The Cake Bar Co. whirlwind talks brownies and breaking through barriers
Sapna Kumar has seen it all. The baker and businesswoman has had to fight for her success with Vanillis, Cake Bar Co. and Chilli’s. Some people would be put off by the racism, sexism and constant carping she’s experienced, but not Sapna. Put an obstacle in her way – or indeed a whole obstacle course – and she keeps right on going.
Giving birth to a baby…and a business
Now running three very tasty businesses, she’s come a long way from the weird pregnancy cravings and hormonal urges that first got her into the cake business. When she was pregnant with her daughter Reesha, Sapna had an overwhelming urge to bake. Shop-bought stuff all tasted ‘wrong’ and so she baked tray after tray of brownies.
Brownies for family, brownies for friends – one of whom recommended she started selling them at a local famer’s market and now she’s still baking brownies, only on an industrial scale. They still have Sapna’s magic touch though. Her baby girl was born and Vanillis was born too.
Sapna’s cakes go down a storm at artisan markets and foodie pop-ups but the pastel bunting and homely vibe of these stalls belies a world of backstabbing and intrigue where product quality can come a distant second to who you know and whether you can keep the organisers sweet.
But Sapna has come through it all, if not unscathed, then certainly stronger. And wiser. She knows who her friends are and works happily with The Market Co. (formerly Artisan Markets).
From brownies to bars
But no-one was buying from farmer’s markets during lockdown. In fact, no-one was doing anything much. This forced inactivity began to take its toll and for the sake of her own mental health and that of her team, Sapna began to work on turning her basic triple choc brownie recipe into a cake bar format. There’s nothing basic about this recipe but that’s how Cake Bar Co. was formed.
Squidgy, squishy brownies are topped with Sapna’s most successful flavours as well as limited edition runs for special events like Easter and Christmas. There’s the Oreo Cookie One where the triple chocolate brownie is baked with Oreo pieces and topped with chocolate ganache, Oreo frosting and Belgian chocolate drizzle or the vegan Pina Colada one where the brownie has been switched out for vanilla sponge topped with coconut milk buttercream, tropical fruit and toasted coconut sprinkles.
You can buy Cake Bar Co.’s gooey slabs of gorgeousness direct from Sapna’s Ancoats bakery or have them delivered direct to your door – and we recommend you do.
‘Asian girls can’t bake’
It’s not just sweet treats. Chilli’s showcases Sapna’s curry skills. Or more accurately, it showcases the curry skills of generations of her family.
It all started back on the farmer’s markets. Selling to the public, well, they’re a funny bunch. 99% of them are lovely. And some of them are not. Sapna knew her cakes were great because she kept selling out but it didn’t stop the barbs. From the more subtle: ‘Did you really bake these yourself?’ to the blunter ‘Asian girls can’t bake.’ But the seed of Chilli’s came from a different moronic question: ‘Why aren’t you selling curries?’ As if there is only one way to be an Asian woman, one thing to do, one thing to eat. Far from staying in her lane, Sapna is slaying in her lane and Chilli’s is now another part of the Kumar business empire.
“I turned the negative into a positive,” says Sapna. “Now I'm in the kitchen for Chilli’s making curries that are family recipes which have been handed down by my Mum and Nanna. It feels special. Sanjay my husband has been my strength, along with my 2 sons Rohit and Rithik.”
It turns out Asian girls can bake. And they can make amazing curries. And they can run a successful business. In fact they can run three. Sapna Kumar can do anything she turns her hand to. And if you love food – cakes or curries – you’ll be very glad about that.