Week One Hundred And Eighteen – The Fairy Godmother and the Kindness of Strangers

Since establishing Luscious I have been constantly delighted and surprised by the kindness of strangers. Almost 18 months ago, I knew none of the people who I now see almost daily, if not weekly. And…well – I am fluxsummoned!

Take my Fairy Godmother as a prime example. I don’t know her, we are not friends. I may very well walk past her on the street and not realise and yet, this lady has sent me so many customers, mostly retail, but also a wholesale customer out of the goodness of her heart. I think I can probably honestly say we have been face to face exactly three times.

Once when she came to the shop and twice when I went to her to say a very heartfelt and grateful thank you (both accompanied by cake)! Both times I extended my sincere thanks she told me categorically that it was not necessary. She just wanted to see me succeed.

How cool is that?

Then there’s the fellas who work in the businesses behind and around my shop in Brookvale. Each and every one of them has been so jolly grand to me, looking out for me, offering to help if needed, loaning ladders & tools on occasion, one of them even bringing me produce that he grows at home!Manly Daily Article 231012

How cool is that?

I have met so many wonderful people who have gone out of their way to support me by returning to the shop time & time again. I am not about to name any names – but you know who you are! More often than not, I now get a cuddle or a kiss on the cheek when they walk through the door. Some even keep me in business, by introducing me to all of their family members!

How cool is that?

As I mentioned, almost 18 months has gone by since I began this adventure in cake. I now have varying numbers of wholesale customers which keeps me pretty busy most of the time & the retail side of things has just grown exponentially due to unbelievable support from the Manly Daily, the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food section & GoodFood.com.au!

Then there is the side of public relations that most Marketing Managers would give their left arm for – positive & consistent word of mouth referrals. There is a young lady who has her business just up the road from Luscious & she is a constant source of customers for me, so much so that I never charge her for anything anytime she visits! Her Christmas card this year read…”the bearer of this card is entitled to a massive bear hug, a large coffee & the yum-yum of their choice on their next visit“!Strawberry Shortcake_01_2

There is a lady on Twitter, who I have never met face to face & yet, I love her. She has never come to the shop, but has visited a couple of my wholesale customers. She consistently re-Tweets my posts, makes comments & gives great feedback. All of which have led to an increase of likes on Twitter & feet through the door of Luscious!

I feel like I have come so very far in the last 10 months alone. I am finally at a point where I have all the systems in place for what I need to do. I have my routine. I have FINALLY found some really top-notch suppliers who are supportive & generous with their time. This is the time to take the next step – staff!

Scares the bloomin’ hell out of me, mainly because of all the other things that go along with – like workers compensation insurance, training, confidentiality agreements, vehicle insurance, first aid, more training & a division of my attention & time from Luscious.

But in order to grow, I can’t do it on my own any more. I have just “survived” my second Australia Day long weekend & if I did not have the assistance of my Father (bless his pink cotton polo shirt) I would have been a quivering pile of bones on the floor!

It’s not just the baking & creating. Its deliveries & lawn mowing & detail cleaning & pest control, gardening, paperwork,tax…not to mention trying to increase wholesales & retail sales! I am currently working seven days a week & if I did not take 7 days off over the Christmas break, I would have only have had three days off out of the 365 days in 2013!

Blueberry CakeDo I work all the time? Yes.

Do I get much sleep? No.

Do I love it? Absolutely!

I now can’t imagine doing anything else with my life & if I am completely honest with myself (& you) I am beginning to enjoy the notoriety that goes along with what I do. Being called Sydney’s lamington Queen was a real high point in the last year! Seeing Coles & Woolworth’s add more lamingtons products all of a sudden translates to I must be doing something right. Recently, I was stopped at my local shops by a lady who had spotted my lamington necklace (that Penny made for me) & she point-blank asked me if I was Kiki of Luscious? I swear I blushed from head to toe as she ranted about how divine my lammos are! Love it!

How cool is that?

PS: I apologise for the time-lapse between posts – there are just never enough hours in the day!

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Week Seventy Eight – Is the Hand Brake On?

Have you ever been driving and you are stuck in traffic (if you are a Sydney-sider – of course you have!) and the vehicle is on a slight incline so you put on the hand brake and take your foot off the brake pedal. Then you “feel” yourself moving, sliding slightly backwards? So you quickly look down to check the hand brake is actually on.

564341_439313942823447_229060515_nYou realise that it’s not actually you that’s moving – it is the rather large and ungainly truck beside you, edging forward! A moment of pure relief, that your vehicle hasn’t had a catastrophic malfunction – but you flick your eye between the truck and the hand brake anyway.

A trick of the eyes? A blip in the grey matter? I don’t know.

But sometimes, that’s how I feel with Luscious. I keep checking to see if the hand brake is on.

At a darker time I was going to call this post “Fight or Flight”! When I began to write it was at the end of a very long day, at the end of a very long couple of days! At the end of a very long month! I was down in the dumps. I hadn’t been sleeping very much and I hadn’t felt very hungry either (very unusual for me). I’d just picked up two new wholesale customers and then a rather large customer stops ordering all together – no explanation. Won’t return calls.

Is the hand brake on?

Some days, I feel like I am just peddling away, but not getting anywhere – like when you are on an exercise bike!

Frustration, I have found, can be my worst enemy!

My nephew's artwork on my kitchen pin board!

My nephew’s artwork on my kitchen pin board!

But I do ask you. How long do you fight, before you take flight?

