A cake designer who supplies events including the BRITs and Queen Charlotte’s Ball is now helping to feed thousands of families across the UK – after Covid ‘wiped out £80,000’ from her business overnight.
Cynthia Stroud, 37, of Hertford, runs the Pretty Gorgeous Cake Company and has also appeared as a TV judge on the Food Network and BBC‘s The Sweet Makers.
She moved to the UK in 2004 from Nigeria to study for an MBA at the University of Buckingham, during which she survived on just £10 a week, and went on to launch her award-winning wedding cake business in 2009.
But the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic last year saw orders for her impression creations disappear practically overnight. Ever the entrepreneur, she subsequently launched a jam company, which is going from strength to strength.
Cynthia Stroud, 37, of Hertford, runs the Pretty Gorgeous Cake Company and has also appeared as a TV judge on the Food Network and BBC’s The Sweet Makers
For nine years between 2011 and 2019 she supplied the BRIT Awards with dramatic themed cakes (pictured) for its infamous after-party
Realising many families were struggling to put food on the table during lockdown, Cynthia began putting together food parcels for children who were going hungry.
Now she and her team are producing a whopping 190,000 meals per month, looking after 2,500 families in need across Hertfordshire and beyond – just under 14,000 individuals – and Cynthia has funded much of the endeavour herself.
Her hard work and generosity has previously been recognised by royalty; Cynthia was decorated in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in 2017, with a medal of the Order of the British Empire for services to business and her community.
In 2020 she also won the ‘Pivot for Purpose’ award – the category which seeks to reward inspiring businesses who changed during the Covid pandemic to help those in desperate need – at the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards in November.
Realising many families were struggling to put food on the table during lockdown, Cynthia began putting together food parcels for children who were going hungry (pictured with members of her team)
Speaking to FEMAIL, Cynthia said: ‘Winning the Pivot for Purpose award was hugely emotional for me, it still is an overwhelming blessing to be able to help and feels like an absolute privilege so to be given any sort of honours for it, is totally unexpected.
‘Receiving a national award has been such a boost to the 114 amazing people around me who dedicate their time and efforts to helping make the charity’s activities happen, as well as to our town.
‘The cakes have not restarted and truth be told, I can’t see it in the short-term; a lot of my brides book two to three years ahead and the pandemic has left people reeling.
‘The jams are going well, I have trade orders in UK, US and Canada and are looking into distributorship in each of those countries.
‘In all honesty, enforced lockdown provided my children and I the opportunity to reevaluate and spend quality time. When you’re a single parent, you can get too distracted trying to earn and provide for your children.’
When Cynthia first arrived in the UK from Nigeria (pictured age three with her grandfather and mother), she recalled living on £10-a-week while studying at university
When Cynthia first arrived in the UK, she recalled living on £10-a-week while studying at university before taking the first job she could after applying to over 100.
‘I remember there was a week where my car needed oil, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I’ll never forget the sheer terror of knowing I need to buy oil for my car and it meant I couldn’t buy extra food,’ she told HertsLive, admitting it was a ‘really, really tough’ time.
‘There’s a loaf of bread called Milk Roll, it was very cheap, and I lived on Milk Roll and fake sausage for that whole week.
‘I feel very, very blessed. I don’t know if I can ever forget what that was like.’
She added that she didn’t wallow in self pity because for her, the alternative was to return to Nigeria, where she is sure she would have had to ‘get married almost straight away and have kids’, resulting in a very different life.
The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic last year saw orders for her wedding cakes disappear practically overnight. Ever the entrepreneur, she subsequently launched a jam company, which is going from strength to strength (pictured)
Pretty Gorgeous Jams are made to a family recipe and ‘incorporate exciting and complimentary alcohol flavour twists’
‘That’s not speaking about the entire population in Nigeria, it was just what was expected of me,’ she added. ‘And that was not really the life I wanted to have.’
Cynthia began making cakes as a way to relax after work, which eventually led her to launch the Pretty Gorgeous Cake Company. She is completely self-taught, with YouTube proving a handy tool for her to hone her cake making skills.
