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We are not just in this for the money’

Last update - Thursday, August 21, 2008, 00:00 By Metro Éireann

In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s MEET THE BOSS, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Mikolaj Grzeskowiak, baker/co-owner of cakes4u in Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Mikolaj Grzeskowiak was a pharmacy student in Poland when he decided he was on the wrong career path. He had always felt drawn to another type of chemistry, the type that happens with yeast and heat and sugar. So, following his instincts, he embarked a career in baking, learning his craft in Poland and getting qualified with a Master’s in craft confectionery.

Soon he was running his own business in Poland, before relocating to Germany and Cyprus to pick up more skills in the industry. “I loved working in Cyprus, plenty of relaxing in the sun too,” says Grzeskowiak, whose itchy feet brought him across Europe in 2004 to Youghal, Co Cork, where he met his partner Juta Latvena from Latvia. The couple realised they could open their own bakery, and in 2007 they started looking for premises and equipment after moving to Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Sourcing most equipment second- hand saved some money, as the couple used their own savings for capital, without taking out a loan. “I got stuff from eBay and Buy and Sell,” says Grzeskowiak. Neither did the pair get any help from enterprise organisations as they “just did not think to ask”, recalls Grzeskowiak.

There was, however, invaluable help from the local health officer, who advised on proper facilities for the premises. Grzeskowiak says that this advice on health and safety was presented in a very helpful and productive manner. “This advice was very important, especially for the food preparation.” The couple’s hard work and sacrifice has paid off, and their bakery and café, cakes4u, is now in full production of yeast buns, biscuits, cream buns, cheesecakes and birthday cakes, among many other treats.

According to Grzeskowiak, they produce “about 70 different products each day, mostly confectionery, but we do also breads and rolls along with coffees and teas.” Grzeskowiak and his partner feel that their combined experiences bring a touch of German, Cypriot, Latvian, French and Polish tastes to the bakery. The business is a very handson enterprise: baking, selling, serving and deliveries are all done by the couple themselves.

The shop is steadily building up its customer base with commissions for specialty cakes, as well as the supply of freshly baked produce to other outlets in Waterford. “The only thing is that this is not the best location,” says Grzeskowiak. “We are a little bit too far from the main shopping area, and I need to think of ways of bringing more business to us as we do not have as much passing trade as I would like.”

He admits that finding the perfect location is an art, and that it can be difficult to get the right space in a town centre. “I am considering another location but it must have the space for preparation, storage, staff, customer tables, toilets and the display area.” With the economic situation looking leaner, does Grzeskowiak feel that he could be in an advantageous position to negotiate with landlords? “Maybe, we will see,” he says.

Another cloud on their horizon is that costs are rising daily. “We do not want to up our prices and lose customers either, but it can be hard with our costs also rising,” says Grzeskowiak. “I was surprised at the fact that it is a very quiet period here during the summer. We have some schools near to us and it will get busier when they go back to school. We will be busy in the run up to Christmas, too.”

Despite these issues, Grzeskowiak is proud to be still in business, “which is difficult”. His advice to anyone else thinking of running their own bakery is to get premises in a large town, and to choose the location well. “You know, we are not in this just for the money,” he says. “I enjoy what I do; we can decide something and then make it happen, it can be fun. We may not have big financial success yet, but I don’t really want a fat Mercedes anyway.”

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