by Iyath Adam
For our interview article this time, we have a chat with cake veteran, Aminath Nasheeda, founder and owner of Nashee Cakes, the original cake decorating shop in the Maldives.
We discuss how she got into baking, her journey throughout the years and her advice for aspiring, young entrepreneurs.
Lonumedhu: First of all, what made you interested in cake decorating in the first place?
Nasheeda: When I was around nine years old, I saw a cake which was made by one of my teachers. It was so beautiful that I wanted to learn how to make cakes like that. At the time, my father lived in Sri Lanka, so I moved there to study. I would go to school and then go to a separate class to learn baking and cake decorating.
It was my father who actually paved the way for me to go forward in this field. I wasn’t a very studious child, so he would always take me to different courses like sewing, embroidery, knitting, cooking etc... He was a cancer patient, and he was always very concerned about how I would go forward in life in case he wasn’t able to be there. He would always advise me to not depend on anyone, stand on my own two feet, and use the skills I learnt through my courses. I did try sewing, painting, and knitting too but ultimately, cake decorating is what I chose to go forward in.
Lonumedhu: How did you first start Nashee Cakes?
Nasheeda: After I moved back to the Maldives from Sri Lanka, I used to bake cakes. But it was really only after I married, had my son and became a homemaker that I started doing this as a business.
At the time, we didn’t really have the necessary tools for cake decorating. So, I used to make cupcakes and I would place them in different hotaa or cafés to sell. They got really popular, and I would bake around 400-500 cupcakes per day. I had two normal-sized ovens then, and I would work from morning until very late at night. After a year of this, I stopped baking cupcakes, and I thought that maybe I would utilise the cake decorating skills I had learnt from my time in Sri Lanka.
I started to make decorated cakes for close family and loved ones for free. I got a Wilton catalogue from a friend in Sri Lanka and ordered the necessary cake tools, using $500 which I borrowed. That’s when I started making and selling cakes for order. From the money I earned, I ordered cartoon character trays from Wilton which was very new in the Maldives at the time, and this really took off.
I used to make orders at home for about 10 years, after which I opened Nashee Cakes. ‘Nashee’ is actually a name that customers gave me. So, I thought that when I opened my shop, I would name it Nashee Cakes.
Lonumedhu: What was it like, starting a new type of business then?
Nasheeda: It was difficult to open a shop like Nashee Cakes then. I wondered how I would do it.
From the very beginning, even when I was baking at home, Shafeeqa, who is like a sister to me and was living with me, would bake together. We would bake in the morning, decorate in the afternoon and evening, and then clean at night. We didn’t have the heavy machinery to mix back then, so we would use a small hand beater to make the batter in very large bowls.
It was a long time before I brought in another staff. The current baker at Nashee Cakes is still the same one I’ve had for many years. I don’t mix or bake cakes now, but I do ensure that the quality and the consistency of the cakes are maintained continuously.
Lonumedhu; Nashee Cakes has been around for decades. What drives you to keep going?
Nasheeda: Yes, it’s been 38, 39 years since I first started Nashee Cakes. I think it’s having the drive and wanting to go forward that keeps me going; working towards what you want and praying and saving, without losing hope.
Back then, I would bake cakes during the day and teach cake decorating classes at night. When I first started, I didn’t have a lot of money, but I used to save and invest from my earnings. From this money, I used to complete various trainings around the world, in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Australia and participate in different cake competitions as well. It was so hectic at the time, but that hard work is what has led me to this point now.
Lonumedhu: You’ve won a lot of awards over the years as well. Could you tell us a little bit about them?
Nasheeda: I’ve received the Best Chef award from Hotel Asia Maldives, gold medal in the 2-hour live cake competition and silver medal in the wedding cake category in both Singapore and Dubai. In 2021, I won the wedding cake category of the Cake Star international online cake competition, competing against participants from over 22 countries and in 2022, I was nominated as one of the finalists.
Recently, D’licious Magazine, based in the UK, asked me to write a cake tutorial for the magazine. So, I made a three-tier wedding cake with my own unique technique. They loved the design of the wedding cake so much, that they Ifeatured the cake on the cover of their May 2023 issue. I was also nominated by public voting for the magazine’s ‘Cake Designer of the Year’ award. Unfortunately, I couldn’t win from the judge’s deliberation round as I couldn’t do a lot of work during 2023 since I was recovering from a spine surgery.
Lonumedhu: Nashee Cakes’ butter cake has a distinct taste which is very well-known to those in Male’. How do you ensure the consistency and quality of your cakes?
Nasheeda: I pay a lot of attention to the cake making and baking process. But sometimes, due to the unavailability of certain ingredients here, the taste might slightly change. When that happens, customers will immediately know, and they will call me up and tell me. This is not due to our carelessness, but because of the change to the brand of butter or the type of flour available in the market at the time.
Lonumedhu: What flavours of cakes are currently available at Nashee Cakes?
Nasheeda: We make a lot of flavours, but our butter cakes are what people want. Right now, we have Oreo cakes and cheesecakes, but they are not as popular as the Nashee Cakes’ butter cakes.
Lonumedhu: You must have made thousands of cakes over the years. Are there any particularly memorable cakes that you’ve made?
Nasheeda: I once made a very big cake for the anniversary of the Society for Health Education (SHE). The cake was placed on a very high stand and made from around 50kg of flour. It must have reached around the first floor of Iskandhar School. This is a cake I always remember, even though it was a long time ago.
Lonumedhu: What’s your advice to women who aspire to start their own business?
Nasheeda: You have to set the intention of where you want to reach in whatever you to do, and then you have to work towards it. You mustn’t waste your initial earnings; you have to invest and use it wisely to further your own goals in the business.
Lonumedhu: What’s next for Nashee Cakes?
Nasheeda: Right now, we have cake shops in Male’ and Hulhumale’ and a bakery in Th. Hirilandhoo, my island. We also have a bakery called ‘Deluxe Bakery’ here in Male’.
In terms of my cake decorating, I would like to have my ideas out there more, and I’m happy that I’m getting offers from international platforms to showcase my work. This year, I’ll be doing cake tutorials for some famous international magazines such as Cake the Great, Cake Masters and D’licious, so I’m really looking forward to that.
Lonumedhu: Thank you so much for your time, Nasheeda. It’s been so inspiring to hear your journey, and we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours!