18 Jun 2017

Niuafe Malupo: cake maker extraordinaire

From Sunday Morning, 11:19 am on 18 June 2017

After a period of career indecision, 23-year-old Aucklander Niuafe Junior Malupo is now doing what he loves - and having his own business is quite literally the icing on the cake.

He'd had a shot at a hospitality course after leaving school, then went into retail for a year, and then one day came home to his mother and said he didn't want to do any of that any more - he wanted to make cakes.
Not just any cakes, but intricately decorated, gloriously coloured, lavishly iced, complex creations almost too beautiful to eat. Some draw inspiration from his Tongan culture - tapa, for example, becomes a delicate latticework. And then there's Malupo's signature "dripping" technique using either chocolate ganache or white chocolate.

Malupo's mum, Olga Williams, who had four other boys and a girl, inspired his love of baking.
"It began at home," Malupo says.  

"Growing up I was fortunate enough to have Mum, who baked every single weekend and used to bake for church functions and family gatherings … I was always just Mum's kitchen hand … helping her."
Williams said she learnt to bake the same way.
"I learnt from my mother too … she did a lot of baking for her church and I would always stay up with her and watch her bake and cook.

"And then I just had the passion for it and I did the same thing when I had my own family, but I never thought that one of the boys would pick it up from me!"

The pair now form a dream team at Niu Cakery in Auckland's New Lynn, which Malupo opened in March 2016. Olga does the baking, her son does the decorating. Their bakery is attached to the shop of another of Malupo's mentors, Becky McGill, who owns the cake-decoration business Miss Bon Bon.

Williams says when her son first announced his plans she was worried it was a bit of a pipe dream.
"What I didn't know was that he was actually doing research on the internet, looking at how people decorate their cakes … he wanted to do that over here … so he actually taught himself.

"He started from home baking for friends and family … a lot of mistakes. But I kept pushing and said 'that's how you learn, learn from your mistakes and just keep going' and he did."

One of Niuafe Malupo's cake creations

One of Niuafe Malupo's cake creations Photo: Niuafe Malupo

The other big player in this business equation is social media. After Malupo came home and announced his dream, he started decorating cakes and putting them on Facebook for friends and family to see. He perfected his craft by watching YouTube videos of cake decorators and following the Instagram accounts of some favourite bakers such as Katherine Sabbath.
His friends and family couldn't get enough of his creations, from cupcakes to special event cakes. He and Olga started holding "bake sales" at home, and the demand suggested the business opportunity.

At the age of 22, he felt he had honed his skill enough to move out of the kitchen at home and open up Niu Cakery in New Lynn. That was in March 2016. In August, he opened the shopfront as well, but the demand was such he now only opens that on special bake-sale days that he advertises on Facebook.
Things really took off when Malupo opened his Instagram account and started tagging the likes of Katherine Sabbath and other favourite bakers - he was overjoyed when she mentioned him.

His Instagram following has grown to about 27,000 and the orders keep rolling in - the week that 30 special-occasion cakes were due on one Saturday tested his piping skills to the max.
"Seeing Katherine's work really inspired me to push the boundaries and do things that people haven't seen before in New Zealand.

"The day we opened up, everyone turned up, I didn't expect it. People were queuing up the street around the corner for the bake sale … I didn't really think it would take off that fast and ever since then I've been fully booked for months in advance."

Niuafe's mother, Olga Williams, taught him everything he knows. Niuafe grew up helping his mum with the baking in the kitchen at home. Just over a year ago Niuafe opening the Niu Cakery with his mother. Olga does the baking, while Niuafe decorates the cakes.

Niuafe's mother, Olga Williams   Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

He acknowledges the power of social media in growing his business as well as giving him feedback and advice from other cake makers.
Malupo also received recognition from the Tongan community - the Tongan Youth Excellence Award in the Business Category.

He says that was "really special" to him.
A typical work week sees all the cakes baked in the beginning of the week, as well as preparing the icing and fillings, giving Malupo plenty of time to work his creative magic with a piping bag. The day before the cake is due, they fill, crumb and decorate it.
"The longest process is the decorating," he said. "Because I'm such a perfectionist - I have to pick on every little detail. A lot of it is free-styling."
Malupo attempted to show Sunday Morning's presenter Wallace Chapman how to ice a cupcake. Wallace is going to stick to broadcasting: