In Conversation: Bernadette Gee

Bernadette is as sharp as they come. Recently taking New Zealand by storm with her debut book, 'Magnolia Kitchen', in addition to her Silverdale based cake kitchen.

We recently caught up with Bets – finding out the ins and outs of starting her own cakery, launching a best seller and the social pressures that are involved in the process. Have at it.

How did you first get into baking? Were you a baker from a young age?
I’ve always been into baking, my parents have always baked. My dad owned a health food shop, milled his own flour, so I guess I was just always around baking. At school I always took home economics.I just loved being in the kitchen. 

What about business. Were you always interested in starting your own thing?
I always had the thought. I loved the idea of having my own place using the best ingredients.  When I was 22 I worked for these women, I was inspired by the way they never baked as a get rich quick scheme. I wanted to have a café, not necessarily a sweet café, just a café. But I definitely took the sweet route, and I like to think I’ve stayed true to the inspiration I got from them.

I’m sure the fanaticism would be a result of that. Not cutting corners on ingredients.
You have no idea how much I spend on vanilla (laughs!) That’s the biggest thing! Vanilla bean and vanilla extract. It's like $280. 

Since those early days of Magnolia Kitchen, and your wider ventures. What were some of the challenges and obstacles you faced?
Everyone sees Magnolia Kitchen as starting when I opened the café, when it was actually one of those ventures that you speak of. When I set up Magnolia Kitchen it was the end of 2011, at the time I was still working fulltime, I then started a family, and proceeded to have two children. And of course following the rules, I didn’t do that. I got in lots trouble for not doing that. It’s all part of the story, all part of the journey. Even if it was stressful, and dramatic at the time, those can be directly linked to the successes I’ve had. 

Taking the family route, do you think it helped set up this incredible support circle you’ve now got?
Yes, definitely, but it’s not like I make these conscious decisions, I just go through life and do it. I call it, flying by the seat of my pants. It works for me. I know it’s going to work out and be fine, hopefully.

A lot of people when they go to have kids and start a family, they’re like, “I want to have a house first, and have a successful career..” – It’s like people are just going to keep coming up with reasons why they can’t do something. Just do it. What’s the worst that can happen. I think that rings true for every aspect of my life. 

What brought you to setup shop in Silverdale?
It’s something people often ask, “why Silverdale, why not Ponsonby or somewhere closer to the people?”. The way I think my café has been set up, the people it attracts, it does lend itself quite well to one of those hip areas, without trying to make myself sound old (laughs). Before we even found the café, the premises I knew I didn’t care much about the location and foot traffic. As I had faith in my customer base and fans online. I knew I’d have people willing to hop in their car and drive. Any kind of local foot traffic is a bonus. When someone pulls up to my café, they’ve driven there. They’ve committed to it. They’ve driven there to enjoy what I’ve created. Especially when they’ve driven straight from the airport – and they’ve come from Miami or the UK. It’s kind of mind blowing to think people are coming to visit from all over the world.

I did have one woman, she lives in Perth, and her husband for her birthday, bought her a ticket to New Zealand, to specifically come to the kitchen. This woman actually came to New Zealand just to come to Magnolia Kitchen!! That for me, it’s like. This is a lot of pressure. I had to make sure I was there, to make something extra special for her. She was amazing! Her husband really set the bar high, putting everyone else to shame. #husbandgoals.

How much importance you place on using local ingredients where you can?
I try to source locally where I can. It’s not as easy when you’re running a business where there’s certain costs assigned to things. But, going back to the vanilla extract for example. That’s a local company, Equagold, that I use, I absolutely swear by them! I’ll never stop using them. They also supply all my cocoa, along with coconut oil.

I have an absolute marketing crush on brands like… Whittakers. Lewis Road. Atomic! You guys are all like my crew. My favourite people to work with. Who I love being able to say I use. I’ve also made friends with a lot of small business. Like a honey company that’s out in Pukekohe. The florists and edible flower places I use are local. I feel that because I’m a local business, I need to be giving back to local businesses. Even if it’s my book, I’m asking people going to bookshops to support independent stores.

On the subject of the Book – at what point did the idea of a book come into play?
I’ve always wanted to do a book. It’s always been something I thought would be really cool to do. It was when blogging first took off and people were sharing everything for free, on the internet. But I was kind of selfish, I wasn’t wanting to sharing any of my recipes, or my techniques. I would tell myself I’m going to write a book one day. I wanted to have something a little special that was sort after and that wasn’t really watered down because it was on google.

It wasn’t until the end of 2017, when Allen & Unwin sent me an email, saying that’d been keeping track of what I’d been up to for a while now, and they wanted to talk about writing a book. I tried to play it cool, but I knew to myself I’m signing the damn contract!

And since then the books seen great success? A best seller even.
It’s been crazy! I guess I’ve always had faith in myself and my business, but I’m aware I’m still, or was.. still very unknown on the New Zealand market. It’s been so eye opening to New Zealand, to have mainstream media pick it up… “Like Oh my god, Magnolia Kitchen”.

In terms of social media, does it ever get too much for you? When you’re always in conversation mode.
Ohh I always have those moments. I don’t notice it so much when I’m doing the act of it. It’s when I interact with someone in person. It’s not like I’m a different person when I’m on social media. But it’s me being a webtravert – a new term being throwing around – typically I’m an introvert, very shy. I shit myself in social situations. A party. My wedding. I hate being the center of attention. Which people are like, What?! You have over 190k followers on Instagram, and you’re infront of those people every single day! I’m like, it’s fine, I’m just looking at myself. So now I call myself a webtravert. I’m very social online, but it’s very interesting carrying it over to the real world. It actually takes a lot of work. As people who follow me online, when I meet them in person, they’re expecting that same exuberance in real life. But what they don’t realise is what they see on my Instagram story is only what happens in a 30minutes of my day in any given 24-hour period that they see. Imagine if I was like that 24/7. That’s exhausting!

It’s a lot to keep up for sure!
It’s is! It’s not like I’m forcing myself to be something I’m not. But nobody can be on that much, all day, every day. I struggled with it a bit last year when I was wondering where I’m taking the business. I thought I needed to be the person that’s here for them. Then I got over it, and realized if I’m having a shit day, I’m going to be grim. I think it’s something that should always be mentioned in a conversation when talking about social media. 

I listen to a lot of podcasts about social media. I find it very intriguing. Because I’ve kind of done this all by the seat of my pants. I end up rolling my eyes because they’re trying to hack the system, and falsify the system, beat the algorithms. If you’re even saying the word algorithm you’re failing. I’ll post photos in the middle of the night; I don’t care who’s looking. If they want to see it, they’ll search it out.

It’s not trust worthy.

What’s next for Magnolia Kitchen?
I’m really excited about growing the brand. What’s next is my online courses. I’m making it easier my international following, I’ve spent a bunch of time to produce a series of videos. I’m looking to hopefully set up a full kitchen, specifically for recording. Maybe host some thing. But in the meantime keep an eye out for Magnolia Kitchen Podcasts.

There’s no set plan, I just know the band's getting busier and busier. I have trust in it. Now I’m along with the ride.

Thanks for your time Bets!

Older Post Newer Post