Mathew Gathua a baker by profession is the Founder of Valentine Cake House, Kenya’s most popular go-to cake house that has been dominating the market for over 20 years.
Valentine Cake House boasts of over 15 cake outlets across the country, and Valentine School of Cake born out of the cake business.
He is the brains behind The Cake Festival; a platform that brings bakers to showcase what they have, meet new customers, and compete to up their game.
The Cake Festival has been marked on the event of the year calendar, now in its tenth edition has been sponsoring Edumed Trust, an education program that puts young people through school.
Starting out in his career path, Mathew Gathua dedicated his time working as a cleaner and a kitchen hand.
“My uncle took me to work at a hotel in South Coast as a hotel cleaner. After cleaning dishes I would cross over to pastry and lend the old bakers a hand in their work. I never knew about pastry and baking, I learned it by default on the job,” he said
In 1997, he quit his job to start Valentine Cake House at Bombolulu in Mombasa.
“With my three months salary worth Ksh 27000, I bought an oven at ksh26000. A lady I used to help baking while at the hotel, Mama Carol lend me a mixer. I was all set and excited to get into the business,” he said.
Working from the house, he would bake the cakes then distribute the pieces to Mtwapa and Kisauni. With one employee, a bicycle, and boxes for the cakes, his supply chain was complete.
The special name Valentine
Traveling to Nairobi around 1996 February, Mathew said he noticed people buying flowers and chocolate for their loved ones for Valentine’s day.
With his impeccable business acumen, he gathered that he could borrow the name Valentine to make chocolate cakes for sale. Inspired by Cadbury’s rich purple Valentine Cake House sprung to life
“People always associate Valentine with my daughter or my wife. The name came about from Valentine’s day, ” he noted
By 1998, his customer base had grown to 23 shops.
“With time I discovered Mombasa didn’t have enough business, so I got employed at PanAfric as a pastry chef in December. I worked for a year and I was able to transfer my business to Ongata Rongai, the mother shop of Valentine Cake House in April 2001 which is still running to date,” he noted
Moving to Rongai, his first customers were students at Catholic University. After a couple of weeks of deliveries, he banked a Ksh30,000 cheque thanks to the insatiable demand for his cakes.
Identifying the market gaps in the baking industry and having studied the market trends, Mathew knew the right time to jump in and expire the market in Nairobi.
“There were no good cakes in the market or outside hotels. When seminars were being held in our hotel the guest would eat everything giving us soo much work at the pastry. So I thought if people love these things in here they definitely love them out, ” he mentioned.
In the quest to grow his territory in the cake business. Mathew secured a loan worth ksh100,000 to operate another cake outlet in Komarock where one of his friends lived. Unfortunately, his entrepreneurial move was miscalculated and he lost all the money.
” I was forced to pay 2500 per week to K-Rep Bank yet I didn’t have the money nor the means to get it. I would hide from K-Rep officials every Tuesday when they would come looking,” he said.
Luckily, Valentine Cake House became a stronghold robust enough to foot the loan. He mentioned that capital budgeting at Valentine Cake House is devoid of debts.
The need to rebrand.
With everyone trying their hands in baking and events, Valentine Cake House chose to differentiate themselves from the rest to maintain their brand and grow with their customer base.
” Two years ago I visited Carlo’s Bakery owned by Buddy Valastro, in Hoboken New Jersey to benchmark. As pioneers in the industry, we want to break free from the old-fashioned same type of cakes. We want to set the pace and give our customers something brand new, ” he noted
“starting a new line of top quality cakes, reinventing, and changing the way we do things is how we get to another 20 years in the market. We are just changing our logo and introducing 7 additional cake flavors to our list. “
Initiatives and programs under Valentine Cake House.
In 2007 Mathew opened Valentine School of Cake, to train people on baking. Being passionate about education, Valentine School of Cake has trained over 6000 people most who have pursued their passion in the industry. As a pioneer in the Cake School, it has now 5 branches across the country.
Baking being skill-based, Valentine Cake House has absorbed youths from all walks of the line giving them opportunities, hope, and setting them on their career path.
The beneficiaries have their own Trust Fund that has put over 126 kids through high school and fully supported the needy.
“One of the girls we took through education is now a senior nurse in Australia. There are so many out there benefiting from Valentine, directly and indirectly, prospering in life. It gives me so much joy to have an impact on their lives.” he said
Valentine Cake House has continued to support and empower SME’s and the youths through its initiatives and programs and training. Follow Bizna Kenya for more updates on Kenyan based businesses like Valentine Cake House and general Kenyan news.