Cape Town has a super fun bakery that pulls out all the stops to make a special person’s birthday a special one, the creativity of Charly’s Bakery knowing no bounds.   Strictly speaking, Charly’s Bakery should be called Jacqui’s Bakery, as it is Jacqui Biess who is the energetic and creative powerhouse running Charly’s Bakery with her three daughters Alex, Daniella and Roche. 

In honour of Nelson Mandela’s birthday on Sunday, Jacqui has been infected by the spirit of unity and goodwill amongst South Africans resulting from the World Cup, and is calling on Capetonians to join her, her family, staff and friends in walking the Madiba Unity Fan Walk on Madiba’s special 92nd birthday.  At the end of the Walk, Charly’s Bakery will share a special 4-tiered Golden Wicked chocolate birthday cake with the walkers, serving at least 300, and singing Happy Birthday to Mandela.

Says Jacqui: “South Africans experienced a month of magic. We felt alive, united and inspired. We felt safe. We walked the streets of Cape Town for the first time in years and felt the magic of our city. Our relationship with our country and our people grew to new heights. We fell in love with our country again. This walk is not political, it’s not about blame, it is about keeping the gees and unity of the World Cup alive…opening our hearts and keeping South African unity a reality. Our Tata has shown us what it means to be free and to be able to live without fear of being who you are. He did it for 67 years, we can do it for 67 minutes”.

The planned route starts off at 12h00 on Sunday at St George’s Cathedral, moves along St George’s Mall, and links up with the bridge which crosses over Buitengracht Street, onto the Prestwich Memorial precinct at St Andrews Church (at Truth Coffees).  The Fan Walk will link in with the Ubuntu Festival, which takes place this weekend.  DJ’s and live musicians such as Hot Water, The Gugulethu Tenors, Coda, Sterling EQ, and Mthika will peform along the route. There will be a strong CCID presence in the city.

Charly’s Bakery was started by Jacqui’s husband Karl-Heinz (Charly).  After completing his baking apprenticeship at Cafe Anton in Swakopmund, Charly opened a cake and coffee shop on Thibault Square, and then Charly’s Cafe in the V&A Waterfront, their breakfasts being particularly popular, as were their buffet lunches. The next move was to Roeland Street, where Jacqui and Charly set up a wholesale bakery for two years, before switching to retail sales.  They never advertised, but relied on word-of-mouth from their happy customers to grow their business. They received coverage in magazines regularly, being close to the offices of Associated Magazines, and ad agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather.   It was their willingness “to play” when receiving an interesting challenge for a shoot that made them popular amongst the media.  Jacqui recalled how she was given six hours’ notice from Jane Raphaely of Associated Magazines to do a high tea for Oprah Winfrey at their offices.  She was asked to make a cake for Archbishop Tutu’s 75th birthday, reflecting his life.  They have recently gone onto Twitter, and will be starting a blog soon.

A year ago Charly’s Bakery moved out of their Roeland Street location as the building is earmarked for demolition.  Jacqui looked for a building she could own independently, and was delighted when she could first lease and now buy the current building in Canterbury Street, which was previously the Beinkenstadt Bookshop, and its 1898 heritage connected with her Jewish soul.   She renovated the building, keeping everything she could – the bookshelves were reused, and the pressed lead ceilings were renovated.   The outside of the building took five weeks to paint, and looks like a heavenly pink iced cake.

A Bakers’ supplies store will open in the upstairs floor, stocking icings, coloured dough, ganaches, and cake decorations, to enable working and upmarket moms to bake their own special birthday cakes.   The TV reality programme “Cake Boss” has encouraged a greater focus on baking and decorating, says Jacqui.   Jacqui is working on a book documenting the story of Charly’s Bakery.  

Charly worked himself out of the business three years ago, training his staff and daughters in fundamental cake baking, and this opened the door to Jacqui and her team to pursue creativity, playing with decorations, and having fun, “finding their inner child”.  They have no rules, and push the boat with words and visuals on their personalised cakes and cupcakes.   They use attractive pink and white striped boxes for their cakes, the words “mucking afazing” on them being an indication of their “wicked” humour!   I asked Jacqui whether she would move into food service again, given her previous experience in doing buffets, as she does sell quiches and pies, as well as cakes and coffees, for sit-down guests.   She is focused on her core business, which is cakes, and wants to keep it that way, she says.  

Birthday cakes and cupcakes for parties top the pops at Charly’s Bakery, but wedding cakes also keep them busy, with 5 – 7 orders per weekend in summer.   Charly’s Bakery works with Frances Bell, a classic cake decorator, and they make a good team in using Frances’ classical skills and marrying them with their own funky and fun decorating.  The bakery is open for customers to see, at least the decorating part of it, and the shelves display the cakes awaiting collection.   The World Cup inspired the Charly’s Bakery team to score with their country-theme cupcakes, and the football theme they applied in so many fun and creative ways.  Cakes range in price from R145 – R195, while the Decadent Chocolate Cakes range from R175 – R225.

It is rare that a family team gets on so well to all be involved in the business, and having fun while doing so.  Jacqui Biess is a character, a mensch, no-nonsense, a powerhouse, creative, goal-orientated, and a bit of a rebel, smoking her self-rolled Drum Original tobacco-filled cigarettes.  But most of all she has the “gees”, and she is determined to share it with her fellow Capetonians in honour of the father of our democracy.

Charly’s Bakery, 38 Canterbury Street, Tel 021 461-5181. www.charlysbakery.co.za  Twitter @charlysbakery. Mondays – Saturdays. Closed for winter break 1 – 23 August.

POSTSCRIPT 18/7:  It is estimated that 1 500 Capetonians particpated in the Madiba Unity Fan Walk today, an astounding turnout. Coverage on e-tv, the Weekend Argus, Voice of the Cape, and Cape Talk, as well as Tweets on Twitter helped to create awareness for the event, which was blessed by incredible weather.   The cake (photograph above), baked in honour of Nelson Mandela’s birthday was shared with the walkers.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com

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