The first thing that strikes you upon meeting The Cupcake Bloke aka Graham Herterich is his warmth. He has a softness to him that puts you immediately at ease. His candour is honest which is refreshing and relatable. His positivity is inspiring but not jarring, it’s more of a humble but positive outlook to life.
It took the face of a coin to direct Graham on his career trajectory, “when I was younger, I’d go to Lourdes, I used to go out to help the sick so I considered going into nursing. When it came time to decide what to do after school I actually flipped a coin to decide between nursing or to become a chef.” His love of food was born from coming from a family of butchers, he also cites that his mother is a wonderful cook. When he qualified he went on to work in high end Irish restaurants like Chapter One, Peacock Alley, and Mount Juliet.
Burning out from restaurant life
The hospitality world is renown for it’s long hours and issues with burnout. “You’ve very early mornings and very late nights. There’s also a constant pressure. There’s an intensity and hype to working in high-end kitchens. And, I suppose, at 21 years of age I was burning the candle at both ends, so when you do have your two hours off, you’re having a few drinks. In those type of restaurants and hotels, your family becomes the people you work with. You end up socialising with them.”
He decided it was time to walk away from it all. He returned to college to study philosophy with the goal of becoming a priest. “I decided to give religious life a try. I felt that I had a vocation.” He ended up dropping out of the course but he is keen to point out he doesn’t regret his decision to enter that world. “I do not regret it for one second. It was an absolutely amazing two years of my life. I loved every minute of it, but it just wasn’t for me.”
Being made redundant
He ended up returning to the hospitality trade but he was adamant that he was done with the mad world of restaurants, instead he took a job in a café. “From there, I got poached by a chain of coffee shops. My role was to help them with some of their units. Long story short, I ended up in production management for that company, I oversaw their bakery and all the savoury food.” Just as he was finding his rhythm, he got made redundant however he had set up The Cupcake Bloke 6 months earlier. “It was just a Facebook page. On and off I was making cakes for family and friends. I didn’t want them going to my personal Facebook page to get in touch with me, so I set up The Cupcake Bloke, it was only a hobby page. And then, in the back of my mind, I was constantly thinking, ‘Oh, I might do this in two or three years’ time.’ But two or three years time became two or three months later when I just got made redundant.”
Luck and drive allowed him to keep moving forward. “I got made redundant on the Wednesday and started planning my business in SPADE Enterprise Centre on a Thursday. I’d been to see them on the qt, as I had a concern that redundancy might be on the cards, they phoned me the day after I got made redundant to offer me a kitchen. And the following day, my cousin knew somebody that had ovens. All this happened in the space of a week!” Prior to his redundancy his husband Daithi got laid off. “2012 was mental. We got civil partnered on the 29th of June. He’d just been made redundant. He decided to go back to college we were like, ‘I’m in a pretty good job, we’ll be able to manage fine.’ Four months later, I get made redundant.” He got a loan from his friends for his redundancy amount as he waited to get his statutory redundancy. He used that money to buy equipment for the kitchen.
A husband & business partner
Graham had a simple but clever business plan. He was going to sell a range of baked goods to independent coffee shops. He noticed that coffee shops would buy off several different suppliers, for example, scones off one supplier, cupcakes off another. He knew he’d have one big customer straight away. Daithi became more involved with the business, “during that first year he kept at the college course, and he used to come down in the afternoon to help me with deliveries. We opened the business out of necessity, but looking back on it, if Daithi hadn’t had been available, and gone back to college, and had freer hours, would we have done it? Maybe we wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation.”
He is deeply indebted to Daithi for his help in growing the business to what it is. Daithi takes care of all the invoicing, deliveries, marketing and Grahams’ emails. “I’d be lost without him because I’ve bad dyslexia, so for me doing emails and stuff like that is actually quite time consuming. After doing a full day of baking in the kitchen doing emails can be quite head wrecking! I’m blessed to have Daithi because I’ll sit there, and I’ll read the emails and then dictate a response. We get through email three times quicker.” Starting your day at 4am and working to the late evening is taxing enough but doing it all with your husband must be a challenge, “There’ll be times I’ll say to Daithi, I’m going into town for an hour to myself. And he’ll know that means! I usually go for a walk to clear my head.”
A family affair
About 65% of their sales are cupcakes, the rest is other baked goods and Graham is also experimenting with pop-up restaurants. “I just love the creativity that goes with it. Sometimes I will come up with the maddest notions and Daithi will rein me in a little bit but if he believes in it, he’ll also push me.” Business is booming for them and they plan to open a retail store shortly as well as hire a bakery manager. Graham realises it’s time to step back from the day to day production duties so that he can bask in his creativity which he so clearly has a talent for.
Right now he has a staff of seven which includes his sister and brother. “My sister’s about to leave me, she’s running off to have another baby! But she has worked with me almost four years now. My brother has Down’s and is also deaf and dumb. He travels independently himself to work three days a week. I never thought I was going to be a family business, and that’s what it’s turned into,” he smiles. “My little brother is so proud of me, and that’s what makes it for me. He didn’t ever have a job, he was always had work experience. He’s on my level and he’s such a help. For me, that gives me huge pleasure, seeing what the bakery has been able to do for him is massive. His confidence in the last couple of years has shot through the roof. We’re like a little oiled machine, the three of us, when we get going together. I suppose it is a family thing, we just kind of reach each other’s minds, to a certain extent.”
A regular on TV
The hard graft has not gone unnoticed. Graham has a regular cooking slot on The Six O’Clock Show on TV3. He’s also won the best scone in Ireland award. His talent is clear but he’s aware that The Cupcake Bloke’s popularity has as much to do with the community of loyal customers that they have fostered. He’s not driven to have his produce in every supermarket because he doesn’t want to compromise on quality and above that he enjoys getting to know people so that he can personalise his baking for them. “I love to sit down with customers and tease out what they want, what they like and what they enjoy.”
He’s at pains to point out that it’s not all easy, “don’t get me wrong, it’s tough and there are times that myself and Daithi want to kill each other. But I do love it. I don’t think I tell Daithi enough how much I appreciate the opportunity he has given me.” For Graham baking is so much bigger than just making a cupcake. It’s symbolic act of bringing his family together, of allowing him to be independent and creative and of bringing happiness to people.
You can find out more about The Cupcake Bloke here…