles and have their birthday moment - or rather ‘waft’ out the candles at the present time!!
I’m also getting orders for wedding anniversary cakes for elderly parents from their grown-up children. It’s a lovely surprise for them when I deliver to their doorsteps.
The other thing that is different is that previously, all my orders for celebration cakes would be for the weekend, but in lockdown people wanted their cakes on the day of the birthday. The birthday celebration is still shared as people are cutting the cake up and dropping slices off at doors of neighbours and family.

Tell us how your ‘Hug in a Bun’ initiative came about.
Like everyone else adjusting to the new normal, I was too, and I started to think about what else could I do to generate more business and keep busy. I came up with this ‘A Hug in a Bun’ idea and put up a menu of cupcakes on my social media, offering boxes of 6 cupcakes for local delivery with a minimum order of £6 (delivery extra). The response has been fantastic, and I immediately started getting orders. I just can’t believe how well I’ve been supported.

What type of orders are you getting?
There has been a whole range of orders from people just looking a treat for the house to others looking me to deliver a surprise treat for someone they can’t see at the moment, especially Granny’s! Or it could be someone they want to thank – I’ve been asked to do special rainbow themed toppings for gifts to NHS workers which I am delighted to do. Otherwise, there is a weekly menu of flavours and frostings which customers can choose from.

It sounds as if it is very rewarding as well as keeping you busy.
Yes, it has been really lovely to be the one knocking on people’s doors and seeing their surprise and delight that someone is thinking of them, usually with a message on the box such as ‘Sending Love, Enjoy’. There is a real feelgood factor to my ‘A Hug in a Bun’ initiative which I am benefiting from in more ways than one. It is a real joy to know you have played a part in brightening up someone’s day.

Are your orders from existing customers or have you gained new customers?
I am actually! One week an existing customer ordered 4 boxes of 6 cupcakes for 4 friends and they were all so chuffed, the next week, one of those who received the boxes ordered 5 boxes for her friends and family.

Essential details – how do people get in touch to order?
I post the cupcake flavours for each week on my social media – Rosie McNeill Cakes on Instagram and Facebook. People can order by DM 3 days before delivery and we arrange contactless payment. I bake in the morning and deliver on the same afternoon, so they are fresh on day of delivery.

Delivery days are Thursday, Friday and Saturday to areas within the Lisburn catchment area, Hillsborough, Derriaghy, Ballinderry, Dunmurry, Finaghy (as far as Balmoral Avenue) and Andersonstown.

For celebration cakes, we can arrange delivery on day required and we can also arrange for contactless collection from my home. When a customer arrives, they pop open the boot of their car and I’ll set the cake in, so the process is all social distance friendly.

There seems to be a sense that people are really keen to support small local businesses. Do you find that?
Definitely. Not only do you get a sense of people looking to buy directly from small businesses like me, but they tell me that it is important to them. They know what they get from me is handmade with good ingredients and delivered fresh.

You can see it on social media as well and it is heartening to see local restaurants and cafes starting to open again with takeaway and at home restaurant experiences. My husband and I plan to support them too as much as we can - we just need to make sure we get our order in early enough as they have been so popular!

Thanks for your time Rosie, we really appreciate it. Just one last question before we finish … what is your favourite flavour of cake?
Carrot cake! Definitely carrot cake!

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