Every community has its local bakery with friendly familiar faces providing home-made traditional cakes, and sometimes even food.
For the people of Riebeeck Street and surrounds, Bakoven has been this for the past 30-odd years.
And Cecelia Conradie has been at the helm for 21 years, taking over from her late boss for whom she had worked for 11 years. Cecelia’s first job was at Bakoven in the Golden Acre, back in 1989, when there were a couple of stores of the same name around Cape Town.
“My old boss, Mr Fisher, fell ill and his business went under liquidation and he sold off all the shops. There are only two left now – this one and the one in Parow, so I bought this place 21 years ago, and I’ve been carrying on with all the recipes and meals – with some new additions, of course.”
Cecelia said she had considered selling the store a number of times, but it had become like her second home and she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“I love this place. I love working with food and meeting new people every day. The regulars are also very friendly.”
Bakoven has eight staff members, all of whom have been working at the store for as long as Cecelia has – some even before she started at the Riebeeck Street branch.
Ashley Judd, a former manager at Bakoven, said he started working at the store in 1983. “When I am lucky enough to get a parking space in the city centre, I have to stop at Bakoven to get a spinach and cheese pie because it is still the best.
“And the place is still so friendly and convenient for the people who walk in the city centre.”
He recalled that emergency evacuations at surrounding buildings had been their busiest times. “Those times there weren’t many coffee shops around.”
Cecelia said what made Bakoven special was the relationships they built with customers; their homely, hearty food, and also their breakfast specials.
“We start our day at 5.30am for our regulars who come to get breakfast. We also make bredies, pies and other home-made food.”
But recently they made a new addition to the business – novelty cakes made by her two daughters, Bianca and Chantel, who both work in the civil engineering field and grew up in the store.
Chantel said they started off just helping out with some cakes when one day a regular customer came in with a novelty cake that she wanted them to try.
“It was a fisherman cake with a boat, and we decided to try it. We watched a few YouTube tutorials to help us. The cake worked out well, so we didn’t stop.”
While Chantel does most of the baking, Bianca, who has a keen interest in art, does the decorating.
“It came out pretty good so we decided to help my mom with the novelty cakes. It’s very hard work though.” Chantel said the best part of making novelty cakes is when someone comes into the shop to pick up their cake and they love it so much.
“Sometimes they burst into tears. We often hide in the kitchen and peek through until we see the reaction – then we come out all proud like ‘we made it’.”
Chantel said the store is special to them because it taught them their work ethic.
“It was our gateway. All of the children in our family started off working here. Its a world of possibilities for all of us, especially for my mom. She started out here as a dishwasher, and now she owns it.”
Cecelia said one of the big challenges is parking in the city centre, which, she said “actually cripples the business”.
But, she added, after a quiet period, people are now moving back to the city. “There are also a lot of new businesses in town, so we are getting new customers, which is good, so people can get to know us again. However, new businesses also kill smaller and older businesses like us. But we are strong, we believe in our store.”