Emily Clarkson: Ms. Cupcake initially started trading at Greenwich Market. On 1st April 2011 you opened London's first retail bakery. How easy or hard was the transition from market trader to official store owner? What challenges or obstacles did you face as a growing trader?
Mellissa Morgan: Running a market stall is a great way to start a business. You are able to start selling pretty immediately and your overheads are very low. This certainly took the pressure off of cash flow in the early days and allowed me to grow at my own pace. I learned so much in my year as a market trader, that I really had convinced myself that being a store owner would be a complete breeze! However, I soon realised that wasn’t really the case! By having a bricks and mortar location, you are tied down to so many more costs that seem never ending. You also have to focus a lot on customer retention and finding exciting new menu items to keep customers coming back frequently.
EC: One of your visions is to provide a fun experience at the shop. How do you ensure you provide that to your customers?
MC: When you step into the Ms. Cupcake shop it should feel like you are going back in time. There is always a bit of Doris Day playing and the smells of the baking should remind you of your granny’s house many years ago. We believe that cake should be a fun experience that should be celebrated! As we are an open plan bakery – you can see everything we make and decorate so there is always something new and exciting to see at the shop.
EC: Your products are cooked onsite and so flavours change each day. How do you choose which flavours to sell each day?
MC: We consider what ingredients are in season and what produce is readily available in the local area. We also listen to customer requests, as they might put a vote in for a flavour they haven’t seen in a while.
EC: You have a fifties style and the bakery is fifties style. Does that also influence your cupcake designs?
MC: We love all things retro at Ms. Cupcake so I guess it does creep into everything that we do.
EC: You've said that you are 'forever scouting the internet for new trends in baking to anticipate'. What sort of trends have you noticed recently?
MC: There has been quite a solid focus on traditional ‘British’ desserts recently, as well as more and more people are turning to ‘real bread’. People are talking about their sourdough starters like they are pets!
EC: One of the tips that you've given was 'Take on board criticism and trust yourself enough to know when to disregard it.' What criticism have you listened to and learned from?
MC: It’s not criticism really, but when I first started we focused almost entirely on sweet and decadent things. This is great for special occasions but our regular customers also expressed the want for savoury options and more ‘day to day’ treats. We listened and now offer things like sausage rolls, sandwiches, muffins, flapjacks and more.
EC: You're from Canada which you say has lots of vegan bakeries, whereas London had none until Ms. Cupcake. Do you think the vegan lifestyle is more popular in Canada? Why might vegans be better catered for there?
MC: In a recent study in America 13% of Americans identified as being either vegetarian or vegan. Over in Toronto, Canada their annual Vegetarian Food Festival attracts over 40,000 visitors annually and is the largest event of its kind in the world. Additionally you have loads of people following a gluten free diet for a variety of reasons. Basically North Americans take their food pretty seriously and the ‘Free From’ market is big business over there. Things are continuing to grow over here in the UK with a particular focus on ethically sourced foods so it won’t be long before the UK catches up.
EC: You're located in Brixton. Can you see Ms. Cupcake moving to central London at any point?
MC: I love Brixton. I live here and feel that as a resident it is my duty to help to grow my own local community. If demand continues to grow we may consider opening another location elsewhere in London - but we are certainly happy where we are right now.
EC: When exactly did you decide to produce a book and how long has it taken to work on it? Which elements have taken the longest?
MC: We were approached by a number of publishers going back as far as when the shop first opened in 2011. Writing a book takes a lot longer than you would think! I am an instinctive baker so not a stickler for writing things down, but we had to get everything ‘exactly so’ for the book.
EC: Your book includes the Canadian dessert Nanaimo Bars. Outside of UK and Canada are there any other international treats that you like and may expand to in the future? For example, would you ever consider making a sort of new and updated fun vegan fortune cookie to sell with cool vegan messages/proverbs inside?
MC: Hahaha that’s a fun idea! As we are an American style bakery, we plan to continue developing mostly along those lines – but you never know what the future holds!
EC: You also run various classes at the shop. Where did the idea come from to spread the vegan word in that way?
MC: I am a teacher by profession, so it is a natural extension to offer classes at the shop. When I started out I wished there were classes I could have taken to learn about vegan baking here in London, but there wasn’t. I know feel like it’s my duty to teach what I’ve learned.
EC: One of your classes is about running a food business from home. What would you do differently if you could give advice to yourself at the start of establishing Ms. Cupcake?
MC: Not much. Your business grows with the mistakes you make, so it is necessary that you make those mistakes along the way.
EC: You used to be a teacher. Have you ever combined the two and done vegan cake talks in schools?
MC: Yes, I try and do as many as I can. This summer I will be in a different city almost every week, and then in South Africa in August and Dubai in November – the list goes on!
EC: What is something you think people most need to be taught about cake making? Is there anything people often get wrong or don't understand?
MC: The one thing that people seem to do incorrectly all the time when starting off into vegan baking is that they stir cake batter too much! Raising agents are finicky beasts – if you beat at them for too long your cake is NOT going to rise. In traditional baking a lot of the raising action is helped along by eggs, so when you cut those out you need to be a lot more delicate with your ingredients.
EC: It was recently your 2nd anniversary - and you've achieved a lot in that time. What plans do you have for the future? Any other dreams/ambitions you'd like to fulfil cake-related or otherwise?
MC: I’m currently working on recipes for the next book and we are continuing to widen our menu at our shop in Brixton. We have plans to open more branches across the country and perhaps even further afield in the future – watch this space!
Visit www.mscupcake.co.uk for more info. Order The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes In Town! at Amazon.co.uk.