Caribbean Entrepreneurs: Introducing Leanda McConney, Managing Director at LoveLeeCakes
by Karen Rollins Sep 5, 2022
Caribbean entrepreneur Leanda McConney has a gift for baking and decorating cakes, but it took her a while to discover it.
She was initially interested in a career in science and set her mind on that course of study at college and university before realising working in a laboratory was not going to hold her attention.
Instead, Leanda’s baking hobby became a viable alternative, and after coming top of her cake decorating class at PomMarine, and pursuing further training in Canada, she launched her business ‘LoveLeeCakes‘ in 2013.
Leanda shared her story with Yello. She told us more about why she made the switch from science to baking, where she gets inspiration from for her cake designs, and her ambitious plans to expand her skillset and grow the business.
Describe yourself using three words.
Unique, precise and fun!
Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in Barbados and grew up in Drax Hall, St George. I went to St Angela’s Primary School and then St Michael’s School.
I was 16 when I went to Barbados Community College (BCC) to pursue an associate degree in Mathematics and Environmental Science which wasn’t really my first choice at the time but I made the best of it. I actually wanted to be a pharmacist, but BCC only offered that course to 18-year-olds.
After that, I went to the University of the West Indies (UWI) to study for a biochemistry degree, but it was so hard, and I soon realised that I couldn’t get through. I changed to a degree in chemistry and added on some other courses like education, the environment, renewable resources, and earth sciences. I have a pretty well-rounded science background.
What were your initial career plans?
I always had a love for cooking, baking, decorating and art, but I couldn’t figure out my main focus.
I was actually accepted into Johnson and Wales University in Florida while I was in my second year at UWI, but eventually, I decided to stay in Barbados.
When I left UWI, finding a job in chemistry was hard because the choices here are limited. In my last year at UWI, I did an internship in a lab, which I enjoyed, but I found that I was doing the same things every day, and that made me question whether I wanted to do that for the rest of my life.
When did you consider baking as a possible career?
My mum always baked, and I would be in the kitchen licking the bowl when she made something that I liked. She also always made my birthday cake. So baking was in my family.
Every once in a while, I would try new stuff and bake a chocolate cake, and one of my friends said the cake tasted so good that I should think about selling it.
I signed up for an evening course with BCC at PomMarine which was decorating for cakes and pastry at the intermediate level. I sent them pictures of what I had been doing, and I got accepted, even though I hadn’t even done the beginners course.
I had a wonderful teacher called Dawn King. She was encouraging and would always tell me that I was really good. At the end of the class I finished top.
I decided to do some more decorating courses because I really love decorating. I also knew that my mum could help me out with the baking aspect, but I just needed to finesse the decorating and design part. So, I went online and found a short course in Canada at Bonnie Gordon College and went there for three months.
When did you start your business ‘LoveLeeCakes’?
My business started nine years ago. In the beginning, it was called LoveLee Cupcakes because I was intimidated by cakes and thought it was best to just start with cupcakes until I got more experience.
When I came back from Canada, I renamed it so that it would be cakes and whatever else came along as well.
What products and services do you currently offer?
I offer cakes and cupcakes for any occasion really, but right now I will only do wedding cakes for people who are currently my clients. Every once in a while, I will also do cookies and treat boxes.
I also teach with a private organisation, and I have offered private tutoring courses for people who want to finesse their decorating skills.
What is the unique selling point for LoveLee Cakes?
I would say my presentation, the neatness of the cakes, and the taste. I have a standard flavour list but if a client has a flavour they would like to try then I will make it, because I like trying new things.
My cakes also stand up well to the elements here. I took almost a month off to research stability because I want my cakes to stay in one piece despite the heat and the state of our roads.
Where do you get inspiration from for your cake designs?
My long-standing clients usually let me come up with an idea and go with it.
Other people might send me pictures, and I will recreate the cake, but in my own way. I always try not to copy anything exactly, even though that might be what the client wants.
I prefer when the whole design is left up to me though because then I can showcase my talent and I can customise the cake for that person.
What are your favourite ingredients to work with?
I love making fondant / gum paste figurines because I enjoy the challenge of getting a character really accurate.
It’s great when the children recognise the figurines because you know that they are brutally honest and will let you know if it doesn’t look like their favourite cartoon character!
I also like creating big, structured cakes, and that’s really where I want to take my business in the future.
What has been your proudest achievement so far?
Taking part in the SoFlo Cake and Candy Expo in Miami in April 2018. You had to create an endangered animal as a sculpted cake, so I made the Florida panther sitting in some shrubbery (see image below). I won third place which was a great accomplishment.
What are your plans for LoveLeeCakes over the next 12-18 months?
I have some cool projects in mind that are mostly for children, and their parents, who want to bake at home, but I can’t say much more on that.
I just want to keep on perfecting my craft; creating new flavours; making better cakes with better stability.
I really want to do some more French pastry as well, so I may have to do a patisserie course to get better at that. I would also love a storefront where I can offer pastries and cakes and my own space for some more small classes.
I also want to get more into making tall cakes. I love when a cake has three to five layers, and it’s so tall and beautiful.
Who are the local / regional / international bakers that you admire?
I admire Sweet Nectar (Danielle Lea) and her chocolate work. I also admire Annalise Cakes (Annalise Benskin) because of her attention to detail, her cookies are also fabulous, and just out of this world.
My friend Cassandra from school in Canada is amazing as well. Her business is called Sassy and Sweet Cakes and her cakes are beautiful and her fondant creatures are flawless.
I also admire chocolatier Amaury Guichon who has a show on Netflix. I would love to go to his school in Texas, because I’m not good at chocolate, but I find it so fascinating. He makes amazing stuff.
What do you love about your home island Barbados?
I love the beaches. I find them tranquil and calming, and the colours are beautiful. One day the sea is dark blue, the next turquoise, and the next sky blue. It’s so interesting how it changes. Any time I get flustered I go to the beach even if I’m just sitting in my car. Looking at the waves and listening to them is so calming.
I also like how you can go for a drive in the hills and take in some nice scenery.
My favourite place in Barbados is Animal Flower Cave. I love to watch the waves hitting the rocks and it’s fascinating how the rocks have been formed by the waves.
What advice do you have for aspiring Caribbean bakers?
Just get up and do it. Make sure you do some research and understand your trade. Don’t let anyone deter you, and don’t be scared! I mean I started with cupcakes and I never dreamed that I would be making cakes with three or four tiers.
Also, ask people questions. If you follow someone on Instagram and admire something they’ve done, ask them a question about how it was made, they will answer or they may not.
Do some courses and attend cake shows so you can see new techniques because every year something comes out to make your life easier.
What is your philosophy / motto in life?
God is my refuge and strength. Sometimes I have to say it to myself more than once because I have a lot to do like baking, decorating, answering emails and phone calls, updating social media, so it gets hard and stressful. But I have to remember that God is there, and He doesn’t give you more than you can bear, so you’ll get through it.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would just like everyone to have food and to get a meal. I get that from my mum because she always told me that once people have something to eat, they’ll feel better and be in a better position to help themselves.
So my superpower would be to feed everyone.