I started baking to pay for IVF and now thousands of Bhaji’s later I’m a mum, I’ve lost weight and I’ve set up a restaurant.
A Yorkshire woman who struggled with her mental health due to needing IVF and having a stressful low-paid job has shared how she turned to baking as a side hustle which helped her mental health and finances.
Soneeta Bhondi and her husband Gavin were working on low hour contracts in flat pack furniture factories when they discovered they’d need IVF to conceive.
“With us both on £9 odd an hour, I couldn’t wait so long to be able to afford IVF.
“My stubbornness was not going to allow me to drop it, so I did what I did best. I started baking as a side hustle, small things for family members and friends initially.
“We had already paid for a honeymoon to Jamaica before we discovered we would need to pay for IVF. It had taken two years to pay it and I knew it would cost probably triple what we paid for that holiday to even have a chance of starting IVF. It was such a sad time, so dark for us. We tried to cancel the holiday we had saved so hard for and get our money back, letting them know what awful situation we had found ourselves in but the holiday operator weren’t having any of it.”
Soneeta started doing little fairs and markets taking her homemade goodies around Yorkshire and “peddling” them as best she could.
She made a range of jams, caramels, and even a range of Christmas cakes and soft filled chocolates.
She added: “I combined my love of motorbikes and baking and The Baking Biker was born.”
Soneeta and her husband still longed for a child and she ended up off her day job with depression.
She said: “During my sick time the only thing that stopped me spinning into a deeper depression was baking and making beautiful creations to delight my friends and family. I’d always been the type of person that applied myself 100 per cent and i’d decided that I was going to put having a baby on the top of my priorities list. “The Baking Biker grew and picked up momentum. People liked my stuff and they were talking about it. Just before going on our dream Jamaican Honeymoon that winter I lost my job.
“I had set out on our Honeymoon, riddled with anxiety and depression, through a bleak winter with no planned future in front of me. It was a beautiful bittersweet two weeks, drenched in Caribbean sun and doused in rum cocktails.”
When the couple returned they put their last hopes on opening The Baking Biker inside Trinity Kitchen in Leeds City Centre.
Soneeta: “First we had to get an awful childfree Christmas out of the way, then get ready for Trinity Kitchen.
“We didn’t have much so we decided to get a bit of finance for a bit of kitchen equipment – ironically we used IKEA it was satisfying to know IKEA was inadvertently helping us on our way.
“So we took our flat pack and set off on our Trinity stint picking bits of shelving out of skips and reclaiming bits of our stand. It was awesome.
“Wendy Denman who looked after Trinity Kitchen at the time mentored us and helped us with so many business things and we are truly grateful for that.
“We grew and grew and grew. We came out of Trinity with momentum and by this time I had roped Gav into the business.
“Trinity had made him a master baker and his confidence grew at the same rate as our business.”
With IVF and mortgage bills looming the couple realised they would have to sell a lot of brownies for £2 to afford everything.
Soneeta said: “We once again swivelled to night markets, food festivals and fairs but to compete we needed to up our offering.
“We started to move in to Indian cuisine, I’d always been interested in cooking even at a young age I’d stand on a wobbly step next to the gas hob stirring my mum’s onions whilst she chopped up some garlic.
“People liked my cooking, so we started making more curries.”
By this time the pair had been eating cookie dough and brownies and they’d both piled on the weight. They decided to start Slimming World. “Our Slimming World instructor, Jane Masefield was absolutely fantastic – she encouraged us and cheered for us and pushed us to not only loose weight but also to grow our business and that’s how The Spicy Biker came to be.
“We started selling Spice Bags to our Slimming World buddies who loved them, they were so popular that people wanted us to cook for them so we did. Once again that business, our family, our lives totally pivoted and started making Indian food that was healthy and tasty at the same time, we did slimming friendly takeaways and we had awesome feedback. We filled our weekends doing small breweries, events and food festivals that were ran by our friends.
“This gave us a great start to our early career.”
Once they had saved enough money they started a round of IVF.
“It didn’t work, we tried again, and again nothing worked.
“We’d taken our shot and had IVF in Prague. Two rounds and three transfers, a lot of money, flights accommodation, tears and pregnancy tests later we had nothing. It was heartbreaking to see the business thrive but to just not be happy as I felt something was missing. On our last return from Prague a dear friend had suggested we look somewhere else which we did and we found an amazing Clinic in Wales CRGW- it was closer than Prague so we started to save up again and knew we didn’t have many more attempts in us anymore. We started our final IVF attempt in the December of 2018, on holiday. I didn’t tell anyone, not even Gav knew, I injected hormones in the airplane toilet, more injections in Spanish restaurants.
Gav had no idea and it wasn’t until we got back that he thought we were ready to start.
“We had an awesome holiday, drove to Wales for IVF procedures and we finally got pregnant with Josh.
“I kept the pregnancy a secret for as long as we could.
“Josh arrived seven weeks early on a busy Bank holiday weekend – I was in labour at work and just thought it was back pain.
“He arrived safely, healthy and we stayed in Pinderfields NICU for 9 days and now he’s going to be 5 in August.”
A whole new chapter began for their family. Knowing how to overcome a challenge when Covid hit they pivoted again with their business.
Soneeta said: “We worked with MEALS for the NHS during covid providing local hospitals with hot food whilst heroes worked their hero magic. “We tried a few local pubs that needed to be serving food during covid to open but found most brewers to be selfish and inconsiderate. “We worked in Horbury and built up a mass following, Gav hand delivered thousands of flyers out and customers actually sought us out and came.”
Yet another hurdle however as landlords cancelled trading days with no notice, which meant throwing away lots of prepped food and costly ingredients.
“We came out of lockdown apprehensive about what the hospitality industry was going to be like… were people going to come back out? Would they socialise?! We spent a couple of years building back up a fantastic following from wonderful events that I had only ever dreamed of working with! Organisers like Peddler, Suppa Club and some awesome breweries were getting in touch and asking us to work with them – It was so flattering.”
‘We had been discussing for some time getting some bricks and mortar for our business and had a little list of things that it would *NEED TO BE* local to Wakefield, have a good central location, about a 30-40 seats, good size kitchen etc etc etc.. we had dropped Josh off at nursery and driven past somewhere with a vickers carnley TO LET sign up and rang to enquire about it and was gutted when we were told it had gone! ‘Hang on a minute – I might have a better one for you anyway… let me come back to you in a few hours’ said the friendly Isobel from V&C that was on the 5th of October and we had the keys and made the announcement 15 days later. It was very last minute and despite getting the keys mid October I knew it was imperative that we get open by Mid November by the latest. I did it, it was hard but I had ADHD and use it as a superpower, I get shit done, it got done. Its been a bit of a whirlwind but like Gav will attest I am a bit of a tornado.
Soneeta said: “I’m really excited about it, I’m worried, anxious and all of the usual things I feel when embarking on a new project but it’s so much easier to do with a supportive family and wonderful son
The Spicy Biker opened in Wakefield City Centre on Cross Street.
“We’re at 16 Cross Street WF1 3BW opposite Jose’s Tapas and next door to The Gyros Bros Grill, the shop is perfectly located in the heart of Wakefield city centre in trendily nick named ‘Eat Street’.”
The restaurant opened with a small menu including some firm favourites such as “Dad’s Famous Bhaji’s,”