From Dishwasher to Owning Multi-Million Bakery-Mathew Gathua

  • An image of Mathew Gathua
    Mathew Gathua, owner of Valentine Cake House posing for a photo in one of his outlets.
  • Mathew Gathua, owner of Valentine Cake House opened up on his journey from being a dishwasher to owning one of the most popular baking houses in the country.

    With 21 outlets spread across the country, it is hard to believe that Gathua started from humble beginnings of washing dishes at a hotel in Mombasa.

    Gathua revealed that despite growing into a multi-million business, he has never acquired any certificates with the only one he possesses being on fire management.

    An image of Mathew Gathua
    Mathew Gathua (left) and Chef Ali (right) conversing at a previous event.

    "I started as a kitchen hand, people do not understand how I have never had training; the only training I have had is on fire training, which happened when Mombasa Municipal Council came to train us on how to handle fire. That is the only certificate I have.

    "When I went into washing dishes, it so happened that the dishwashing and pastry area were close, so, anytime I would finish washing dishes I would rush to help chefs in the kitchen," he explained.

    He graduated from being a dishwasher into a baker by taking time after his shift to help out in the pastries section, where his help was much welcomed, and with the staff being elderly, they seized the opportunity to take breaks.

    His determination was unmatched as he sometimes clocked in at work early so as to learn baking before embarking on his shift.

    Perseverance is the name of the game for Gathua as his journey from a cleaner to a training chef, chef de parties and finally to a pastry chef took him 13 years and was full of ups and downs.

    Gathua detailed of how he started off in baking, and shared some of the struggles that he had to endure while earning peanuts.

    "My first salary was Ksh. 895, then it was increased to Ksh. 1105, while my rent was Ksh. 300, you have bus fare and food to cater for when off duty because we used to eat at the hotel whenever we were on duty.

    "I bought an oven with my last salary, I used to bake in my house and go to saloons. Ladies stay there for 2-3 hours and they used to buy my Ksh. 10 cupcakes," he stated.

    The owner of Valentine Cake House then moved to a shop in Bombolulu back in 1997 as his orders grew and would ride a bicycle to deliver cakes and collect payments.

    Gathua then saw a window of opportunity in training the youth in baking, and opened up Valentine School of Cake in 2007 that has so produced over 12,000 trained bakers.

    With many youths graduating and the job market being squeezed, Gathua encouraged the younger generation to acquire a unique skill that will set one apart from the rest.

    Gathua also had a word on encouragement for youths urging them to resist settling down while they are still young but focus on building something for themselves.

    "Youths get a job at 21 they want to get married at 24, at 25 they have domestic issues, they get demoralized and turn to alcohol by the time they are 30 they have lived a whole life.

    "28-30 is the time and by the time your 60 your child is 30, so do not be in a rush to get family life, when you are bogged down with family life at 23 your goal and focus will be divided," he noted.

    An image of Mathew Gathua
    Mathew Gathua, founder of Valentine Cake House posing for a photo.
    Daily Nation