A MUM-of-two admits she had lost confidence in her abilities after deciding to stay at home with her young kids.
But now, after rejoining the workforce on her own terms, by launching her own home-baking business, Sláine Walsh Hayes feels just about anything is possible.
Originally from Fermoy and now living in Ballintemple, Sláine worked with Aer Lingus cabin crew for years, before taking redundancy in 2010.
Up to last May, she hadn’t worked outside the home since she was 30 weeks’ pregnant with her son Kaspar, who is now almost five.
“I felt the time was right to take the plunge, dip my toe back in, but I wanted to do it on my terms.
"I wanted to work around my children, Amelia (8) and Kaspar, their pick-ups, drop-offs, play dates, dancing, swimming, gymnastics, etc,’ she said.
With a life-long love of baking she wondered if it had the ingredients she needed to maintain a work/life balance.
“I love to bake, always have. It is my go-to activity when I’m stressed, sad, at odds with the world. It is also what I do when I’m happy, it increases my joy.
“Over the past few years, I baked gifts for family and friends as thank-you gifts and they were always met with much enthusiasm and suggestions that I should sell my cakes commercially.
“It got me thinking there might be a market for home baked goods – so I decided to give it a shot.”
With a postgraduate course in Business Studies from the Smurfit School of Business under her belt, she didn’t waste any time doing the ground work.
“First, I costed half a dozen different types of cakes and cookies I baked to see if it was worth my while selling them.
“Then I bagged up samples, and put in plenty of footwork, calling to food stores, cafes, garages and food trucks with samples to see if there was interest in stocking them,” she recalls.
Things moved fast, and as well as getting the thumbs up from lots of local retailers, by June she also had a baked goods stall in the buzzing Blackrock Village Sunday Market.
“I was delighted, even if it was a baptism of fire, dashing around getting a second hand gazebo, and a borrowed banquet table!”
Sláine quickly found her feet. “I’ve worked in customer service for years, I’m very people focused and I know I can sell, which is a part of it, so once the logistics were sorted I felt confident.”
She now has stalls in Mallow on Friday morning, Cornmarket Street in the city on Saturday morning, along with Blackrock on Sunday.
Her offerings include scones, tea brack portions (her mother’s recipe), lemon cake, coffee cake, gingerbread, spiced apple slices, banana chocolate chip muffins, carrot cake and Mars crispies and more.
As well as now being a pro at dressing for the cold (layers, layers and more layers!), she also innovatively offers card readers as a payment option for her customers.
“I didn’t have this for the first three months and then one day I had to turn away 30 people in Blackrock, so it’s totally worth it.”
Far from being able to put her feet up once the gazebo comes down on Sunday, Sláine also has a weekly Monday morning order for 200 cake slices.
It’s a heavy workload, that can be all-consuming, but one she takes in her stride.
“On market days, I’d usually be up at 4am, which doesn’t bother me at all as I’m used to it from my cabin crew days.
Besides, I haven’t slept since my kids were born so that’s not a major issue!
“I use my mother Fran’s kitchen to bake. She’s also in Ballintemple and I just found it was far more convenient and with less interruptions.
“My love of baking actually comes from her. A busy working mother of four, her energy knew no bounds, it still doesn’t. As my father was abroad on UN missions with the Irish Army for extended periods of time, she had her hands full. Still, she always found time for baking and somehow had the patience to let us help out,” said Sláine.
Six months in and Sláine’s Homebakes is flying.
“I’m almost too busy, which I know is a fantastic way to be!”
But she’s quick to credit the help she’s had along the way.
“I was lucky to get great advice from a number of people with expertise: Lucy O Donoghue, my mentor from the LEO mentoring programme, has provided invaluable general business insights and great feedback, as well as her boundless enthusiasm.
“Leylie Hayes, my wonderful sister-in-law, formerly executive chef of Avoca for over 20 years and author of numerous cookbooks, was and continues to be available for recipes/ideas/all-round brilliant tips from a lifetime of experience in the world of food.
“Leylie’s cousin, Fleur Campbell, a pastry chef of renown with Avoca, has also been on hand to offer great advice.
“Sheelagh, from 2020 Curates, designed my logo and my brightly coloured signs and banners have made my stalls more visible in busy markets, thus generating more customers,” said Sláine.
“Also, I definitely couldn’t have sustained my workload last year without my very supportive husband, Jim.
“He has thrown himself into the business, physically loading and unloading my car for markets, also compiling spreadsheets for expenses, outgoings, sales and projected sales.”
Sláine definitely has growth aspirations for the business.
“At the moment, we’re thinking about taking the next step in the journey. We’re looking maybe at a commercial kitchen, or a food truck or a kiosk. I am open to whatever route my little empire takes me, with lots of hard work and a little luck along the way.
“The most important thing is that after losing a bit of confidence in my ability, I’m back with a bang and I’ve learned I can do it! Anything can be possible if you’re not afraid to take a chance.”