I was having a chat with a chap that wandered into the shop early one morning. He owns a café not too far away and he told me I had dropped some samples in for him to try, in the hopes that he may become a wholesale customer.

So I asked him point-blank, what did he think? You know what he said? “They were alright”.

Alright? Alright? I was annoyed. Hurt. Insulted.

But then I thought hang on – you asked him ya ninny! Not everyone is going to love my lamingtons – I get that. He also went on to say that they make all of their own products, because then they know what is in them. Was that a veiled insult too? What does he think I’m going to put in them? Cyanide? Rat bait?

I am a proud woman. If I didn’t make a good product – I wouldn’t be able to hold my head up! I wouldn’t be able to look in the mirror in the morning!

But I did get upset. Do I take it too personally?

How can I not take it personally when I have put my heart and soul into the creation of Luscious! How can I not take it personally, when it is my efforts, sweat and yes – tears, that have gone into my creations (not literally in the cakes I can assure you)! How can I not take it personally when I have put everything else in my life in second place to Luscious?Cherry Ripe

Is that my hand brake? Ego?

Pride goeth before the fall they say…but it’s not pride like “I’m so freaken’ good”. It’s more like – if I wouldn’t eat it, then I wouldn’t sell it!

Every week I am out there pushing my wares. Every week I drop off samples & talk Luscious until I am pink in the face. Every week I am trying, trying & trying. And yet… is the hand brake on?

So, I return to my original question…how long do you fight before you take flight?

If you don’t fight, how can you ever win?

Friday the 6th April was a year to the day since I “launched” Luscious on the unsuspecting people of the northern beaches. It was at the very popular Beaches Market at Rat Park on Good Friday. I remember the day vividly, as it was a crystal clear day and hot for April – 28 degrees by 10am!

Early days at the Beaches Market!

Early days at the Beaches Market!

I had a cracker day and was completely exhausted by the time I sold my last lamington. It wasn’t until I got home that I did a tally of the sales for the day and the end result made me think I was on to a winner! Sadly, those kind of sales have only ever been repeated around Australia Day this year.

To keep the dream alive I’ve sold all my gold jewellery. I’ve “cleaned” house and sold many antiques & “retro” items I had at home. I’ve nearly cleaned out my personal “retirement” fund and I am now looking for a part-time job (if anyone needs a baby sitter – let me know).

I so very much want to show my nieces and nephews that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything. This is the way Mum & Dad raised me & the way my sisters raise them. Plus the concept for Luscious came from Lucy! How can I not make this work for her?

Sometimes I try to imagine my life without Luscious. But it would be like losing part of my personality. A personality lobotomy if you like. My alter-ego. She affords me so many liberties! She allows me to be as creative and outrageous as I wish. She allows me flexibility to keep my own hours. She allows me to run my hospitality business as I have always wanted to – my rules. My way with a very personal touch.

I had imagined that being our original Aussie sweet treat that my lamingtons would be popular and that by now, I would at least have a barista and maybe a delivery driver. But maybe that’s just it. Am I thinking too big? Am I thinking too small? Am I ahead of my time? Am I behind the time?

And so it goes…Is the hand brake on?

I am approaching the twelve-month mark of having set up shop here at Brookvale. It seems like the number 12 has been indelibly imprinted on my brain – will things be easier in the 13th month? Or the 14th? It is like if I can get over that 12 month hurdle, things will be a little easier. Will they?2012-09-22 08.02.55

A shop customer – also a local small business owner, once said to me that many small Aussie businesses fail because they give up too soon. I tend to agree. I am not about to give up – that’s not my style.

Two weekends ago, it was pouring with rain. Cats and dogs pouring, coming straight down. It has been a strange couple of weeks, following the Easter long weekend and school holidays. There is no one about. Luscious is empty.

It is times like that when I feel an inconsolable sadness as I look to my carefully handcrafted wares sitting in the display cabinet, just wanting to be tasted, savoured, devoured…

Retrospective glance please Kiki.

I gasp! Look back at where you’ve come from girl! Two years ago, you were miserable, stuck in an office job, in a negative environment, punching upwards all the time, fighting and slogging for “the man”.

Now – I am “the man” – still fighting and slogging, sometimes winning, sometimes loosing. But! And here’s the important thing, perhaps the crux – loving what I do. There is that.

The ManIs the hand brake off?

Week Seventy One – A World of Food Perfectionists?

Kiki's Graduation 1995

Kiki’s Graduation 1995

When I was at university, a lecturer told us we were on the exciting brink of the coming of age for the hospitality industry in Australia. At the time I remember thinking…this chick doesn’t know what she’s talking about! But then she went on to say (amongst other things) that in just five years the sale of cookbooks had risen by almost 300%. With that she had my attention.

Today, the sale of cookbooks is almost 3000% over what my lecturer was talking about. In the last twenty years much has changed.

I remember watching TV as a young girl and you had either Bernard King or Margaret Fulton and later Gabrielle Gaté. Now, you have the choice of many – too many in fact, to mention. Just turn on the TV and flick around. You’ll find a cooking show! And not just in English. In French. In German. In Italian, Japanese and Swiss!

Food fads have come and gone. Restaurants and cafes have come and gone. Chefs have come and gone. But one thing in twenty years remains the same…the pure and utter preoccupation we have of wanting our food to look perfect.

Where did it start? Who started it? And why, oh why does our food need to look perfect? Isn’t it enough that it tastes divine?

Personally, I blame the marketing people. Not only does your hair have to be salon fresh, but also your teeth must be unrealistically white and your children absolutely 99% germ free. And so too – your food must look perfect.

