Hannah Pinchin, a post-doctorate research fellow at Southampton University, has swapped petri dishes for the mixing bowl in her creation of Hannah Banana Bakery, which sells gorgeous vegan and gluten-free culinary delights to the masses. Not long after the bakery’s first birthday, the Wessex Scene caught up with Hannah on a short break from her 7-day week to talk business, baking and failed macaroons.
Hi Hannah! Can you tell us a bit about what you were doing before your bakery? What was it that inspired you to turn your passion into a business?
I had just finished my PhD in microbiology at Portsmouth and I couldn’t get a job. I had been a vegan for 11 years and I had constantly struggled to satisfy my sweet tooth. You have to go to Brighton or London to find some vegan baking and even then the flavours only go as far as chocolate and vanilla. I was already doing a cake course in the evenings at Eastleigh College and I just decided to solve this problem myself and set up a bakery.
What have you learnt from your year and a bit running a business?
It is a lot harder than I expected. I work a 7-day week and average 5 hours sleep per night. I currently have a month’s waiting list and I have to turn down 6 or 7 orders per day. I juggle my day job and baking in the mornings and evenings. The actual baking is the easy part; I never considered initially all my costs and I was losing money at first and couldn’t work out why. From sourcing ingredients to paying for the cake cases – which I now know cost me 4p each – there is so much to factor in. I just wasn’t business minded and didn’t have a real plan.
What would you say to a student who wanted to set up their own business?
Think ahead and know your prices. Make sure you consider all the costs before you commit. There is so much official work that needs to be done; I had to get a food hygiene certificate, label my food in a particular way and have the health inspector visit my premises. Always buy in bulk too – I now buy vanilla essence in litres! The main thing is to know the hidden costs and be prepared to stick to your prices. People will always undercut you and you’d be surprised how many X factor sob stories you hear in an attempt to wangle a deal but you need to ensure you can make money.
Now on to baking – when did it become a hobby?
I have baked all my life because my Mum always did. When I became vegan I couldn’t find anything to eat and this encouraged me to experiment and begin to ‘veganise’ all the classic desserts. I’ve done a banoffee pie and bubblegum flavour cupcakes – there are no limits really.
What is the best cake you’ve ever made?
I think my sandcastle. I made the turrets individually and crumbled digestives as the sand. Although I was also pretty happy with my first ever tiered wedding cake. I had so many sleepless nights about that.
What do you think sets Hannah Banana Bakery apart from the wealth of cupcake companies around?
I am dedicated to creating new flavours for vegans and those on a gluten free diet. Most bakers who offer gluten-free products just use the mixes you can buy which taste horrible. I spent about a year experimenting with 11 different flours to get a taste that’s amazing. I visit Gluten-Free Fayres and I recently went to America to scout out more good products to use. I almost exceeded my baggage allowance on the way home! Everyone deserves to have the best cakes; those on special diets shouldn’t have to settle for second best.
What is your best baking tip for our readers?
Get a proper mixer. It doesn’t need to be expensive but the results will be so much better than doing it by hand. Everything is so much fluffier! In baking the tools are the most important thing, everything else you can just about get away with!
What was your food of choice as a student?
I wasn’t a cake maker at uni – I couldn’t really afford it. I cooked all my food from scratch and always visited the farmers’ markets for the best produce. If they get to know you it is also easy to get a better deal. I wish I could’ve baked more but, then again, with housemates yummy food has a tendency to go missing!
What are your plans for the future of Hannah Banana Bakery?
I can’t say too much but it will be bigger and better next year. I would love to bring my cakes to Southampton because I received great feedback the one time I had a stall. Unfortunately, the muffin lady has the market slot. It is so hard at Southampton University to get any vegan or gluten-free food. I can’t be the only one suffering – I don’t want rabbit food; there is so much we could eat but it’s not offered. I am hoping to get in contact with the food outlets though and do something about it. I am also determined to crack macaroons. I have managed to ‘veganise’ everything else but they’ve been my nemesis. I will do it though, that is a real aim!
To find out more about Hannah Banana Bakery visit her website: http://www.hannahbananabakery.co.uk
Or find her on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HannahBananaBakery