When an Electrical Engineering graduate becomes a Cakemaker, sparks are bound to fly. I thought I had seen cakes until I saw Bonero’s. Mr. Unyime Bassey is the owner and CEO of Bonero cakes.
A graduate of the department of Electrical Electronics engineering of the University of Uyo, he is a perfect example of the saying that what you study in the University doesn’t necessarily determine what you’ll do for a living. Hailing from Ibiono Ibom L.G.A of Akwa Ibom state, he started making cakes in 2009, immediately after secondary school. An errand boy for his mother who is a “hobby baker,” he delivered his first cake in 2012, a year after he’d started the University.
When asked in a recent interview with Samuel Maurice about how he ended up diving into cakes, he replied.
“Did I dive into cakes? I’d like to say I dived into engineering. If I knew (then) what I know now, I think I would be doing cakes all my life. I love engineering of course. Engineering is creative, amazing, but I love cakes, not just because of money. It’s kind of a passion to me because I create stuff with my hands and I make people happy everyday of my life… So I didn’t dive into cakes. I went into the industry because of passion and that’s what has kept me.”
Being the futuristic, forward-thinking person he is, he already saw himself delivering thousands of beautiful, tasty cakes, hosting amazing shows and empowering people when he was still an amateur who didn’t even have enough money to purchase an electric oven. This characteristic in himself is what he wishes to see in many others.
Bonero wasn’t always his first choice for a company name. In fact, it wasn’t even an original nickname. It had been given to his elder brother in secondary school. When he got admitted into the same school, it automatically got transferred to him.
J Bonero (Junior Bonero) everyone called him. A name that stuck (without the J of course) long after he’d left secondary school. As an amateur baker without any real company or even a hope of one, every cake he made and delivered was automatically tagged a Bonero cake.
And so when he tried to start a company with the name 007 Cakes (due to his love for fast cars and the James Bond movies) after it had become obvious to him that he had a future in cakes, he couldn’t. No one would let him. Bonero cakes had already become a brand. So in the end, he gave in and went with it.
“The motto of our company is Bringing Thrills To Your Taste,” he likes to say. A motto that everyone that has ever seen and tasted his work agrees is well deserved.
Bonero cakes didn’t start without it’s challenges. It had its fair share of ditches and pitfalls. (Maybe even a little more than its fair share.) The first of these was family.
Who becomes a baker when their school fees is paid for them to be an engineer instead?
The family didn’t like the idea of combining baking and school at all. They felt (and correctly so) that baking would become a big distraction. Over time however, passion shined through and the family, seeing this, finally had peace.
Another challenge was what the young CEO termed “The Nigerian Factor.”
“Power supply, bad roads…” he went on to explain.
“So you do a very cool cake and it spoils on the road. Just because you’re leaving the house to go outside, your cake is gone. You know? So, bad roads, light. I didn’t have an oven so I had to bake with my stove. It’s a long story, trust me. But I tell my students that I delivered a lot of wedding cakes with a stove. Bakers out there, you understand what I’m trying to say. Where you’re trying to bake a five-tier cake, and you’re baking one after the other with a stove. So a stove would take four to five hours to bake one big tier of the cake. Meanwhile, somebody else has spent three hours to bake (the same cake).”
He talked about a lack of workspace early in the business, and the experience of being looked down on due to his age and seeming inexperience.
“Pricing also was a problem,” he said, “because you walking in and pricing (haggling over) the cake, telling this guy, the cake is a hundred and twenty thousand (naira) and they look at your shoes.
“‘Are you going to take sixty thousand (naira)?’
“Ok. I’ll take it. So those were major challenges for us.”
He went on to share one of his most devastating experiences in the cakemaking business.
“I had this cake, a very huge cake. And uhm, I finished the cake. I think I worked on that cake on my birthday so it was exciting for me. That was in 2016. So I worked on that cake on my birthday, so you can imagine that friends will be calling, text messages will be rolling in as you’re working, so it was fun. Trust me, I loved it. But after doing that cake, I realized the next day, the cake couldn’t come out of my room. First disaster. It couldn’t come out of the room. I would either (have to) break the door or start afresh… So the next day I worked afresh on that cake. Now the next day, after working, uhm, that was a Thursday (first cake), Friday morning, we reworked the cake. Saturday was delivery and on the way to deliver that cake, I had an accident because of the bad road. So some parts of the cake fell off and so I had to go to work the cake again at the wedding venue.”