My train of thought about this came about because of the humble tomato. Always inspired by my Nan – every year I plant tomatoes as she did, from seed. I tend to and nurture them. Water and feed them and this year! A bumper crop! Romas’, cherry, ox heart – I had them all and I ate them all. And they tasted amazing. They tasted like tomatoes should.

My favourite dish in Naples - bruscetta

My favourite dish in Naples – bruscetta

Did they look pretty? Not on your life. Some were as ugly as sin. But the taste! The taste was Naples.

Then I had a lady tell me she was a bit disappointed with something she had bought at Luscious because it didn’t look like the picture on Facebook. Never the less, I offered a substitute product and she still returns almost every week.

But this too got me to thinking.

With the rapid increase in cookbook sales and cooking shows, competitions and bake-offs – are we so used to perceiving food that has been styled within an inch of its life, that we have forsaken taste?

If you ever go to McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks – does what you get in the box ever look like the pictures they have on the menu? Nope. If you buy the most beautifully photographed cookbook and get inspired to try one of the dishes, does the end product look like it does in the picture? Nope.

I don’t make excuses for the fact that my products may differ from the pictures I post on Facebook and Twitter. I am not perfect and neither are my yum-yums. Wherever human beings are involved, there will always be error. All we can do is strive to learn from our mistakes and do better next time. All we can do is to keep on experimenting and being creative.

But have the marketers taken it too far? In our frenzy for perfect food have we genetically modified taste out, just so the tomato is more red? Have we genetically modified the nutrients out, just so the tomato can last longer between the farm and the plate?

Where do we draw the line? Will we soon be genetically modifying ourselves so there is no disease and no death? What about the population boom? Where will everyone live?

Coffee CupsAt Luscious for the coffee I like to use Riverina milk and skim milk. It comes from Wagga, where my family on Dad’s side comes from and it tastes like milk. The full fat milk even comes with a little cream. But when frothed for a latte or cappuccino – the flavours together are delicious. Moreish, addictive.

I know it is not realistic, but I have it in my head that the Riverina cows are all milked by hand and the farmers catch the milk in wooden buckets and whistle as they pour it into a big oak barrel.

But that’s what the taste does for me. It conjures. That’s what the tomatoes I grew did for me, took me back to Sorrento and Naples and even to my Nan’s table!

One of my wholesale customers paid me an enormous compliment last week. He said I was lifting the standard of their cakes! I looked at the other non-Luscious cakes they had on offer and they looked beautiful. But he told me they rarely sold.

Needless to say, I blushed but then went on to explain that my cakes and yum-yums aren’t froufrou pretty and never will be. They don’t look like they’ve just been unloaded off a massive truck doing deliveries all over Sydney. What I am more concerned about is taste, texture, flavour and a little conjuring!PhotoGrid_1362220323290

I want to you have the Lemon Sherbet and immediately think of your Great Uncle Wal. I want you to have the Wagon Wheel and be 12 years old again, with purple corduroy jeans and pigtails. I want you to have a Gingernut, Shortbread or Raspberry Swirl and think of rainy Sunday afternoons spent playing card games with your Grandma, Nona, Nan, Ma – sitting in front of the electric bar heater drinking tea.

The sense of taste and the sense of smell are so closely related. Almost conjoined twins you could say. And when it comes to memory, so overwhelmingly powerful.

I urge you – let that power be your guide!

Week Sixty Six – The Reverse Vampire

That’s what my sister calls me – the reverse vampire! Retiring at sundown and rising just before sun up, she can’t believe the hours I keep and delights in making jokes at my expense!

However, there is much to be said for rising before the sun. You get to see some things that are really, very special – mainly nocturnal native Australian fauna, of both the four-legged and two-legged varieties. Not to mention those with wings and beaks!

My personal favourite is catching a glimpse of the Tawny Frogmouth. Incredibly rare, these beauties love to sit atop the telegraph poles and watch the world go by – so magnificent, a little sinister looking and slightly imposing.

IMG_1562Then there are the Ring-Tailed Possums performing daring, high wire balancing act, traversing busy Condamine Street, well above the conscious minds of the drivers below – well, except for my conscious mind!

Last Monday morning I was delighted to see a young two-legged example of Manly Vale fauna. Swaying ever so slightly (under the influence of alcohol I presumed) one leg jutting out onto the road ever so cockily – he sticks out his thumb.

Once he realised that in fact I was not slowing down to give him a lift (yeah – as if!) he then flipped me off and said something about truckin’! Rude little piggy.

20130116_054205On arrival at the kitchen, there is a process I go through in the first twenty minutes, to ensure that I can then dive into baking and creating with minimum effort. Well, that’s my story – but it’s really about distracting myself until the coffee machine warms up!

Then I make a coffee and depending on the time, I step outside the door and bear witness to the commencement of the day. This is the time to breathe, to reflect on what the day holds and I make a mental note to have a good day.

20130122_061751

Brookvale is gorgeous at this time of the day. Her sharp angles, overbearing reflective surfaces, dusty streets and machinery are somewhat softened in the pink and orange rays of the sunrise.

And it is blessedly quiet! Sometimes it is so quiet I can hear the cross-walk signal sound up on Pittwater Road (about 175 metres away).

Anyway, this – combined with the Australia Day celebrations, got me thinking about the little island we call home.

Australians all, let us rejoice, for we are young and free…YES! Yes – rejoice.

All the time – because we are young AND free. There are no armoured trucks barreling down Pitt Street. There are no automatic-rifle carrying police officers standing guard at the train stations. We can vote to choose our government. We can work. We can be outspoken and irreverent.

With golden soil and wealth for toil, our home is girt by sea…Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare…I believe when Peter Dodds McCormick wrote the lyrics, he was referring to our landscape, our fauna and flora.

But I like to believe that it means all that AND the amazing breadth and depth of the talent of our population! I mean, come on…we are one talented populous! Medicine, engineering, science, architecture, marine, environmental, finance, opera, ballet, art, fashion, food, wine, cheese making….the list goes on and on!

The part of the anthem, the part that always gets missed is the best part…in my humble opinion.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross, we’ll toil with hearts and hands, to make this Commonwealth of ours, renowned of all the lands. I think the youth of our nation’s settlement by the Brits precludes us from being too renowned just yet…perhaps give us another 200-odd years? But we are getting there. If referring to our indigenous culture – then spot on!

Seriously though, think about it. How far have we come in such a short space of time? If I think about my own mother – would there have been the opportunities given to her that I have had (and somewhat taken for granted)? Or my grandmother for that matter?

And that’s just three generations. My heart fills with such hope when I think about my nieces and what their futures potentially hold – WOW! The skies the limit!

Without getting on my feminist soap box – education, employment, business ownership, the single life without judgment (or relatively without judgment)…now we just need to get equal pay for equal work and we are almost there!

For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. With courage let us all combine to advance Australia fair!

Indulge me while I repeat that last bit….with courage let us all combine to advance Australia fair. We will be renowned of all the lands if we all combine our efforts.

One of the best ways to do this is to buy Australian made products. I am not just saying that because my yum-yums are Australian made and WHENEVER possible I always use Australian ingredients – I am saying it because it is the only way our farmers, our local businesses can survive and prosper. The only way we, as a nation can grow and prosper! Together.IMG_1681

I was mortified recently when looking for Australian flags to put up at the shop – not one of them was made in Australia. Not one! Now I have absolutely nothing against China, some of my very good friends are Chinese. But can you see that it’s no good having an Aussie flag for Australia Day that is made in China?

Check your labels peeps! Buy Australian made. Keep the cash here. Tell Woolworth’s and Coles you only want your fresh fruit and veggies in season, locally grown! They may be the fresh food people and keeping their prices down – but we want local or we’ll go to IGA!

Seriously though (and no, I’m not running for politics) please give some thought to where your goodies come from. The more local the better – for more reasons than just buying Australian. It cuts down on transport costs. It cuts down on refrigeration and storage costs. It cuts down the carbon footprint (via transport and storage) AND it is healthier for you to eat local, in season produce. And wouldn’t we all like to be healthier at the same time as advancing Australia?

Week Sixty Four – If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

So over the Christmas break, I had the retail side of my kitchen closed. This freed up much of my time to get out there and start drumming up new business, get some much-needed paperwork done and generally catch up on the little things like actually cleaning my house and not just hiding the dirt under the rug!

There was one day last week when I walked in my front door (which leads straight in to the kitchen funnily enough) and I stopped dead in my tracks.

Whose “bleepin'” house was this? There were dirty dishes piled in the sink, the clothes basket was chock-a-block, my bathroom looked like a swamp and there was a fine layer of dust on almost every surface (except the desk where I spend a majority of my time when I am actually home).

I was completely disgusted with myself and had a firm word. Not good enough me girl!

Funnily enough, although I am cleaning all day every day at the shop, I actually enjoyed my little spring clean session at home! And I felt so good afterwards.

The next day I felt reinvigorated and charged up and down the northern beaches, handing out luscious lamington samples left, right and centre! I was on fire!

In the past six months, the one thing that I have not yet learned to come to grips with is the “knock-back”. I mean, no one likes to hear the word NO. But it is so hard not to take it personally! Still – I think I will be like that until I die!

Nuts About Caramel The other thing that having the shop closed allowed me to do was to do more experiments! And I do love a good experiment. When I flung open the doors this past Friday I had three new flavours for the world and one coming through the pipeline!

As it turns out, this summer has been a bit of a scorcher! Last Tuesday for example – it was already 24 degrees at 4am, when I got to the kitchen and the BOM was predicting temperatures of high thirties and up! Not having many wholesale orders to produce, I got stuck into it and raced through what I needed to prep. Luckily for me by 10am, I was sitting in air-conditioned comfort (my car) headed to the local Asian grocery store for some supplies, as the mercury was pushing 37 degrees.

Just on eleven years ago, I had a tumour in my thyroid, which I had surgery to remove (a hemi-thyroidectomy) leaving me with only half a functioning thyroid. Not sure if you know what your thyroid does, but one of the main things is regulating body temperature. Needless to say, I have lots of trouble! Hot in the kitchen. Hot outside the kitchen. Getting into a large body of water is the only way I can cool off!’

In my last job, I overheated one day and it was so bad that I nearly passed out lurching over my boss’s desk!

Mental note to self…don’t overheat!

So, with a maximum temperature of 38 degrees being reached in Brookvale, I blame that for what happened next (well – I have to blame something!).

I called out for help. Very unlike me, as you would have seen in my last blog. I reached out to all my 187 friends on Facebook and asked them to tell just one friend about LusciousKiki Cakes.

I absolutely love what I do and right now, I am running so very close to the wire. Scarily so. It frightens me as I have always had some financial security but currently it is dwindling…BUT the response I received was overwhelming.

