“Come in, we're AWESOME”. So says the sign on the door of a classic Castleford street corner shop – and if the name of the business, Bake My Day (geddit?), hasn't already piqued your curiosity sufficiently to tempt you inside, how can anyone resist an invitation like that?
It was only in early September that sisters Ellie and Emma Cawthra opened the door of their bakery for the first time but, through a combination of quirky marketing, unquenchable enthusiasm and, most importantly, some of the best cakes, buns and scones you'll find for many a mile, their proudly home-made products are selling like, well, hotcakes.
The first thing you notice about Bake My Day, which stands on the corner of Smawthorne Lane and Smawthorne Grove amidst red-brick terraced streets, is its size – or, more precisely, its lack thereof. There's a counter with enough room for a handful of cake stands and a coffee machine; a 'table' (two planks actually) running the length of the front window with space for four stools; and behind the counter there's a cooker, a sink, a fridge, a cupboard and a small work surface. There's room for half a dozen customers at a push. And that's it.
Yet, amazingly, everything that's sold in the shop (with the exception, when Wf Live called in, of some ace pork pies) is made on the premises, in less space than even the most compact home kitchen.
Mum-of-three Emma, and Ellie who has two children, had been full-time mums for several years, prior to which they'd both worked in a series of “dead-end jobs, boring work – jobs we really didn't want to be in,” as Ellie put it. However, what both girls did
enjoy doing, and possessed a talent for, was baking. In idle moments they mused about doing it for a a living, though with young families to bring up it wasn't until 2015 that they were able to realise that ambition in full.
“We've always baked for each other and for family and friends, so now all the kids are at school it seemed like the right time to do this,” said Ellie. “Our families had been egging us on – 'when are you going to open a shop?' – so now we've taken them at their word.”
Agreeing to cater for a friend's wedding in 2014 convinced the pair that their idea could be turned into reality, as Emma recalled. “We were thrown straight in at the deep end,” she said. “She wanted this big afternoon tea-style affair, which we managed to do, but the big thing was the comments people made, saying how nice it was and encouraging us to go for it. So we did!”
“That was our way of getting out there and showing people what we could do,” added Ellie. “It was the perfect opportunity to get some real feedback from other than family. When complete strangers were saying how much they'd enjoyed it, we knew we could do it.”
After that they hired stalls in the Corn Exchange, in Leeds, and at Kirkstall Abbey local produce market, before they were finally ready to hang that 'awesome' sign on the door of the shop, on 1 September.
If there's one word which sums up Bake My Day, it has to be 'quirky'. Undoubtedly it's a reflection of the pair's ebullient characters but it's also, they admit, a deliberate ploy to set their bakery apart from its competitors. Take their afternoon teas, for example: not only do they do them in a box to take home, but they're seldom content merely to provide the standard sandwiches, scones and cakes, either. “We like to theme them, so we've done the Mademoiselle in French style, Hollywood, Bollywood, By the Campfire and for Father's Day we did the Tashternoon Tea,” said Ellie. “In fact, we're bringing that one back,” she added, holding up
the black-painted plywood moustache on which the gentlemen's treat was being advertised.
Then there's the Cakesultation, a box of luxury cupcakes and a bottle of prosecco given to all their wedding couples (outside catering is still a big part of the business), while Halloween saw the counter haunted by cute little meringue ghosts. With quality cakes, brilliant buns, super sandwiches and smashing soups always on the menu, the whole operation is living proof that small really is beautiful.
“Everything's made from scratch,” said Emma. “We do all our own jams, lemon curd, the lot. As much as we can is done in here, although we sometimes do a bit at home if we need to catch up. We get as much as we can from local suppliers: even the coffee is roasted in Yorkshire. We're very passionate about the whole Yorkshire thing.”
Because there's no room to display many different products at any one time – and because the pair are forever coming up with new ideas to try – there's a constantly changing selection on the Bake My Day counter, which suits them and, it seems, also appeals to customers. “If you came in yesterday it would have been completely different and if you came back tomorrow it would be different again,” said Emma. “We get bored easily – so we take it out on our baking! We can't just settle for the ordinary: we like to have a twist on absolutely everything”
And it seems customers appreciate what they're doing. “The reaction has been amazing,” said Emma. “It's been really well received and we honestly couldn't have asked for anything better. There have been some fantastic reviews and we're so grateful to customers for that.”
“It's all about the home baking,” continued Ellie. “That's what they want: they don't want the generic supermarket products. People are noticing what they're buying elsewhere; they can tell the difference when they come here, because it really is home made.”
Of course, with The Great British Bake Off attracting millions of TV viewers, baking is very much the flavour of the day – but Ellie and Emma deny that Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood played any part in their decision to establish the business. “I suppose in a way they have, because they've made baking cool,” said Ellie. “People are interested in it and what goes into the things we make. We get a lot of people coming in and saying 'I'd love to do something like this'. It kind of pulls at their heartstrings because there's a homeliness about it – it's a very cosy place – and it appeals to everybody. We get customers from teenagers to older folks and they all love it just the same.”
They certainly love it enough to seek out Bake My Day, despite it being well away from the town centre, though Emma doesn't see that as a problem. They make great use of social media (go to their Facebook page and you'll be hooked straight away) and are aided by
the fact that many people are actively looking for something different. “People come from all over Castleford and we even have customers driving across from Selby and York way,” she said. “We're on a busy street with a lot of traffic – and when you're standing waiting for another car to pass, what do you do? You look around.” If they've even got traffic congestion on their side, they can't possibly fail…
The business is a real family affair, with the involvement extending way beyond the two sisters. The shop was fitted out by Ellie and Emma's partners, Glen Hyde and Jamie Sims – check out that funky particle board counter – the name came from Ellie's seven-year-old son Vincent (albeit courtesy of the film Despicable Me) and the cushions on the bar stools were knitted by their mum, Julie. They still don't get discounts on their pork pies, though…
In the final analysis, one the best things about Bake My Day is that it is, in its own small way, helping dispel the perception (albeit mainly held by outsiders) that there's no demand in Castleford for anything beyond bacon butties, stewed tea and mass-produced savouries from that ubiquitous high street bakery with the blue sign. By any definition of the phrase, this is artisan baking at its finest – but it's made and served by a pair of down-to-earth Cas lasses who know there are plenty of local folk with a taste for something a cut above.
“When we started, a few people did say, 'I'm sure you're in the wrong place for this', they were a bit offhand with us,” recalled Ellie. “One of the ladies who said that came in again the other day and said, 'I'll eat my words because you're doing brilliantly'. And then she sat down and ate some more cake!
“We still get people saying, 'it should be in Leeds' but Leeds has got enough. We think Castleford deserves it.”
We'll raise a slice of (awesome) fresh-from-the-oven cake to that!
Bake My Day is open 9am–3pm, Mondays to Fridays. Go to www.facebook.com/bakemydayee or call 07527 111156.