A dramatic career change is exciting under the best of circumstances – and for cupcake queen Wendy Banks, the transition from traffic management to owning a bakery could not have been sweeter.
Compared to most bakers Wendy, 45, considers herself rather late to the party, only picking up a bowl and whisk after the birth of her first child when she was 29.
Now, after coming fifth in 2021's The Great Kiwi Bake Off, she's opened the doors to her very own bakery in the heart of Queenstown.
Wendy admits the change in career was somewhat strange because she'd been a traffic engineer since she graduated university in 1999. Suddenly, she was her own boss needing to learn the ropes of the retail and hospitality industries.
"It's been weird because with my old job, I used to arrive in the morning and be done at the end of the day. But now, as a baker, it's pretty much 24/7. I've never had to deal with things like payroll, staffing and project management before. Even working out how to use the tills is new to me!"
Still, the change is a positive one, fuelling Wendy's creative side that she felt had been neglected.
With the same light-hearted spirit that won the hearts of Bake Off fans, she handed in her resignation by presenting her boss with two cakes iced with the words "I Quit" and "I'm Done".
She explains, "I was taken back by the support from my colleagues. I thought they might be quite negative about it, but they were all so happy and encouraging. I see them more than I did before, especially at lunchtime because my old office is in the same area."
Her new shop, Baker's Lane, opened on April 21, and Wendy is still working around the clock to get it decorated. At the time the Weekly caught up with her, she had only one functional oven, no signage and was feeling the heat.
"The hardest thing for me is finding the time to do everything and feeling guilty," she shares. "I have been spending most of my time in the bakery, whereas I'm normally at home and have dinner ready for my family. They are all really supportive, but there's so much pressure knowing that it's me behind it all."
Her husband Iain, 45, and children Brody, 16, Cohen, 13, and Hudson, 11, have all played a large part in helping set up the bakery.
"My husband is an engineer and is enjoying seeing me learning new things," says Wendy. "A lot of aspects from his line of work, like health and safety, are still applicable to opening a shop, which is great, and he helps out where he can.
"My youngest son is an amazing barista and has been making coffees. They're all very excited, especially when there's leftover food at the end of the day!"
One of the biggest challenges for Wendy was choosing a name for her new venture. It took many hours of brainstorming.
"I finally decided on 'Bakers Lane' because I'm eventually going to make a little lane as a sitting area. It also relates back to my job in traffic and transport. There were so many options, but that's the one I'm sticking with."
Although she's flat-tack, Wendy still finds time every day to run five kilometres, something she's done ever since the first day of lockdown in March 2020.
"I've never missed a day of running and because I often have an early start, it means I have to go at five or six in the morning," she tells. "I've reached a point now where I can't just not do it. My biggest challenge is to keep it going. It's great because I love running and I love sweet things, so it balances out."
Wendy's plans now include setting up a website so she can contribute some of the bakery's income towards charities such as the RSA.
"The past two years, I've been making Christmas cupcakes for the Cancer Society and I've also raised funds for Parkinson's research," she says. "I'd really like to do more of that as it's a passion of mine, to be all about the community and thinking of others."
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