Even when I look at that word overwhelming, it doesn’t seem enough. I am truly blessed to have the support I do!

Revitalised by my friends responses, phone calls, Tweets and texts, I had a cracker week! I even managed to create some more yum-yum experiments, which caused me to have such a sugar rush, that my head was spinning!Wheel of the Wagon

I also learned a very valuable lesson during the past couple of weeks – one that I will be eternally grateful for (she says casting her eyes skywards). I am loved. I am lucky. I have family. I have friends – good friends. I might not have any money – but it’s just money.

Week Sixty One – That’s What She Said.

So, six months since I signed the lease of the Brookvale property. Five months since I threw open the doors (every Friday and Saturday anyway) and as many months since I’ve not slept like the proverbial log. The minute my head hits the pillow – I’m out.Luscious Shopfront Before Kiki

What’s the wash? Well, I’ll tell you very honestly.

It is a lot of hard work. Not just a couple of days a week, but every day, seven days a week – as I knew it would be. I absolutely love it though. I do my own thing every day, make what I want to make, create what I want to create…I have fun every day.

Not all day every day, but every day.

Sometimes there’s those days when I wish that the alarm was not going off and I could just hit snooze and tuck back in under the sheets. Those days when the coffee machine and the fridge decide they are going to break down at the same time. Those days when you catch your finger in a spice grinder and it is so early in the morning that no one is around, so you feel it would be best to lie on the floor for a while, until you don’t feel like passing out any more.

Then there’s those OTHER days…the days when one of your customers comments that he lives in such a great area, ‘cause he’s got Zumbo at Manly & Luscious at Brookvale! Those days when you’ve spent two weeks “romancing” a potential new wholesale customer and then they place an order for three slabs of lamingtons! Or then there are those days when you are developing a new recipe – and it just works.

And then there was Luscious!

And then there was Luscious!

But even after those absolutely fabulous days, I get home and there’s banking and accounting to do…that’s when you realise that you are not actually making ends meet and more to the point, the bank has called to say they are renaming your savings account to “spendings account”.

I joke about it because otherwise, I will cry. I am so tired all the time, bordering on sleep deprivation you could say and today at Coles I was stopped by a lovely young man who ask me if I would help Red Cross and I said I couldn’t because I was actually headed in to Coles to buy noodles for dinner, because I didn’t have any money for anything else. And the next thing I know my eyes a brimming in front of a complete stranger!

One of my dearest and oldest friends popped in to the shop to say hi the other day and naturally, he asked me how it was going. I said I didn’t want to talk about it because I’d cry (any of you who actually know me, know that I don’t cry easily). At which point I dropped my face into my hands and bawled like a baby.

I absolutely cringe writing about it now, as the look in his eyes was complete and utter pity – and I hate that. Hate me. Love me – but don’t pity me…pul-eaze!

He asked my why I didn’t ask for help…which got me thinking. Why don’t I ask for help? Ever?

The eldest of three siblings and an Aries to boot, I balk at anything remotely like asking for help.Double Choc Chip Cookie

Why? Is it a fault in my design? Is it a consequence of my life experiences? Do I think it makes me appear weak (heaven forbid)? Am I just a stubborn bitch? Is it all of the above?

If I am not baking, I’m cleaning. If I am not cleaning, I’m doing accounting. If I’m not doing accounting, I’m out dropping off samples. If I’m not dropping off samples, I’m making deliveries. And so on. You get the gist.

So, I find myself engaging in “self talk” in my “down” time (usually cleaning and driving) and this is what she says – can you really do this for much longer? Can you continue to fund this folly? Are you going to be living in a caravan at Narrabeen in the not too distant future?

So here is the plan myself and I have come up with; the shop will be closing over the Christmas/New Year break (closing 24th December, reopening 11th January), during this time I have to secure 10 new wholesale customers. I also have to plan for and market children’s lamington making classes, to be run Saturday afternoons by appointment. I also have to secure some private functions for morning or afternoon tea – offering my café as a private function room. I also have to set up a website (with the assistance of the aforementioned fabulous friend) and somewhere in there take a little “she” time. Although I am a totally capable woman, all work and no play makes for a very dull Kiki!

That’s what she said!

Week Fifty One – Coconut, Coconut Everywhere!

A couple of weeks ago I was looking after my neighbour’s two cats while he was away. And as often the case with cats at this time of year – they shed their winter coat. So, I decided I would sweep up & straighten up, before his return. What I noticed was coconut. Shredded coconut.

The Luscious Blonde!

Then I noticed coconut in the hallway in our apartment block. At another neighbours place, in my car, in my bed, on the little ledge inside the washing machine door…and in my piggy tail! Coconut, coconut everywhere!

So there it is – my life comes down to coconut. Shredded coconut.

As we sat around the family dinner table last night following a great meal, dessert was naturally lamingtons! After I refused dessert (no room) my sister asked me if I was sick and tired of lamingtons. Quite the contrary I can assure you. In fact I think I am a little addicted if truth be told. But there is so much to be addicted to!

Fresh, moist cake, sometimes fresh in season fruit, chocolate dip of either white of dark persuasion and the piece de resistance – shredded coconut. I think I am also a little addicted to the creation side as well…

My first wedding enquiry came to the shop two weeks ago! This was going to be fun. A lamington stack for a wedding cake? Brilliant! We were discussing some options and I sprouted “I only use fresh ingredients – what ever is in season in March is what I will do” or something like that. Later on I thought to myself – what a tosser. This is HER wedding. HER day. If she wants something out of season then I will do it. But I put forward a couple of ideas that didn’t include fresh seasonal produce, like a Creme Brulee Lamington! Sounds pretty good for a wedding eh?

