United Kingdom

We ditched high-flying jobs at BA to start our Big Bakes business

In normal times when it comes to interacting outside of work with colleagues, many might go to the pub and get a drink, or even become friends.

But going from running the office bake-off competition to becoming business partners takes things a step further than most.

That’s what two former senior employees of British Airways did when they launched a baking-themed events business, The Big Bakes.

Three years ago, Eloise Frank and Adam Chaudhri gave up high-flying roles at the airline and are now facing the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown at small businesses.

Eloise Frank and Adam Chaudhri founded baking events business, The Big Bakes. Both gave up senior roles at British Airways to follow their dreams

Eloise was the global head of PR, events and partnerships at British Airways, while Adam was the creative manager for Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa for the airline but they both turned their backs on them to start a venture together.

The pair were behind the office bake-off competition, which is what brought them closer together. 

It proved such a hit with their colleagues that they realised there could be a gap in the market to commercialise the concept.

Adam says: ‘At the time this type of concept just didn’t exist. The only place you could go in London was professional cooking schools and it was all very serious, but not with the same atmosphere we wanted to create and expensive.’

They called the business The Big Bakes because they wanted to have a brand that could be adapted depending on the locations they operated in as they expanded.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit that amounted to two venues – The Big London Bake which ran seven days a week in Tooting, and The Big Birmingham Bake, which ran every day except Monday and Tuesday. Tickets start from £37.50.

Until now, the business has been firing on all cylinders and has welcomed over 60,000 customers at their London and Birmingham locations. 

To kickstart the endeavour the duo invested their own money into it but also each applied for a £25,000 start up loan backed by the Government. 

In their first year of running they say they had already become profitable, generating £214,000 in revenue with over 4,000 customers visiting their marquee. This enabled them to pay off their £50,000 government loan in six months.

In 2019 the business generated £764,000 in revenue with 23 staff currently working for the business.

However, the pandemic has now forced the entrepreneurs to change how the business operates.

Adam and Eloise don't always get on but they respect and trust each other which is what they believe is the reason for their successful partnership

How we have adapted to survive coronavirus 

Before the pandemic hit, baking enthusiasts could book The Big London Bake and The Big Birmingham Bake online and compete in a big tent with friends and colleagues.

But when lockdown measures were implemented, the duo were forced to stop their London and Birmingham operations. 

Instead of waiting out the lockdown, they pivoted their business to an online offering hosting an array of remote tutorials broadcast from their baking tents.

They have been sharing three free bake-at-home classes each week across their social media channels, covering easy to follow recipes that use the day to day ingredients and standard kitchen equipment that most homes would have.

The video masterclasses can be found on @The big_bakes on Facebook or Instagram where aspiring bakers can also find a list of ingredients needed for their up-coming class.

For those keen to get into the competitive spirit, The Big Bakes encourages the sharing of completed creations. A winning amateur baker is selected and awarded vouchers to take part in a live session, which the entrepreneurs hope they will be able to do later in the year.

In the pre-pandemic days, bakes at their venues were deliberately different and challenging. 

Adam explains: ‘We develop a new bake every month and not something you’d do at home so not your typical Victoria sponge you would do at home. We’ll do eclairs or a massive gingerbread house.’

However, the focus was still on fun and creativity. Adam says: ‘Professional bakers will get the ingredients weighed up and done for you because that’s the boring part.

‘Then everything is customisable and all gingerbread houses look different. It brings creativity together and people can get stuck in. We have oodles of flavours and decorations to choose from.’

Eloise and Adam say the spacing of the work stations in their baking tents make them better prepared than most businesses for the social distancing practices that companies now have to embrace as the UK eases its way out of lockdown

The duo are proud that they haven’t been in a position to let anyone go during the pandemic. Like many business owners they have taken advantage of the government’s furlough scheme but add that not all The Big Bakes’ employees qualified for it.

The pair say they were adamant about creating a business that would care about staff and offer some respite and entertainment for people stuck in their homes. 

So, the pair keep in contact with staff to ensure there was some social element that would help some way to ensure good mental health.

Adam says: ‘We’re doing regular check ins with the team and have quizzes. We’re doing everything we can from supporting them financially to consistent comms.'

A recipe for success?  

Even though they get on well, the pair admit that they don’t always get along. Adam says tensions have occurred as a result the typical start-up environment where the pair have had to consider the needs and complexities that come with managing staff, customers and their own personal lives.

We have day-to-day disagreements on colours and things like that, but I think we haven’t had those big arguments as we have a good balance and know where to respect and hold back

Eloise Frank, The Big Bakes

But both respect each other’s talents, which is what makes the partnership work. Eloise says: ‘We know if we are disagreeing about something we rely on each others' expertise. 

'We have day-to-day disagreements on colours and things like that, but I think we haven’t had those big arguments as we have a good balance and know where to respect and hold back. We generally have the same goals in mind.’

Whatever their disagreements and obstacles encountered, the partnership seems to have worked in creating a successful business recognised by customers and industry peers.

They’ve used the lockdown period to forge relationships with customers on social media – garnering nearly 35,000 followers on Instagram.

Last year Eloise was presented with The Artemis Award at the 2019 NatWest everywoman Awards, which celebrates Britain’s most inspiring female entrepreneurs. Eloise’s prize was for the most inspirational woman running a business trading for 18 months to three years.

Both Eloise and Adam have twice been finalists at Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Awards for ‘Small Business Entrepreneurs of the Year’.

Tips to get back to business in the recovery

Before the pandemic struck the pair regularly hosted blogger events, consumer parties and corporate away days and have worked with major brands such as Deloitte, Tesco, Google and Virgin.

use this time wisely to create a business that you want. Prepare to get back to work and keep the business going after that 

 Adam Chaudhri, The Big Bakes

Both realise that getting their business back to ‘normal’ will take some time, but they believe they will be in a good position to operate under social distancing measures because of the spacing already in place between the cooking stations.

The major hurdle will be the confidence people will feel to head out to such events even as lockdown measures ease.

But they don’t plan to change the concept of the business. Adam says: ‘If you were a successful business before this all happened, I’d advise not to go around and try and change the business you were.

‘Don’t change your attitude to staff and customers and come out of the other side of this a completely different business to how you operated before because you need to keep to the formula that worked.’

He knows sticking to their guns will not be easy though. He adds: ‘The biggest challenge is about to come after all of this. 

'Right now is not as difficult as it’s going to get become because we’re all going to have to relaunch our businesses and that’s where the real cost comes.

‘We’re going to have to advertise, bring staff back, get people back to socialising in a responsible manner. That’s why I’d say to others use this time wisely to create a business that you want. Prepare to get back to work and keep the business going after that.’

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