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Icing on the cake: Young lawyer finds sweet success with baking business

By Teo Kermeliotis, for CNN
updated 6:06 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
A lawyer by day and cake maker by night, Malawian Sungeni Mtalimanja turned her passion for baking into something bigger after launching last year Sweet Temptations by Sungeni. A lawyer by day and cake maker by night, Malawian Sungeni Mtalimanja turned her passion for baking into something bigger after launching last year Sweet Temptations by Sungeni.
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  • Sweet Temptations by Sungeni is a cake-making business in Malawi
  • It was launched last year by lawyer Sungeni Mtalimanja
  • She says the cake making industry is currently booming in Malawi
  • Power cuts and sourcing ingredients are major challenges, says Mtalimanja

Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

(CNN) -- What does temptation taste like? For the sweet-toothed army of Sungeni Mtalimanja's clients, it's all about buttermilk and cocoa dipped in a sea of dark red.

"Red velvet [cake] -- that's a big thing at the moment," says Mtalimanja, founder of Sweet Temptations by Sungeni. "A lot of people actually like that recipe."

Based in the city of Blantyre, Malawi's chief commercial and industrial hub, Mtalimanja's baking business produces all sorts of custom-made "sweet temptations" -- from delicious red velvet cakes topped with moist cream cheese frosting to fluffy chocolate cupcakes full of rich flavor.

Sungeni Mtalimanja
Sungeni Mtalimanja

Driven by passion

Yet, crafting yummy baked goods was not something the young entrepreneur had ever envisaged. A trained lawyer, Mtalimanja had been working in the local legal industry for a number of years when one day in late 2012 she began helping her sister-in-law bake desserts.

Mtalimanja was instantly hooked.

"I never knew I had this passion for cakes," she says. "Sometimes a passion comes from the comments that people make -- if people say, 'this is great, this is awesome,' you're inclined to do more, you want to explore more and you want to improve on it," adds Mtalimanja. "I want to get to the next level; I want to be different," she adds. "I'm very passionate about what I do."

Thus, last year, Mtalimanja decided to turn her passion for cake making into something bigger. Without having any formal training in baking, she launched Sweet Temptations by Sungeni -- all the while keeping her full-time law job.

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"It wasn't easy," recalls the 30-year-old entrepreneur. "I worked late nights and was up very early for a period of six months."

'Everyone wants cake'

Yet, as word spread out and orders started piling in, Mtalimanja decided to make Sweet Temptations her priority and main source of income.

"The industry is quite booming at the moment," she says.

"Cakes are very popular -- It wasn't like that before; before you could only see those cakes when you were celebrating your birthday but now it's like for any kind of celebration -- whether it'd be a bridal shower, birthday, graduation or someone who is coming home for the first time after a long time, everyone wants to get into that mood of having a cake."

Bigger dreams

Yet, running a cake business in Malawi comes with its own set of difficulties -- a beautiful landlocked country in southeastern Africa, Malawi is one of the continent's poorest nations.

"You'd get power cuts at any time of the day, especially in the evening," says Mtalimanja.

Everyone wants to get into that mood of having a cake.
Sungeni Mtalimanja, Sweet Temptations by Sungeni

Another challenge, she adds, is finding all the ingredients required, especially as client orders get more diverse -- from superheroes and football logos to hen party cakes in the shape of a female body wearing lingerie.

"Now people want to go crazy," says Mtalimanja. "They want different shapes, they want different sizes, they want different types of icing and to find that in Malawi is quite challenging -- there's been a few people who have tried to bring stuff in from overseas but obviously to get it is very expensive."

Although still at the beginning, Mtalimanja has high hopes about her startup's future.

"I want a coffee shop," she says. "I want a nice place, a cozy shop where I can have my own coffee shop and serve the cakes that I make -- that's my future plan, that's what I want to do."

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