Tell us where you are from, the early years of your childhood and what influenced your direction towards a business in gluten/vegan food?

Hello, my name is Wida (pronounced Vida) and I was born and bred in Cape Town, South Africa. I was fortunate enough to be raised by an amazingly kind woman, who after my father passed away at a very young age had to figure out how to instill a combination of independence, caring for all living things and the importance of community, in an only child. She worked full time to support us and as a child I would spend my afternoons at my grandparents’ home. My love for baking started when my grandmother taught me how to bake a sponge cake. I was fascinated by this strange sorcery. My grandfather was passionate about photography and I wish he was still around to teach me more. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to experiment with gluten free baking, when a good friend of mine developed a gluten intolerance.
 
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Why the name Cupcake Richard?

Initially I registered the business as Cupcake Tiger because I love tigers (all cats) and also wanted to add a slightly more masculine element to our branding. Many great bakers are men, but to me cake is still very feminine. Unfortunately in South Africa there is already a very big corporation using the word tiger, so it became an intellectual property issue. I then decided to name the business after my favorite fictional tiger, Richard Parker from The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Without the context, it is very random and now most people just greet my husband as Richard. His name is Oliver.
 
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Where did your inspiration stem from or a defining moment in founding Cupcake Richard?

As a vegetarian I’ve always wanted to be able to have the willpower to commit to a vegan diet, but I knew that I would have a hard time giving up baking/eating cake. In Cape Town, there is no bakery or cake shop dedicated to vegan baking. I decided to teach myself how to create baked goods that are vegan, but equal in flavor to traditional confectionary. After embarking on this mission, I realized that I wasn’t alone, so I started baking by order. I’ve since decided to combine my love for baking and photography and am now more focused on recipe development, styling and photography for the Cupcake Richard website.
 
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How receptive were individuals to your ideas before they came to fruition?

Apart from my mother (who is always super supportive) people were not convinced that there would be a big enough demand for something as niche as vegan baking.
 
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What would you say to those who don’t have the positive reinforcement of family or and friends when pursuing a passion?

I’ve been very fortunate to have support, but even with that support, things might not go according to plan. The most important thing I’ve learnt is to be able to adapt. Pursuing a different avenue is not a failure. If you have a dream, be open to input. Seek out people who inspire you and ask for advice. Don’t ever operate in isolation and never stop learning.
 
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What does fear mean to you?

For a very long time I allowed other people to tell me what to be fearful of. “There are no jobs” / “Don’t leave the security of a corporate job” / “You will fail”. That was it, I was scared all the time. Now I’m still concerned about all of the above (and more) but it’s not because of what people tell me. It’s more about a sense of claiming it for myself. Kind of like being able to say “yeah, things might be bad, but it’s my bad and I have the power to change it”. And that makes me feel ok about it.
 
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Suggestions or advice for those who are afraid to take the first steps in building a business?

It’s super scary! It’s a really big thing to say to the world, “Hey, this is me and here’s my idea”. The world needs people to dream big, but be realistic about what you can accomplish. Have a plan and a back-up plan and then be willing to change that plan again. Always try to find new ways to evolve as the market changes, without compromising your own ethics. Also, be prepared to be 100% involved in all the aspects of your business. There will be days when you won’t get to do or create the things you love. Days when all you do is admin or customer follow ups. Be ready for those as well.
 
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What is the best piece of advice or life lesson you have learned regarding your work?

Don’t just give up if your first idea didn’t work out the way you thought it would. Go back, amend, be flexible. Remember to be confident in what you’ve learnt so far, because even if you don’t see it now, every experience is valuable.
 
How do you define success?

Of course it is very easy to always equate success with financial freedom, but I think it’s about far more than money. I used to work in a very corporate environment and I was dreadfully unhappy. There was very little scope for creative input and originality wasn’t encouraged at all. I knew that I would make far less money when I started this endeavor and that there would probably be some tough financial times ahead, but I now have a far greater sense of accomplishment at the end of every day. To me being able to wake up and feel happy about where I am and excited about what the future holds, is success.
 
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What keeps you motivated?

My motivation comes mostly from the desire to create something. I think I will always want to try to make beautiful and delicious things, so there’s that constant drive.
 
Current music playlist and favorite book?

Favorite book is The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and not just because there’s a tiger in it.
 
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On constant rotation is Ship to Wreck by Florence and the Machine, Severed Crossed Fingers by St Vincent and everything by The National.
 
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Favorite restaurant and dish you would not want to live without?

There’s a tiny little place in Cape Town, called The Kitchen. It’s just down the road from where I work and I would happily eat their vegetarian/vegan lunch spread every day until I die!
 
What are some of the benefits from a gluten/vegan lifestyle?

I am not fond of making blanket health statements about food, because I believe that we all respond differently to what we eat. If you are someone who suffers from wheat sensitivity or are prone to allergies, then a gluten free diet can be of great benefit as I find that gluten can aggravate certain conditions.
 
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I think that even though a vegan lifestyle choice is often made for health reasons, it is mostly an ethical issue. There’s a lot of research supporting the fact that a plant based diet holds many health benefits. On an environmental level the benefits are vast and a plant based diet is far more sustainable. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to give up meat, but we definitely need to start thinking about all of our food consumption and food waste in a far more conscious way. Especially when animals go through unspeakable cruelty just to make it to our plates. We don’t like to think about the journey of food, but we should. It’s so easy to think of food as something that is just there, but there are stories behind every single thing we eat. Always ask questions about what you’re eating and demand transparency from suppliers.
 
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Set the mood of your work space; do you listen to music, enjoy silence, turn off your phone etc…

It’s important to me to be able to have moments just to myself to regroup. I like working with people, but I find that I recharge by being by myself. There’s always music or something in the background. Even when it’s just me and the cat. I also like to hear the sounds of life happening around me. The happy sounds of life. My workspace is rather small and I create and photograph all recipes at our one bedroom house. The kitchen styling props are slowly taking over the entire area, as storage space is always too little. But it’s cosy and intimate and I love working from our little home.
 
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List 3 of your favorite food gurus

Erin McKenna from Erin McKenna’s Bakery (previously Babycakes NYC)

Linda Lomelino from Call Me Cupcake

Beth Kirby from Local Milk
 
Name 5 of your favorite recipes
 
{My own}
 
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{Recipes by people who inspire me}

     

  • Cast Iron Chocolate Chip Cookies by Trine Rask from Milking Almonds
  • Salted Chocolate Lavender Cupcakes by Beth Kirby from Local Milk
  • Raspberry Ripple Coconut Ice Cream by Dana from Minimalist Baker
  • Creamy and Spicy Chickpea Cream (hummus) by Saghar from Labnoon
  • Vegan Chocolate Chestnut Macorons by Katelin Williams from The Kate Tin

 
What is your most memorable life lesson thus far?

It’s such a cliché by now, but you really do need to be the change that you want to see in the world. It might seem insignificant, but even the smallest change can have a hugely positive effect. Be open to new things and don’t beat yourself up too much. As long you’re trying to be a better human being today, than you were yesterday, you’re winning at life!
 
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Future Projects? 

I am super excited about starting vegan and gluten free baking and styling workshops in Cape Town soon! Fingers crossed for a recipe book some time in the near future.
 
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More recipes with Cupcake Richard here