Steph Reys’ small business has been making waves in the northern suburbs of Perth with her finely crafted and artistic cupcakes, cookies and birthday cakes.
Mocha Baby Cakery is the only Indigenous cake business taking custom orders that Reys knows of in Perth.
The self-taught baker is a descendant of the Gugu Yimithirr Nation, Western Yalandji, Badjala, and Djirrabal people of Queensland.
Reys started taking cake orders five years ago to keep busy while on maternity leave with her first son.
These days, she’s filling large corporate orders from her home kitchen.
NAIDOC Week was particularly busy this year, with orders as large as 500 cupcakes needing to be produced in a suburban domestic kitchen.
She said the baking is the easiest part of running a small business.
“Business stuff is a lot more challenging than baking. It’s knowing how to price your items and how to sell them to people.”
Reys is mother to two small boys; she said it can be challenging to bring her business and family lives together.
“It’s really hard. My family are over in Cairns as well. I just take on the orders I can, and when [her two-year-old] sleeps, or at night, I bake and decorate,” she said.
After five years of juggling childcare and baking, Reys is confident in her products but she said it took time to get there.
“The actual cake decorating is self-taught. I was growing my skills when I started, so I charged quite cheap,” she said.
“As I went along, I realized that I need to charge what I’m worth, because there’s so many hours that go into making cakes and decorating and buying supplies.”
Reys’ family is from Cairns and Fraser Island, but moved to Perth when she was very young.
She said the move away from Country meant the loss of a close connection to her culture.
“We lost a lot. My mum lost a lot of her culture as well, and living over in Perth, I lost a lot of connection to culture as well, which is a bit sad.”
Her family recently moved back to Queensland, and although Reys doesn’t see a move away from WA in the near future, she said she hopes her ten-year-old sister will benefit from a closer connection to Country.
“I’m really happy for her that she can go back to Cairns and learn her culture and be strong with that,” Reys said.
She said building a community around her business kept the orders rolling in.
“It’s really, really cool to have customers that support my business,” Reys said.
“Most of them have kids as well so I’m always making their birthday cakes every year. It’s really cool seeing their kids grow up as well.
“I kind of feel like they’re a part of my business and seeing me grow, too.”
When the Coronavirus crisis hit Perth, the pressure ramped up for the small business. Reys’ partner Ian Wilkes works as an actor and director at Yirra Yaakin, an Aboriginal-led theatre company.
With most public gatherings banned, Wilkes’ work at Yirra Yaakin was put on hold.
“When COVID happened, all [Wilkes’] projects got bogged down and he couldn’t work. It was a bit hard for us, but I just had to make heaps of cakes,” Reys laughed.
For now, Reys is keeping an eye on the future.
“I’ve been working from home for five years now, and I think I’m at the point where I want to expand and find a kitchen or a shop where I can work and maybe hire some people to help me out.”
To see some of Mocha Baby Cakery’s delicious creations, follow Reys’ Instagram at @mochababycakery.
By Sarah Smit