My gorgeous Ma

I must say these last couple of weeks have been tumultuous to say the least. My Mum has been in hospital having a knee replacement and there has been a few hiccups but mostly she seems to be on the mend. This has brought up a few emotional issues for me, as we lost my Nan following her hip replacement and the pulmonary embolism that followed.

Firstly, the anxiety of her actual operation and then the stress of her recovery, plus trying to visit as much as humanly possible…plus my Dad can’t cook. So there was meal prep as well (not that I mind in the slightest).

Wholesale for LusciousKiki Cakes is building week by week. This is good. Every week I drop off samples at cafes I think may be interested – I’ve not had a knock back as yet (don’t get cocky now!) – so the list is getting longer – Belrose Hotel, North Steyne Emporio, Moreish Foods and the newest is Cafe Bella Vista at North Head. There are a couple more I’m working on…

But the shop itself is not where I thought it would be by now. This is not good. This causes me some worry.

I was truly hoping to have a balance between wholesale and retail and use the Friday and Saturdays as my social interaction, as well as supplementing my wholesale income. Don’t get me wrong – the people that do come in to the shop are fabulous and I love to see their gorgeous faces every week. But sales are erratic.

So I am kind of caught in a situation of my own making.

As it is only me, I always ask myself “what is the best use of my time right now?”. Is it trotting around delivering post cards? Is it creating new yum yum flavours? Is it sending out menus and trying to drum up more business? Is it taking a moment to relax with my thoughts and read a book (that is not a cook book) with a cuppa? Torn is the feeling.

But two things have become clear to me in the last seven weeks since opening Luscious. The first is that many of the “local” Brookvale people look on me as if I were a little like Reece Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde and the second is that word of mouthis priceless.

Luscious Lounge Room

Let me explain…the Legally Blonde reference is more than just a hot pink outfit in a sea of dark grey or black suits. People around here always stand out, what with all the hi-vis vests, fluro shirts and hard hats! It’s more about an attitude I believe. Being an old hospitality hand I always have my “game face” on even if the doors to Luscious are not open. I represent Luscious and therefore, it is my firm belief that my projected persona be one of sweetness and light at all times.

Sometimes it is hard to always have the game face on – like when I’ve been up since 3am and I’m dog-tired or I’ve got a cracker headache and can’t see out of one eye.

Most times though, it is not too hard at all.  Gone are the days when I just didn’t want to get out of bed to drag myself to work. Gone is the dread that fills my heart on Sunday night, as bedtime nears and I cringe at the thought of having to go back to the grind on Monday. Most days – I just can’t wait to get here. And that fact, I believe is the key.

The word of mouth being priceless reference has always been something I’ve known, but when it’s your own business and you’ve poured your heart and soul into it and you live and breathe it daily and are so close to your customer, then the value of word of mouth really, truly is priceless.

The responsibility of generating word of mouth is great and my first point about the game face feeds into this. Even when I’m delivering postcards, or standing in line at Woolies and I strike up a conversation, even when I’m sweeping the footpath out front – I represent.

Luscious Kiki?

Every person who steps foot over the Luscious threshold has the potential to be a walking advertisement for Luscious. It does not matter if they buy one lamington or twelve. One coffee or four. These people hold the future of Luscious in their hands. Therefore I must treat every single one of them as if they were the King of Siam.

I made a decision early on that although this is the Luscious way, although they are always the customer (and the customer is King) – I will not sell my soul to the devil, so to speak. I will be honest in my dealings with people, charge fairly and still retain integrity in every aspect.

Many, many moons ago I was fortunate enough to work in one of Sydney’s most famous “hat-ed” restaurants. But I had to sell my soul, as everything was about bowing and scraping to the customer. Always showing a smile (that never reached my eyes). Always conceding that the customer was right. Never correcting mis-pronunciations and never, ever having an opinion that was in opposition to the customer’s.

Valuable lessons all.

For Luscious I want to smile genuinely. I want to greet people warmly as they enter Luscious, if it’s their first time or fiftieth. I want to make people feel like they’ve stepped in to a little piece of heaven and leave thinking they’ll be back next week. But I want it to be real. All of it. I want to be real.

Week Thirty Four – And Then…

A funny thing happened on the way to setting up my new business…I became comfortable with myself for the first time ever.

There are some monumental moments in your life that change you indelibly. That for me was my Nan’s passing back in 1998. For years afterwards and still sometimes today, I can not believe that she is gone and something weird happens to my eyes and everything looks a little misty… I still miss her.

So basically my life is broken into two – before Nan’s death and after. Before, I was an intense, driven and sometimes obnoxious woman (girl) hell bent on going after what I wanted. Some people might say that I have not changed. But I have. I have struggled with depression for years (nicely medicated thank you) and now I am softer, more considerate and more sensitive to other people and their experiences and that includes myself.

Nan’s 70th Birthday!

Now, I have another monumental moment. The moment I became a small business operator. The moment I made the decision to set up Luscious, that was the moment that things changed again. The moment I changed again.

To set up Luscious I have not borrowed a “brass razoo” as my Dad would say. I have used my own hard earned cash, which in itself is scary as I always like to have a “cunning kick” stashed for those inevitable rainy days. You know those days – the ones you think only happen to other people.

And then there was Luscious!

