Covid-19 survivor discovers baking talent and orders start rolling in

03 September 2020 - 10:46 By Philani Nombembe
Cape Town mother Zanele Ngcoko, who beat Covid-19, has turned to baking to make a living after she was retrenched.
Cape Town mother Zanele Ngcoko, who beat Covid-19, has turned to baking to make a living after she was retrenched.
Image: Esa Alexander

Zanele Ngcoko contracted Covid-19 in May. She was retrenched a few weeks later.

Instead of self-pity, the 35-year-old turned her quandary into valuable dough and kneaded a new opportunity for herself. The Gugulethu, Cape Town, mother of three  became a sought-after baker overnight.

This was after she baked a cake for her son’s birthday which “wowed everyone” and “orders started coming in”.

“I have baked about 25 cakes since June 21 and my clientele is growing all over Cape Town,” said Ngcoko.

“It was my son’s birthday and I told him that I would bake his cake. He was very impressed with the taste and the way it looked. After that I baked birthday cakes for my daughter and my sister. The cakes wowed everyone and orders started coming in. I also made malva pudding for my son’s birthday and then someone wanted to buy it — in that week I sold 30. I surprised myself.”

Ngcoko said a basic butter cream cake sells for R480 and “the price increases as you add toppings and glam. Sometimes people ask me to bake a certain cake for them but I feel restricted. So I say to them: ‘Let me surprise you’. The end product always wows them. I have baked mainly birthday cakes, and I see myself making a living out of baking.”

She said word of mouth has done wonders for her business as she does not have an advertising budget yet. The baking skill and surprise business success could not have come at a better time, she said.

“I worked for a catering company since October last year and then in May I got sick. I went to hospital and found out that I had Covid-19. I couldn’t breathe. I was put on oxygen and then I was taken to one of the government’s recuperation centres. But the journey to recovery wasn’t easy. More than anything, Covid-19 affects you mentally. I thought about everything; from my sickly mother to my young children.”

Ngcoko said though she did not give up on life during her hospital stay, seeing people dying from the disease devastated her. She said she is relieved that she did not infect her elderly parents.

“Hospital was horrific, I saw three people die in front of me.

“My sister and my husband got infected but they didn’t have serious symptoms. Everyone is fine now,” she said. “My 62-year-old mother didn’t get it. I was worried about her because she had a stroke and suffers from hypertension. My dad is 75 years old.”

Ngcoko said her predicament had ignited an entrepreneurship flame inside her which had been eclipsed by other commitments in the past. She spent a year, between 2018 and 2019, working as a cook in Texas, in the US. She also does catering for funerals and birthdays.

“I feel that life is very, very short. So do whatever is on your bucket list, just do it. I want to believe that I have aced cake-baking,” she said.

“I don’t have a job, I was retrenched after I got Covid-19. It was one catastrophe after another. So my fightback was very sweet; one cake at a time.

“God willing, I want to start a coffee shop where people can come have business meetings and not have to go to town to get quality food and service. It’s business unusual and there is life after Covid-19.

“I am applying for a halaal certificate. I am planning to convert my parents’ garage into a restaurant and I hope that it will be up and running in two years’ time. You will never go to the Waterfront for good times again, you will come to Gugulethu.”

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