From the Tree: Interview with Cuckoo’s Bakery

Posted at December 1, 2011 by 0 Comment

At the bottom of Dundas Street there lies a room so full of magic and cheer that the eyes of adults and children alike are filled with delight from the moment they enter.

The room is at once spacious, luxurious, quirky and homely; a perfect mix of Willy Wonka’s edible playground and a kindly grandma’s kitchen. It is an escape for workers, a home from home for travellers, and a paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth. Its name? Cuckoo’s Bakery. Its goal? Making life sweeter.

So how did it begin? Cuckoo’s was the brainchild of owners Graham Savage and Vidya Sarjoo during their time working as marketeers in the London theatre industry.

Over the course of the past eight years they have developed a friendship founded on a shared love of food; holding “bake-offs” and “eat-offs” in their homes as a way of escaping from their hectic lifestyles and affording a little luxury in spite of the steep metropolitan prices.

In 2008 Graham left the big smoke to return to Edinburgh, and during the following year the concept of starting Cuckoo’s began to feel all the more feasible. He cites the notable cupcake boom of 2008-2010 as something that encouraged him, as did the ever-thriving cafe culture in Edinburgh. For Graham Cuckoo’s was “a chance to create something, to start something different” Cuckoo’s was “a chance to create something, to start something different” and to form a life that a desk job wouldn’t, and couldn’t, provide. For Vidya, a London-girl to the core, it was “the right circumstances” and a start your own business course that prompted her to quit her job, move her entire life to Edinburgh and finally go for it. “It was the right time in my life” she tells me, looking joyful at the thought of the big decision she had to make, “when Graham called me with the idea, it took me hardly any time to say let’s just do it”.

“We both thought the idea, and us doing it, was a bit Cuckoo. And so did everyone else!”

Despite the recession being at its peak, and a number of friends thinking their plans were “a bit Cuckoo”, the determined duo spent the following year planning. From local market research, to developing bespoke cake boxes designed to their ideal dimensions, attention to detail was at the core of their activity. “We spent days doing foot counts” Vidya tells me, “we worked out what other retailers offered nearby, how many people worked in the RBS and Standard Life buildings and got an idea of what kind of things people want”. And the hard work shows in their final product: a hearty savoury lunch menu and twelve daily-changing varieties of cupcake temptingly nestled in an antique haberdashery dresser.

As we sit in a cosy corner of the open plan kitchen-come-cafe and savour tea served from their uniquely designed Cuckoo’s ceramic tea pots, it is evident from our conversation that Vidya and Graham have something which is essential for a new business to be strong; an equal partnership. Up at 4am each day, Graham is in charge of the baking, with Vidya catering for the savoury food menu. Both then spend the remainder of their days playing host, working on deliveries and running the business with unrivalled energy and enthusiasm. For them it seems that the interview is much more than a chance to give me insight into the world of buttercream icing and vintage cuckoo clocks; it’s a well earned opportunity to rest their busy feet: “We’ve been hands on with every part of this business” beams Vidya, whilst Graham tellingly pipes “We’re knackered”.
“We’ve been hands on with every part of this business” beams Vidya, whilst Graham tellingly pipes “We’re knackered”.

After a year of planning, the final months before opening appear to have been a whirlwind: The pair received the keys to their Dundas Street premises on Christmas Eve 2010, started work on New Years Day. After eight coats of paint and getting all hands on deck, they opened only six weeks later, Valentines Day 2011. And now, only ten short months later, you would be forgiven for thinking that this bustling haven was an age-old Edinburgh institution.

But what is it that makes Cuckoos’ such as special place? The branding? The atmosphere? The baked goods? Vidya and Graham have a theory, “it’s about the customer experience, giving people an escape from their working week and making it fun”.“it’s about … giving people an escape from their working week and making it fun” At the core of this are their constant experiments with flavours. Based on suggestions from staff and customers, nostalgic favourites and sometimes a simple whim, Graham seeks to be creative with his sponges, fillings and sugar craft. For aspiring bakers out there the pair recommend mastering the basics, finely tuning a few key recipes and then simply “play around and get creative, if you’re confident and you enjoy doing it, it will be apparent in your baking”. And to failures you hit along the way? Learn from them and keep going, “even the best bakers make mistakes and have their recipe books to hand” says Vidya.

But has it all been a sugary sweet success? “It’s definitely a labour of love at the moment”, says Vidya, “and we’re still learning”. But despite their modest remarks, the feedback they’ve received since opening is overwhelmingly positive. The risk some thought they took by selecting cupcakes as their USP has paid off, and they have had to hire more staff to manage the regular throng of cake-hungry visitors the cafe receives.

“Cuckoo’s is constantly developing”, they explain, “in the original business plan we’d estimated 1 delivery per week, but our cupcake delivery service now sends out 4 to 5 orders per day”. Next month brings more excitement, with a Christmas menu promising delights such as 6 types of Christmas cupcakes (eat-in or delivered), mince pies, yule logs, turkey and cranberry sandwiches and brussels sprout soup to name but a few. And the future looks bright, with their one year anniversary celebration on 14th February 2012. And whispers of a second cafe in late 2012? “Well…” the pair say teasingly, “you’ll have to wait and see”.

For regular updates about Cuckoo’s Bakery go to their Facebook/Twitter channels.

And finally, what of their recommendations for eating in Edinburgh? Their current favourites are Word of Mouth, Leith Walk [Vidya] and The Orchard, Howard Place [Graham] for providing locally sourced, high quality food.

Photo credit: Marcio Serpa Photography

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Category : Interviews,Themed
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About Georgia

To me, food means great comfort, enticement, fun, joy, and almost always making a mess. Edinburgh is my haven; we've enough eateries and food fanatics to keep every waking hour of life deliciously fulfilled. You'll find me discussing the delights of baking, discovering our city's restaurants and devouring homely comforts. I geek out over: culinary events, foodie photos and my grannie's fairy cakes Twitter: @ideaspotting Blog: www.bakenation.com

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