Necessity is the (single) mother of invention. Melanie Constantinou’s foray into the baking business started when she was a lone parent, her family hundreds of miles away and coming to the conclusion that the cost of childcare meant returning to teaching just wasn’t a viable option.
“I realised the best thing I could do was to work from home and at the time it just seemed like everyone was baking with ‘bake off’ on the telly. It just seemed like you could just bake cakes and sell them – so I did.”
Mel’s commercial debut was in the grand surroundings of Rudry Parish Hall, the home of The Rudry Kitchen, initially set up as a cooperative of local producers.
“We held our first Rudry Rural Market, (complete with bunting) and my little business was born! I had a total sell-out of all things cupcake...and I was smitten. Onwards and upwards, I built on that success to hold workshops, attend corporate events, supply retailers and fulfil private orders.” It took off and Mel got herself a substantial list of ‘bread and butter’ clients supplying garden centres and the like. Then suddenly she wasn’t single anymore and moved to be with her partner leaving all those steady contracts behind. “That’s when I embarked on the ‘Baked by Mel Bara Brith’ – because I could put it in the post.” Bara brith (speckled bread) is probably the best known of Welsh cakes except of course for, well, Welsh cakes and that in itself makes a commercial version something of a challenge. “Everybody’s mum or grand mother has a recipe and everyone’s mum’s or grandmother’s is the best. So you have to be making something really special. That’s why it’s so important that Baked by Mel means exactly that, and I can ensure that people are getting the quality I want on every single occasion.”
“I think there’s a huge amount of untapped talent in Wales – what I’ve discovered is that the food people are really nice. I love going to say Abergavenny Food Festival, looking at all this huge variety of people doing something they really care about... It’s a beautiful creative thing.”
Initially she was daunted by the prospect of going it alone in business: “How quickly would I grow from zero? And I knew there were loads of talented people who could bake and make stuff but it doesn’t matter if you can’t reach your customers. How do you do that if you’re on your own? You have to do all aspects of it and it was scary but I was determined.”
What’s apparent is that paying attention to all those aspects has paid off for Mel. The bara brith is, of course, top-notch but the packaging is beautiful too, making it a lovely thing to receive through the post.