How does one go from studying mechanical engineering to setting up a successful cake business?
We caught up with talented Alanna Nugent, owner of Lana-Lou’s Cake Studio -previously known as Lana-Lou Bakes – to find out.
The Fraserburgh-based baker has been creating show-stopping celebration and wedding cakes since 2018.
And while coronavirus cancelled a lot of her wedding cake plans, Alanna says her loyal customers have kept her business afloat by purchasing her treat boxes and other bakes.
Read our interview with Alana below.
Tell us, what motivated you to set up Lana-Lou’s Cake Studio? When exactly did you launch it?
I started making cupcakes and small cakes for my work and family members a few years ago. My nephews then came into the world and it was a given that I was the one to make their birthday cakes. It snowballed from there and my original business name – Lana-Lou Bakes – was born in 2018. I recently rebranded and changed to Lana-Lou’s Cake Studio as my business has changed so much in the space of just two years. I’m based up in Fraserburgh, but I’ve had customers from all over Aberdeenshire.
Did you work in the food and drink industry before setting up your cake business?
No, I left school when I was 16 and started an apprenticeship at Gray & Adams, where I still work part-time. They knew how quickly my business was expanding, so they allowed me to reduce my hours so I could work more on my business and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.
I believe you also studied mechanical engineering. How did you move from that to baking?
Through my apprenticeship, I studied mechanical engineering at college for five years, but I’ve always been a creative person as well. Throughout my childhood and school years, I loved art and it was my favourite subject – I used to be terrible at baking! My sister was the original baker of the family, and she was the one who actually taught me now to make cupcakes and shared her recipes with me. I soon realised it was a new way to be creative and I just became obsessed.
Was it then when you discovered your passion for baking and cooking?
I’ve always loved cooking – even when I was a teenager. I would offer to cook meals for my parents when they were working, but I could never bake! It was when I was about 20 I realised that I loved to bake and decorate cakes. I love to experiment with flavour combinations. I once made maple bacon cupcakes – it sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does! Decorating the cakes is the best bit for me, especially when customers let me have full reign of the design – it allows me to create something new.
That sounds like an interesting flavour combination! What would you like everyone to know about your business?
A lot of people – including myself at one point – don’t realise that there’s so much work that goes into a cake business other than just making the cakes. That it’s just a small part of what us cake makers do, but I know that we wouldn’t have it any other way. I love all my customers, so every single order that leaves my kitchen has been made with so much care and attention. Making people happy with cake or treat boxes is the best feeling.
You clearly care a lot about making sure your customers are always satisfied, which is wonderful. What kind of cakes do you specialise in? Would you say you have a specific style?
I think I’m most known for colourful, textured cakes. I recently asked my followers on Instagram what I should create for my next display cake and so many of them said a colourful textured cake. Dried flowers are also something I’ve used a lot of – I absolutely love using them to top a tall cake. They give such a unique finish and also smell amazing. I’ve had customers who have repurposed them and turned them into a display for their homes.
Do you also create show-stopping wedding cakes?
Wedding cakes are another big part of my business but due to Covid-19, I haven’t been able to do as much as I had planned. 2020 was due to be my busiest year so far with wedding cakes, but unfortunately, a lot of the orders were postponed. But I did manage to create three amazing wedding cakes in the later months of 2020.
The process of a wedding cake is very different to an occasion cake. My couples all receive complimentary cake tasting boxes as part of their booking, plus a consultation to discuss all things cake. I am always there to answer any queries they may have. I will provide my couples with a sketch of their wedding cake, liaise with the wedding venue and other suppliers, plus deliver and set up their cake on the day of the wedding. There is almost an added level of pressure with wedding cakes because it’s the most important day of their lives, but I absolutely love being a part of it.
Would it be too difficult to pick your top three favourite cake designs?
This is so hard trying to only pick three as I’ve made so many cakes that I love. I think my ‘concrete cake’ was the first cake I really experimented on with textures and used different techniques. Lucky for me, my sister-in-law is a photographer, so I had her take some photos of it for me.
My blue buttercream cake was also super popular. It was one of the first ones I made for a customer using dried flowers and they also let me have free reign of the design. I opted for different shades of blues to create an almost watercolour effect, plus I added some gold splatters which has now almost became a signature element of all my designs.
And finally, a white cake for my client’s 30th birthday. The customer had sent me a few reference photos that had wafer paper details and I just had to find out how it was done. So after a lot of research, I found out how it was done and added them to the cake. It just gives the cake a completely different look and of course, it had to be finished off with dried flowers and gold splatter.
Can you tell our readers more about the elopement cake you created for a photoshoot?
That was such an exciting project to be a part of! My lovely friend Ella from Ella-Mai Elopements had asked me to provide a display cake for one of her styled shoots, so this is what I came up with! They travelled to Glencoe for the shoot and had so many other amazing suppliers involved. The photos from that day were just beautiful – I’m just gutted I couldn’t be there in person.
In addition to cakes, you also offer treat boxes…
I absolutely love making my treat boxes. They make the perfect gift for someone and can be personalised for any theme or occasion. I did my first one in July last year after being inspired by some amazing cake makers on Instagram. They were a hit and I’ve made so many of them since, including my Valentine’s Day special.
Do you work with any north-east producers? Would you say the baking industry is competitive?
I’ve worked with a lot of other small businesses over the last few years, most of them being florists as a part of weddings. My cake toppers are also made local – very very local as it’s one of my friends. Precious Moments by Stacey makes all my cake toppers – she’s also based in Fraserburgh. I also work alongside a lot of other cake makers as well, there’s no such thing as competition – it’s all about collaboration and helping each other out.
How did coronavirus affect your business?
Much like other cake makers, it’s affected me in different ways – positive and negative. Obviously, the negative impact is weddings being postponed, but it’s been outweighed by all the positives. During the first lockdown, I got to take a step back and realise what I truly loved doing. I had a surprising amount of orders as well from everyone in lockdown including orders for doorstep cupcakes.
That’s great to hear. Do you have loyal customers?
Oh yes! They are my favourite and I’d do anything for them! They are the ones who have kept me going and got me to where I am today. But my new customers are also just as important. I’m so grateful for my ever-expanding customer base. It always feels amazing when customers return for another order.
And where do you see your business in a few years’ time?
I’d love to expand my business, add more products to my menu and possibly start teaching. There are so many people out there who make amazing bakes and would be so successful as a cake business but don’t know where to start. I’d love to show them the ropes and help them learn from my mistakes – which I’ve made plenty of over the years!
Visit www.lanalouscakestudio.com for more information