Last Saturday, I went out with some friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. Of course, a cake was in order; and it came from no other than The Hob & Rack Bakery. First, we went to see Tyler Perry's, 'Madea's Christmas', which was mega funny. And after all that laughing, we had to have a late evening nosh-up. We got take-a-ways and ended up at one of our friend's homes; and after eating, it was time for the cake.

To cut a long story short, it was mixed reviews. The birthday girl didn't hate it altogether, but she wasn't all gaga either. There was another cake that our host had in the fridge: a regular butter and eggs cake, and the birthday girl preferred that because she likes what she calls the 'fluff' of cakes. I understand what she means and appreciated the feedback. Incidentally, when I tasted the other cake, it made me realize that you can indeed train your taste buds to like or dislike certain things because it was a nice cake but I really didn't like it because it's been a while now since I have moved away from either making or consuming cakes after that fashion.

Our host and her husband reckoned it tasted like bun (those of you who are Jamaican will know what that is.) It's not exactly a compliment, even though they said it was a very nice bun; but I admit I had to agree with them. We all agreed that there was too much cinnamon. I'm really not a great fan of cinnamon either, but with this cake I had used the full amount that the original recipe called for. It was the first time I did that, and now my note to self is: 'Do NOT do it again!'

Our host didn't mind the taste either, except that she hates raisins, so she picked all hers out. But she liked it better than she liked the traditional cake because, unlike the birthday girl, she's not a traditional cakey person. She kept a slice to have the following day as she said she would be better able to assess it in the broad light of day when all the night's random nibblings would have passed through her system. 

Again, long story short: the following day she phoned me after church to say she woke up very early that Sunday and sent her husband downstairs to get her some food. And, yes, you guessed: it was the Hob & Rack cake slice. Her verdict: "Joy, I can understand why you end up eating a whole half a cake in one go! It tasted so much better this morning! Yes, I will definitely have one for me and one for my mum." From me: big smile. (And now you see why I have to go healthy on cakes - once I start cutting, I am inclined not to stop until just crumbs are left.)

The birthday girl also phoned, and it seems she wants cake, but she wants some amount of 'fluff' added. Luckily, there are several ways to do that, and of course, for her, I will do anything. And I am sure there will be other Hob & Rack cake eaters like her who will simply want that bit of 'fluffiness' added. There are gradations along the healthy cake eating continuum. It doesn't have to be 100% full on vegan, no fat cake. A little 'fluff' can certainly be added for those who demand it because at the end of the day, here at the Hob & Rack Bakery, your health and pampering your palate are equally important to us.

So it seems that I may have a little inner circle of tasters at the ready for future developments. But for right now, it's off to fill these next two orders. I know at least two people, then, who will be able to eat their cake and have it this Christmas!
The very first Hob & Rack cake was delivered today. I took a hurried snapshot of the final packaging. I'm going to have to revise the packaging ideas as I go along, though; but for now, I'm packaging it with the maintenance of freshness and retention of moisture in mind.
It took me a while to get used to the fact that the typical vegan cake doesn't rise like cakes prepared by the creamed method. I wouldn't condemn the cake to falling flat, though, (pardon the pun) because it still packs a hefty punch in terms of taste and the dietary health benefits. I hope customer 'A' is suitably pleased as he enjoys a slice with his next cup of tea. . .
The Hob & Rack Bakery is starting off on a shoestring budget, but that's not a problem because it puts me in good company with the likes of Sir Alan Sugar and many more successful entrepreneurs who built formidable empires.

This week is the acid test: I've got my very first customer! We'll call him customer 'A'. Now, customer 'A' has faith because he's never had a Hob & Rack cake sample before. I think it's more that he has faith in me since we have worked together before, and he knows that I give my utmost to whatever I do. Yes, customer 'A' is actually my former boss; and no, we weren't previously in the bakery business.

Lesson 1
Everything you do in the past has the potential to come back and influence your future, whether for the positive or the negative; so always do the best you can, whether in business for yourself  or for someone else.

I'm going to be frank with you. . .not everyone is going to like Hob & Rack's healthy, and yes, dare I say, delicious cakes. In the same way that some people just hate green juices no matter how much green juice enthusiasts sing their praises, some people just won't have the palate for the nutty flavour of pure wholewheat flour. Even I was a bit taken aback when I tasted a sample batch that I baked up recently with 100% stone ground wholewheat flour. Still, my reaction wasn't like this: (click to see what happens when the taste just isn't right! It's a clip from the UK Apprentice, series 8.) My eureka moment came the following afternoon when the cake flavours had been allowed to meld and the natural, fruity sweetness simply kissed my tastebuds. I devoured the rest of the batch and came away with the knowledge that Hob & Rack cakes are like fine wine-though they contain no wine or other spirits-they mellow with age.

The general consensus garnered from feedback from previous sample tasting among family and potential customers is that out there, there's a group of people who simply love Hob & Rack cakes; there's a group who don't mind the taste per se but who are not so keen on the nutty flavour or the more dense characteristic texture that often accompanies egg-free cakes. And there just may be a special group among older customers, those who are not particularly touting the eat healthy message, but who come clamouring for more with the insistence that it's way too nice for just one slice.

Lesson 2
No matter what your product is , it's not for everyone, so find your niche, go with the market research, and be confident in your promotions.