Having started by selling loaf cakes on maternity leave, she decided to make a go of the business and attended her first wedding fair in October 2009. In her first year she turned over £10,000, which she managed to double in year two.
The following year she moved into a small shop, and quickly took on a larger one where she stayed for five years.
For nine years between 2011 and 2019 she supplied the BRIT Awards with dramatic themed cakes for its infamous after-party – only taking a break in 2020 to film Food Network’s Great Chocolate Showdown. She’s also supplied cakes for the Queen Charlotte Debutante Ball since 2015, catering to the crème de la crème of society.
Cynthia began making cakes as a way to relax after work, which eventually led her to launch the Pretty Gorgeous Cake Company (pictured: one of her wedding cakes)
Cynthia is a judge on various TV shows including The Sweet Makers and Great Chocolate Showdown (pictured)
Cynthia won numerous high profile awards including Best Wedding Cake Designer for London & South East and Best Cake Maker in British Wedding Awards.
When the TV offers came, she began struggling to juggle it with making up to 25 wedding cakes a week and looking after her children, now aged 11 and nine, as a single mother. She decided to focus more on her TV work.
Her business empire was thriving until last year, when everything ground to a halt as Covid put the UK in lockdown.
She then put her energy into starting up a new business, Pretty Gorgeous Jams – an idea she’d had for some time.
Her range of nine jams are made to a family recipe and ‘incorporate exciting and complimentary alcohol flavour twists’.
When the TV offers came, she began struggling to juggle it with making up to 25 wedding cakes a week and looking after her children, now aged 11 and nine, as a single mother. She decided to focus more on her TV work
Having always had a desire to ‘feed people’, Cynthia also reached out to the YMCA, where she already ran a soup kitchen, and made them food parcels because she was no longer unable to go in and cook with them.
‘They were so appreciative that I thought surely there are families around that need that,’ she told inews.
After putting a message on her local Facebook group to gauge interest, she was shocked by the overwhelming response. She then messaged schools in the local area to see if they had families that needed help – they did.
Putting production of her jam and the cake business on hold, Cynthia made up parcels of pasta, sauce, baked beans, meal and cereal and dropped them off, which she admitted made her ‘hugely emotional’.
Last month Cynthia and her team (pictured with the food parcels) rolled out the scheme to another 2,000 families in London, focusing on Enfield and Tottenham, which government data has identified as boroughs in need
‘Both heads of the schools got back in touch straight away, saying the families are so grateful, thank you so much, they’re having a hard time,’ she told HertsLive.
Word got round and, after dipping into her savings, Cynthia was soon helping up to 2,500 families across Hertfordshire and as far afield as Essex, Bedfordshire and Merseyside, having linked up with 72 schools.
Her team’s care packages provide parents – many of whom have lost their jobs due to the pandemic – and their children with 25 meals every two weeks.
Last month Cynthia and her team rolled out the scheme to another 2,000 families in London, focusing on Enfield and Tottenham, which government data has identified as boroughs in need.
‘Up until a few months ago, the charity had next to no external income,’ Cynthia told FEMAIL.
‘It costs over £5,000 a month to keep going, with that figure set to double as we enter January, and London.
Cynthia said winning the Pivot for Purpose award was ‘hugely emotional’, adding: ‘It still is an overwhelming blessing to be able to help and feels like an absolute privilege so to be given any sort of honours for it, is totally unexpected’
‘We have recently been awarded some grants – enough to keep going for another three months. However, our financial outlay has just grown further still as we have now outgrown our current premises which was donated to us.
‘We are now in the process of looking for industrial scale premises as we are receiving and sending out over 20 tonnes of food each month and need spaces where HGV lorries can deliver to and load up.’
Cynthia said she is grateful to still have her TV commissions across the UK and North America which means she still gets to do what she loves – making and judging food – and also enjoys spending quality time with her children when she’s not filming.
After an unpredictable 2020, she is keen to take on more mentoring and work within homeless rehabilitation across the countries where she spends her time.
‘God willing, the charity will keep expanding as long as the need is there,’ she added.