Hester Acharya, a Fine Arts and History student at the University of Auckland, has always been obsessed with baking. She has now turned her passion into a business selling custom cakes on Instagram and Facebook @NotJustPurpleCakes.
Acharya was first introduced to baking by her mother. “The first thing she taught me was a recipe for Easy Fudge Brownies when I was nine.” Ever since then, she has been obsessed with baking. “I just love to bake and make desserts, and I do it all the time.” Even when she’s not baking, Acharya spends her free time watching cake videos and the Great British Bake Off. She says she even takes down notes and implements the tips from the show into her baking.
While working at a popular dessert chain, Acharya realised there is a significant demand for custom cakes. “You can only imagine how many people are having birthdays in a city of 1.2 million.” Inspired by friends starting small businesses and selling vintage, up-cycled clothing through Instagram, Acharya decided to turn her baking passion into a business by selling custom cakes. “They didn’t go to school or anything for it, which made me realise I could do it too.”
She started off volunteering to make birthday cakes for friends to build up a portfolio and see if she enjoyed making custom cakes. She ended up loving it and decided to offer her custom cakes to the public. Acharya says her partner Java Grant came up with the name Not Just Purple Cakes because of her obsession with the colour purple. Grant told me he figured she would want to make a lot of purple cakes. “But it’s not just purple cakes.”
Acharya makes all the cakes in her kitchen at home. The flat she shares with two roommates, including her partner, has now been taken over by cake pans, sprinkles, and piping equipment. While Acharya makes all her orders by herself, Grant helps her take photos of the finished product. She says although she offered to pay him, he instead asks for Nippy’s Chocolate Milk. What she likes most about running her own business is flexibility, and being able to work on her own schedule. “I don’t have to do it at a specific time of the day. I can make a cake at 3 am if I feel like it.”
Because she is a small business, Acharya says she can spend a lot more time on individual orders. She encourages customers to share pictures of cakes they’ve seen online and their favourite flavours and colours. Acharya says she wants to “produce the ultimate cake that matches what they want, the theme of their event. Recently I did a frog and flowers cake for a themed party.” Accommodating all dietary requirements is also particularly important for Acharya as her brother has a severe nut allergy. “It taught me how to clean everything properly to ensure there is no cross-contamination.
Acharya uses her own Red Velvet recipe, which she made up with her mother when she was younger and other recipes she has tried and tested. She hopes one day she can develop more of her own. Currently, she spends roughly 9 hours a week making and researching cakes. She says cakes are an expensive business. “It’s the learning process that costs the most; trying out new combinations and experimenting with flavours and ingredients.” But she says the enjoyment she gets from baking makes the cost worth it. Eventually, she hopes to expand from just birthday cakes. “I’m happy to make a small cake for 10 or 20 people, but my favourite cakes are the big, extravagant ones. I would love to make a wedding cake.”
Photo supplied by Java Grant.