Cakeface bakes a new future for food in Kilkenny

Young couple Laura and Rory Gannon left the corporate world for a culinary adventure and have brought their experiences to the streets of Kilkenny via Cakeface Patisserie.

Many people in the corporate or business world often dream about what would happen if they threw it all away and followed a passion like art or music or cookery.

For Kilkenny natives Laura and Rory Gannon that was precisely how they met and why today they have one of the most popular cafes and bakeries in Kilkenny city with two Cakeface premises and a Cake Lab for conjuring up all kinds of delicious treats.

We want Cakeface to be an experience and that is something you just can’t buy off the shelf. It’s a brand that is about an all-encompassing experience

Rory, a chemical engineer with a business master’s degree and Laura, a seasoned executive from the world of property and finance, met while they both attended Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe cookery school in Cork after leaving their high-flying careers.

“Coincidentally, all through college and in our working lives we lived next door to each other in Dublin and we even shopped in the same Spar but we never met until we both enrolled in the 16-week course at Ballymaloe to learn the fundamentals of Irish cooking.”

Cakeface along with local firms Ballykeefe Distillery, Highbank Orchards and Costello Brewing were suppliers to the recent  National Enterprise Town Awards 2019, at which Kilkenny emerged as the overall national winner.

Experience and expertise

Laura had an opportunity to go to France and apply her new-found cookery skills and Rory decided to go with her.

“We started working in the South of France in places like Entibes, Cannes and along the Code d’Azure. I arrived at one restaurant just as the pastry chef had walked out and I walked in and that was my big break. The chef had no English and I had no French but we managed to communicate and that’s how I learned. Rory got to work with some of the best patisseries and chocolatiers in Cannes. We spent our time working in many different hotels and restaurants.”

The pair then moved to London and found work at the famous Savoy where Laura worked at the afternoon tea section while Rory worked at the deserts and banquets section. The experience proved fundamental where Laura managed large teams and Rory oversaw everything from 500-people lunches to weddings with up to 1,000 guests.

“This experience proved invaluable in terms of learning recipes and various skill sets. Before we came home to Kilkenny we spent time contracting with various kitchens across London. We were meticulous about what we needed to learn and get done, always with an eye to coming home.”

On their eventual return home the pair set up their first kitchen at an enterprise unit in Piltown developing desserts that they then promoted at farmers markets and festivals. “This basically served as research to see if they would work.

“We decided it was time to set up our first café Cakeface and found a premises that everybody said was at the dead-end of town. People told us ‘you’d need to sell a lot of buns to pay that rent’. We weren’t fazed by the negativity. But they didn’t see what we could see and I suppose at the end of the day that is what makes people in this industry successful, seeing what people can’t see. As you can see, we have quite a lot of self-belief!”

But the pair were also meticulous in terms of forging local links through the Chamber of Commerce and establishing personal connections with the community and the local Bank of Ireland.

“Laura and Rory have transformed Irishtown in Kilkenny with their dynamic quirky and innovative cake pastries and desserts,” said Bank of Ireland bank manager for Kilkenny City and County Deirdre Shine. “We are very proud to support Rory and Laura in their new project with ‘Face’ on Kieran Street – welcome to the neighbourhood – enabling our customers and communities to thrive.”

For Laura, the key is the personal touch. “It’s about forging relationships with people on the ground; you can’t do that by phone or email. We were able to bring various projects to the Bank of Ireland and while some of them didn’t get off the ground, they had the vision to get behind us.”

Now Cakeface has two premises in Kilkenny as well as the Cake Lab for devising all kinds of tasty treats. The second premises opened in recent weeks.

“The Cake Lab serves as the design centre; it’s the brainchild. At any one time there could be five staff in here prepping. We also do some outside catering for corporate lunches or local businesses or the fire station.”

Asked if the business intends to bring its products to supermarkets at a wider scale, Laura said that direction isn’t currently on the horizon. “It’s something we’ve held back on because we are very protective of the brand and our quality. We’ve been approached to do it and we’ve decided against it because we are passionate about the product.

“Crucially, we want Cakeface to be an experience and that is something you just can’t buy off the shelf. It’s a brand that is about an all-encompassing experience.”

Kilkenny has a nation-wide brand in terms of food and it is Laura and Rory’s ambition to see Cakeface add to that reputation.

“The area we are in is going to be an up-and-coming district with the Abbey Quarter being developed. While the street we are on was one full of architects and dentists, we have also brought businesses into the area.

“There has been a shift in the dynamics of how people shop and visit Kilkenny and there is also the Medieval Mile. We’re also involved in the local food scene with producers and we are on a steering committee of a new food strategy for Kilkenny.

“We believe passionately in helping local producers to get Kilkenny produce onto the menus of local restaurants and build a full menu from local suppliers like Highbank Orchards and Ballykeefe Distillery.

“Along with restaurants like Aran and ourselves, there is a new guard coming into Kilkenny bringing with it a youthful vibe and offering new and quality tastes and experiences that can only add to the city’s reputation as a food destination.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 12 December, 2019