A lot of people, but I'm speaking about Jamaicans in particular, still use aluminum cookware-they'll swear by the brown stew chicken in the dutch pot-so they might not care too much that the Hob & Rack Bakery uses aluminum-free baking powder in its cakes. A lot of people, worldwide, still prefer the tastes and textures of bleached and refined rice, flour and sugar, so they might not care too much that the Hob & Rack Bakery uses premium quality wholewheat flour. They might not place too much store on the fact that the dates and raisins used are preservative-free. They might not even stop to consider that the spices used are all natural. And if I tell people that the Hob & Rack Bakery uses sea salt in its cakes instead of ordinary salt, they might think so what? Salt is salt.

All these product features are excellent, but what do they mean to the person who chooses to purchase and consume a Hob & Rack cake? For the consumer battling with diabetes, it could mean less dramatic changes in their blood sugar; for the consumer struggling with high cholesterol, it could mean less unhealthy fats to compound the problem; for the consumer trying to lose weight, it could mean less pounds piled on as often happens with the over consumption of refined and artificial sugars and refined carbohydrates; for the consumer wanting a healthy pre or post workout snack, it could mean a tasty way to fuel and replenish energy; for the consumer wanting to reduce junk food snacks in their children's lunch boxes, it could mean the ideal snack time treat.

Lesson 3
Tell your customers how your product solves a problem, or meets a need they have. Customers are less interested in the technical specifications of products and more interested in how those specifications serve their most pressing needs. Give them the real reason to purchase.

So, with all that said, my attention now turns to preparing customer 'A's' cake in time to give it a chance to mellow by Thursday's delivery date; to really wow him with some of my best efforts yet; to see which side of the taste divide he'll come out on; and hopefully, he'll turn out to be my number one customer in more ways than one if he sees the health benefits of choosing cakes from the healthy options bakery. We really do aim to deliver rather appetizing cakes with a kick!
Life is not a straight trajectory, but rather, a series of twists and turns, and ins and outs; ups and downs, and round-a-bouts; intermingled with a few starts and stops, and even some seemingly backward steps. It's all perfectly natural, though, and a healthy part of growth and development, as long as we know how to respond appropriately to changing circumstances.

On my journey, I have discovered that with all of life's changes, a few principles (four in actual fact) have impacted my life and remained with me, helping to shape my direction for the future. I use these principles in much the same way, I guess, as I use the wholesome and delicious cake recipes that I have adapted for my new venture - The Hob & Rack Bakery.

The first principle is my faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps it's my age, but these days I'm beginning to understand in a very real way what Solomon meant when he said, "all is vanity and a chasing after wind." If we have no one higher than ourselves to look to, then we are merely existing, and to what purpose? Indeed the Bible speaks truth when it says, "If in this life only we have hope [in Christ], we are of all men most miserable."

The second principle is the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. A holistic, healthy lifestyle, which for me means paying attention to several things, including exercise, rest, and in particular, maintaining a healthy diet. Last Christmas, my nephew, who was only eight at the time, bought me a copy of best selling author, Harvey Diamond's book, Fit For Life - A New Beginning. Harvey outlines some useful principles in his book, but I seem to remember reading in it that above everything else, it is through improving  your diet that you can make the most positive impact on your health. That book is one of the best presents that anyone has ever given me.

I have always been particular about my diet: as much as possible eliminating processed foods in favour of natural foods, or foods packaged with natural ingredients, and no additives and no preservatives, or at least as few as possible. Eating natural foods also ensures that I consume many low fat foods, or foods containing healthy fats; low sugar foods, or foods containing unrefined sugars; and low salt foods, without the overload of sodium. And while I am not vegan, I only eat eggs if I can verify that they have been produced without the use of growth hormones; the same for meat, and if I can verify that it has been grass fed. 

I am particular about the cookware I use, though I still haven't been able to treat myself to Salad Master's brilliant titanium pots.

My latest explorations have been into the world of the blood type diet, pioneered by Dr. Peter D'Adamo. I won't weary you too much with this, but suffice to say, blood type dieting makes logical sense to me.

The third principle is entrepreneurship, and linked in with that, the idea of social entrepreneurship. (click here for an example of how social entrepreneurship can work in practice) Out with the concept of the 9-5 corporate rat race, and in with the vision of building a highly profitable business, doing something I love, that makes a difference in people's lives, that thrives on creativity and makes me want to spring out of bed in the mornings. Since I love to eat, and most people do, and since healthy living is one of my goals, what better for me to do than to establish a business that caters to the pampering of people's palates, while at the same time providing them with a real food, healthy snack option? And so the Hob & Rack Bakery was conceived. It's the healthy options bakery delivering rather appetizing cakes with a kick! A tad corny, perhaps, but that's what it is for now, unless my valued customers say otherwise.

The fourth thing, and it's less of a principle, but more something I have a penchant for, is writing. The world would be such a dull place without writers, that kooky brand of artists who paint beautiful pictures using words, mirroring our humanity and experiences with pieces that can be every bit as delicious as a wholesome slice of cake. I have to complete my real novel in 2014, but here's one of those kooky writer ideas: in the meantime I could serialize a bakery novel on this blog. I think it would be a great way to instill some writing discipline into my routine.