In eight months I’ve managed to plough through the majority of said savings and it has been pretty easy really. But now is “and then”.

And then on a bright and clear winter day in August I opened the doors to Luscious. And then I realised that my moment is now. No longer beneath the radar – I am out there for everyone to see – and judge. The performer side of me loves it. The depressed and perpetually anxious side of me abhors it. The side of me raised to always have financial security is wringing her hands in the corner and the lazy side just wants to lie down and sleep!

But the side of me that loves what I do, the side that smiles while I pull a freshly baked sticky date pudding out of the oven, the side tries new and “a little out there” flavour combinations for lamingtons – she is in her element!

My Nan used to say that if you love what you do – you’ll never work a day in your life. Sorry Nan – but that’s not exactly true. I am working…starting early and finishing late (really who else will do it?), talking about the shop to anyone who will listen, walking around doing letterbox drops, trying to generate some income. I love it all. It’s not always easy, but it is always mine.

The luscious line-up…day one!

And in that thought I find comfort. And in that – I am finally comfortable with myself.

Last weekend I was closing up shop on Saturday afternoon – packing up the furniture, sweeping the floor and boxing up all the leftovers to distribute to my family (they’re not sick of lammos just yet!) and my heart broke a little. Now don’t misunderstand – I had no illusions that I would open the doors and people would just magically stampede in to buy my beautiful creations, but I was a little disappointed. Actually “a little” is downplaying it.

I’d just gotten the first full month’s electricity bill and been totally caught unawares (although unawares is not the word I used at the time) and the old feeling of self doubt started to creep back in. What had I done? After speaking with the electricity provider I learned I had two more of these sky high bills to pay before they worked out what I was actually using. I still had rent, insurance, food, fuel and packaging not to mention my own rent, food and packaging.

Sample box…nom, nom, nom!

The week before I had dropped off some samples to a well known cafe in Manly – The North Steyne Emporio so when Tuesday came around I thought I’d drop in for a coffee and see if they were interested in purchasing anything. On the spot they ordered two slabs of lamingtons (Chocolate Coma and Salted Caramel) for delivery today! And when I delivered – they paid me on the spot! Could this be the start of a beautiful new relationship? I will find out on Tuesday when I go back for a follow up. Although it was only two slabs, my faith was restored. I brushed that feeling of doubt aside and almost skipped back to the car! And let me tell you the sight of a 43 year old woman skipping is not something you see every day.

Of course I worry about money and of course I think I should have done this sooner. But all in all I am not sure that I could have. I obviously had some lessons to learn and some dues to pay. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve paid some (not all) dues.

But the thing that keeps me going, that I am thriving on is that it is MY business. Mine.

Now, let me be Luscious!

Week Thirty – And So It Is

What a journey I have been on.

It is truly amazing what people can accomplish when they put their minds to it. I remember as a child and then later as a young adult both my Mum and my Dad telling me I could do anything I wanted to, I just had to put my mind to it!

So I did.

Over my formative years, I spent much time with my parents on building sites. I tell people that I could climb a ladder before I could walk (never let the truth get in the way of a good story I say) and I have held many a screwdriver over the years. And unless it is electrical, I will give anything a shot.

The cafe front B.K (before Kiki)

As it was, last Sunday when I found myself losing patience and lugging out the extension ladder, fully intending to see if I could get the signage off the front wall of my new shop (this was supposed to be the landlord’s job, done weeks ago). And what do you know…an hour later armed with a screw driver and a claw hammer, the ladder feet were surrounded with scattered parts of the alphabet!

Up until last week, my kitchen had been littered with toolboxes and containers of sugar soap, sand paper, saw dust, cockroach bodies, layers of grease and tins of paint. Now, the transformation for Luscious is almost complete.

My family has all pitched in and helped, both my nephews being more than delighted to wield the Kartcher wand and soak each other in the process! My nieces less delighted to have to scrub the floor, but never the less they got into it. My father painted, hammered, nailed and created and my gorgeous mother (although not in the pink of health) has sewn and also created. Not to mention both sister’s contributions. What would I do with out you?

Thank you one and all.

If there is one thing I’ve learned during my time on this planet, it’s that everything happens for a reason. That is all I will say, except that someone is watching over me. For shizzle!

The cafe interior B. K (before Kiki)

The massive three group coffee machine I bought fits perfectly on the bench intended for the coffee machine. The electrician was able to connect my oven without having to drill the wall or run forty football fields of cabling. The electrician was also able to simply change the service fuse and get the cool room and the electric awning working quick sticks. And neither of these miracles cost me a kidney.

Every ‘piece’ I have bought over the last four months suits the shop to a T and the hot pink velvet that I bought to recover some chairs does not look like Barbie has had her way with the soft furnishings. There are also other things that have been loaned, bought and generously given by friends and family. All the people who I care most about in this world have contributed in some way (you know who you are) so that there is a little of each of them in Luscious. What would I do with out you?

Plan wise – I’ve not written anything down (very unlike me) and all my plans have been kept in my head. If something does not work out, I have simply changed my plan (mind). I’ve not gotten stressed out or upset – just rolled with the punches. In actual fact I am very proud of myself, as in the past when things don’t go as planned (or my way), I get a bit uptight (maybe an understatement). But not this time.

The one hiccup that I did have is me. Not super-woman after all! Last Friday I started to get a sore throat. By Sunday I was aching all over and feeling very sorry for myself. You may not believe me when I say that I had to think hard and long as to the last time I had a cold. It is literally years. Truly. I usually don’t pick up colds and flu.

