Based in Hesleden, East Durham, Cake Ninja started life making custom-made cakes, confectionaries and treats, as well as catering for special occasions. The company was set up by sole trader Stacey Deinali, a qualified and experienced Early Years teacher who saw an opportunity to expand the business into the education sector. In May 2019 Stacey formed ATOMS Education, a Community Interest Company that delivers community-based educational workshops in Art, Design and Technology, Oracy, Maths and Science, to children aged 4 to 16. However, while she was full of ideas for the business, Stacey was struggling to put them into action.
A visit to her local Job Centre led to Stacey signing up to the DBOP programme to develop her general business planning skills. Initially the support came in the form of workshops on business planning, finance and marketing. Stacey said, “Without the support I am sure I would still be procrastinating, knowing that I had a head full of ideas but not knowing what to do to make them a reality.”
Alongside the workshops, Stacey took advantage of the support from the DBOP Food and Drink Network, an intensive strand of support focussed on one particular sector identified as having high growth potential. This gave her the opportunity to take her goods to the Pop-Up Shop, an initiative designed to give food and drink producers from across County Durham the chance to showcase their products and explore potential routes to market. The Pop-Up Shop was a retail unit located in a prime location in The Prince Bishops Shopping Centre in Durham City providing maximum exposure in a busy city centre.
The Pop-Up Shop organisers asked Stacey to deliver one of her ATOMS workshops and the business began to grow. Commenting on the support Stacey said: “The Pop-Up Shop was a great experience which led to me reaching a wider audience for my goods. It also allowed me to gain a greater market reach across Durham.”
Stacey was also signposted to the New Enterprise Allowance scheme, which meant she received financial support of approximately £1,275 over a six-month period. She used the allowance to buy essential equipment, such as a portable oven and other workshop equipment and materials.
Cake Ninja has since become a subsidiary of ATOMS Education, which now employs five people, including two full-time staff who also act as directors of the CIC alongside two voluntary directors. The company has extended its workshop offer to include after-school clubs and community groups, supporting children from disadvantaged communities and children with special educational needs.
Turnover is increasing month-on-month and profits are ploughed back into the CIC to expand the free workshop offer in local communities. The company has extended its reach beyond East Durham, delivering workshops in Cramlington and Sunderland, and has also increased its private catering work.
Reflecting on the support from DBOP Stacey said: “We had the ideas and knowledge of what we could do but we didn’t know where to start. The support we’ve received has meant that our thoughts and ideas are now concrete plans that have been implemented and we are pleased with the progress we are making.”
Future plans focus on sustainability and growth, to enable the company to offer full-time employment to its three casual employees, as well as taking on more staff. Further expansion is planned for the workshops, with profits being reinvested to offer free workshops to help tackle the challenge of ‘holiday hunger’ faced by some local communities. In the longer-term Stacey and her team are looking to extend their offer to a new market by offering workshops to adults. Commenting on her experience to date Stacey said: “I have had a very positive experience of working with the DBOP Team. Not only has the support helped me to get the business up and running it is also helping it grow. I feel very optimistic about the future and hope we can continue to make a difference to the local communities we work with.”
Find out more about Cake Ninja.
Find out more about how the Durham Business Opportunities Programme can help your business here.