Nestled in an industrial estate on the edge of Portlaoise town you will find Kelly Lou Cakes coffee shop and bakery. It is not the most obvious of locations so I headed there recently to find out exactly why customers are flocking from all over the country, not only to enjoy a cupcake and a coffee, but also to order their wedding cakes years in advance of the big occasion.
Proprietor Kelly Ging is a Snapchat sensation and can regularly be seen cooking up a storm in the kitchens of TV3. Kelly is young, bright, talented and totally engaging. When asked why she chose an industrial estate as her base and her answer was open and honest.
It’s not that long ago that we were all hit to some extent by the devastating effects of the recession. Kelly’s family was no different. Running a hardware store in an industrial estate in Portlaoise became increasingly difficult until the only viable part of the business was the kitchenware department and the little coffee corner that Kelly had persuaded her parents to let her open. Sadly, the family had no choice but to close the business but they came back and reopened next door with a kitchenware store and a coffee shop. Kelly Lou subsequently added the bakery and today, all three are thriving businesses.
When I look at cupcakes and wedding cakes I’m often reminded of works of art. Surely it takes years of training to cultivate such creative talent? Seemingly not. Kelly studied retail business in college and has never worked in a professional kitchen. Her experience comes from watching her mother (who is still a huge influence in Kelly’s life) bake for her family. Her talent is raw and pure, a gift that she nurtures well, constantly referring to the UK and US to keep abreast of the latest trends in the world of cakes.
This is an artisan bakery with everything made from scratch using the finest of local ingredients. The proof of the quality is in the taste and Kelly Lou customers can attest to that. Fresh eggs and real butter are their unique selling points with an emphasis on using Irish ingredients whenever possible. While she started with cupcakes, Kelly got so many requests for wedding cakes that she decided to test the waters and bake cakes for a couple of weddings. She baked and baked and tested and tasted until she got the flavours just right. Her hard work paid off and now every week Kelly has orders for wedding cakes with some already in place for as far away as 2018. Not bad for a girl who will wholeheartedly admit that she is self taught.
From the humble beginnings of four tables in the corner of her parent’s hardware store, Kelly has now created her own little empire. Gone are the days of baking scones in a Stanley oven behind the counter. With orders rolling in, she quickly outgrew that little oven and a year after opening the current Kelly Lou Café in the new store, Kelly opened her first bakery. Every weekend visitors arrive from far flung counties, something that Kelly is still trying to get her head around.
She attributes social media to some of her current success, posting recipes and tips that have been picked up by online newspapers and TV stations. While Kelly is definitely the creative force of the business, her best support is clearly her mum, who is there to help with the likes of the dreaded paperwork. Both lovers of social media, they share the marketing duties equally. Add a happy café and bakery staff and you have a recipe for a great business.
It’s no surprise to hear that Kelly’s spare time is spent researching new designs and ideas, but Kelly is also busy designing the cake for her own wedding. What will it be like? We’ll just have to wait and see…
Author of “Food from an Irish Garden”, Fiona Dillon lives with her husband and four children at Hunters Lodge in Co Carlow. Her recently published “Freddy Buttons” series of food adventure books for children (Orpen Press 2015) were written so that Fiona could share the food provenance message amongst young children. Her Freddy Buttons food-themed garden at Bloom 2015 won Fiona a silver medal.
One of Ireland’s best known food bloggers, Fiona documents her back to basics lifestyle through her blog www.fionadillon.com. She is also a feature writer for the Irish Farmers Journal’s Irish Country magazine. As Food Correspondent for KCLR96FM’s The Saturday Show, Fiona shares the latest food news from around the country with her Carlow/Kilkenny listeners. When she’s not busy giving talks on topics such as sustainable living or blogging, Fiona can be found tending to her honeybees or writing the next epic adventure for Freddy Buttons.