But I digress.

Today the foam arrived for the banquette. I am still waiting on more kitchen ware (should be any day now) and then the doors are open. Even as I type that I almost can’t believe it is true.

In my last post I wrote that I didn’t love it. Well…a girl can change her mind can’t she?

Now I do love it! And you know what? It is not perfect, but I think it will grow and things will change and be a little organic. That is really what it is all about. Right from the start I wanted to change my products as I developed new flavours or change with the fresh produce in season, depending what was available. So too – the cafe will be like this.

Raspberry Coconut Delight

Rather than putting hand to pan of late all I’ve done is put hand to paint brush, or scraper, or screwdriver and now…now I am ITCHING to get back to creating. Which makes me think…a new flavour for launch?

Yes I think so!

Watch this space for opening day details…COMING SOON!

Week Twenty Four & Five – A Time of ?

The last two weeks I’ve spent most of my time being confused and confounded, as I navigate my way into the world of the commercial retail lease and all that goes with it. And it is nothing as exciting as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where around every corner is a bed of twisting snakes. It’s more like just one snake. But the snake shifts and changes personality! More of a Jekyll and Hyde situation.

I should preface this by saying that I think I’m lucky to have found an experienced and scrupulous solicitor, who genuinely appears to be on my side (at my cost I might add).

As I sat in Brian’s office yesterday and read over the lease, I felt a balloon of dismay growing in my chest. And then not so much dismay, but anger. The lease held only a little resemblance to discussions I’d had with the real estate agent and subsequently, the landlord. Did they think I was a complete idiot?

The real estate agent (as they often do) told me of what was included in the lease. Or at least, what was included to get me to seriously think about it and make an offer. You’d just have to pay for excess water and grease trap. Sounded good.If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

There was two parts to the lease and as I understand it, they are supposed to be identical. Supposed to be. Different commencement dates, different items listed, different inclusions. My guess is the documents were prepared by two separate people, or just one who was having that Jekyll and Hyde moment I mentioned earlier.

Perhaps the most outrageous thing that was included in the lease was that I (as the tenant) was to be solely responsible to get the premises to fire safety code. Err – excuse me? Even I, a relative neophyte of the commercial world, know that fire code is the responsibility of the landlord.

This morning I woke feeling slightly tortured and perplexed.

I’d slept badly, tossing and turning and having all types of wicked dreams (one of which included a dog sized red back spider with my face) and not at all rested.

Brian had assured me that he would go back to the other solicitor with a list we’d prepared and get it sorted. I’d also sent some photos I’d taken on my last visit, so Brian had a pretty good understanding of what was, in fact what. However, Brian’s assurances although confidence building, was more about my confidence in him and not the lease.

For the majority of my adult working life, I think I’ve been pretty lucky to have always come across people who are straightforward. I guess that’s says as much about me as it does about the hospitality industry. We are both pretty straight forward.

Currently though, it seemed as though I’d wandered off the path and into a much darker section of dense bush, with shifting shadows and little dark creatures scuttling over my toes, where nothing was as it seemed.

The other thing was that Brian had done a title search and found that the lease for the previous tenant had switched abruptly and then ended not long after, which he told me usually indicated that the previous tenant had died. How awful. I hope they didn’t die in the shop! I didn’t want to have to do a “smudge” on top of all that cleaning!

Other than my foray into the legal world, I’d bought furniture, sorted out all my cookbooks and equipment and started packing items that I wanted to sell or display at the shop. My flat was beginning to look like Vinnie’s on donation day. There were items of furniture and boxes piled up everywhere.

The two things that the shop lease did not include were an espresso machine and an oven. I can tell you right now – I couldn’t possibly get by without both.

As any baker will tell you their morning usually starts early. And I do mean early – 4am is not considered an odd start time (which was the other thing I had asked Brian to mention with regards to the lease). So, on arrival every morning after switching the oven on, comes a coffee. Naturally.

I was lucky enough to secure a coffee machine almost right away and she’s a beauty. A little retro in her style (kind of like me), pale, powder blue front, a few scratches here and there (again, kind of like me) and well-loved. She’d do nicely thanks. Currently, she is residing in the back of Biscuit (my Honda Jazz).

Hello beautiful! Should I name her?

The oven was proving to be a little elusive. I’d searched high and low on-line and had come up empty-handed. Later today, I’m off to the auctions to inspect a couple of units and see what is what. But, the good news is – I’m becoming an oven aficionado!

The thing I had found heart breaking whilst looking for both the coffee machine and oven was that the items I was looking at were as a result of cafes and restaurants going bankrupt. It broke my heart, as I knew how much work went into setting up something – a dream, then to have it fall over would be devastating. I saw lots of 25 dining chairs for $100. When bought, they probably would have been close to that each. Boxes of 100 pieces of glassware for a starting bid of $9. Soul destroying stuff. I hoped against hope I would not be listing my items on there in the near future.

As it stands today, I’ve learned a lot. I guess the main thing I’ve learned is to trust myself more. I’ve had twenty odd years experience in hospitality. I have a bachelor of business, I’ve helped set up new and refurb-ed old cafes, restaurants and hotels. I’ve trained staff. I’ve made dinner service a breeze. I’ve cleaned toilets and assisted at accident sights. I can’t recall how many first aid courses I’ve been on but it has to be close to eight or nine.

This boils down to experience. This means I will already know a likely outcome of a situation. This means I already know how much it will cost to replace a cool room motor if required. This means I should trust myself more. Can I get an Amen!