As a young baker, experiences like those were not so uncommon but each new one came with a lesson.
His favorite cake he says, was his sister’s wedding cake. Made in April 2016, it was an eleven tier beautiful monstrosity of about 4.5 inches per tier, with three cake separators of about 5.5 inches each. He poured his heart and soul into it, he says, and the smile on his sister’s face was worth all the painstaking hours he spent on it.
He tried to make the cake again for an exhibition but gave up at tier number eight. According to him “passion finished.”
Even though she was family, he treated her as a client and made sure the work was perfect. He does this with all of his family members who commission him to bake them a cake. (He does show a little favoritism though with the price when it’s family but then, who doesn’t?)
Cakemania 2018, a cake show/contest the baker himself hosted which featured a congregation of bakers old and new, experienced and inexperienced, amateur and professional. It was born of a desire to bridge the gap between wannabe bakers and those already established in the field.
In Mr Bassey’s own words,
“Cakemania was as a result of what I passed through in the cake industry. I was a very young guy. I am a young person still, but imagine when I started 6 years ago, I was way younger. And I faced a whole lot… So Cakemania came as a result of the things I passed through when I started. People didn’t believe in me. People didn’t believe I could deliver. Why? They’re not seeing me do stuff. They’re not seeing me do gigs, because of course I didn’t have a platform.
“How will you see that I can do a ten tier cake when you don’t give me the contract? So, Cakemania came as a result of me trying to bring these young guys and putting them on a platform to showcase that they can do it. And also Cakemania came as a result of trying to bring mentorship to these younger guys. One of the reasons I suffered was because I lacked mentorship.”
Mr Bassey did eventually get a mentor. Mr Eso Effiong Eso. Someone he looks up to a lot. Who always has something to say to him with each step he climbs, up the cake industry.
“Bonero cakes gave birth to Cakemania. But Cakemania, by God’s grace, has been able to stand on its own and is its own brand. Cakemania is now promoting Bonero cakes even if Bonero cakes is the father to Cakemania. Both of them are okay together and there can never be a conflict.”
Cakemania has had its own challenges. In addition to a lack of belief in the project, there was also a lack of support. Over four million naira was spent on the show and so funding was also a challenge. Sponsors ( one of whom was Mr Bassey’s mother) contributed a great deal to offset the bills that would otherwise have proved an insurmountable obstruction.
Another challenge faced was the problem of pledgers backing out of the show two days, a day, even thirty minutes to the event. Some that actually showed up compromised in some degree. Some more than others.
Even with all of these, the show was an amazing success with contest winners going home with huge sums as well as cake mixers.
A few tweaks would be needed to make the next edition in 2019 an even greater success. Before this though, a VIP dinner/magazine launch has already been scheduled for the 5th of October 2019. This is to appreciate sponsors, participants and supporters as well as help promote Cakemania’s across Nigeria.
Another thing Cakemania 2019 promises to do is show off even younger bakers (kids and teen bakers). “Big bakers” will also be brought in to train the young, inexperienced and amateur ones.
When asked if he wasn’t bothered about the fact that he was raising and training future competition, Mr Bassey, classy as ever, revealed a lot more about his personality with his reply.
“I can never stay in my comfort zone. I hate it. When I do (stay in my comfort zone) I feel like I’m sleeping. Like I’m sleeping on top of a bicycle (that’s moving). So, I see it more as a healthy competition. In fact, my dream is to see these guys do better.”
What stands Bonero Out?
Even with a lack of big expensive gadgets (at least for now), Unyime Bassey has shown himself to be someone who can thrive. One who seduces the eyes and stimulates the imagination with an exciting array of colours, designs, and concepts. This has caused people all over Uyo and Akwa Ibom in general, to fall over themselves, gawking at his masterpieces. To put it simply, everyone is just in love with Bonero right now.
The rise of Bonero is a story of triumph over adversity. Of a willingness to give up so much for a dream. The story of an ability to entice the world with sights that dazzle and tastes that titillate. The rise of Cakemania is looking like it will take a parallel path.
How far can this young man go?
How high can he climb?
From what this writer has seen so far, the limit looks high up in the heavens. And reaching it doesn’t look at all impossible.