February 2018 | Sofia Simeonidou
You'll get to know Spiros if you taste his cakes. He's clear about his journey, creative with his recipes and very practical. You can't expect anything less from a well-known chef who never stops exploring. Enjoy the interview.
Who are you?
I’m Spiros, I’m 36 and I’m a chef. I’m also the owner of Cheesy Cakes, a cheesecake shop in the center of Amsterdam.
Tell me about how you got to where you are now?
I studied to be a chef in Greece and I worked there before coming to Amsterdam in 2007. I came to visit friends but then I started working at the Hotel De L’ Europe. After that, what was meant to last 6 months lasted 7 years. Then I worked as a chef in a good Amsterdam restaurant for 5 years more and at some point, I felt I needed a change. I went to Paris for pastry lessons and I opened an online baking company. Being still in this very creative mood, I decided to leave Amsterdam and move to Edinburgh. I worked there for two years as a baker for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery where at the same time I turned my online shop (amscakes.com) into a blog. I posted recipes, and did some travelling, just for fun. After two years of living in Scotland, I decided Scottish weather wasn't for me so I moved back to Amsterdam. I went back to work as a chef, this time at The Sea Food Bar, but I was still looking for that special change. I was always invited to birthday parties and making cakes for friends and parties, so one day someone suggested opening a cheesecake shop. I liked the idea and so after a year of putting everything together, I opened the Cheesy Cakes last May.
What’s the shop like?
It’s a very small shop at the Utrechtsedwarsstraat. There’s a small table for 6-7 people but the shop is like a takeaway shop as I call it. Concept wise, it’s not a pastry shop and it’s not a bakery. I want people to feel that they're at their home. Some customers even forget to pay when they leave the shop. That's the mood. I always offer five cheesecakes, always five different flavours, so there’s a cake for every taste. The recipes are mine (it took me almost a year to design/develop them), and you can’t find these cakes anywhere else. During the weekends there’s a cookie selection and on Sundays, there’s our afternoon tea (you need to book in advance).
Is a central location important?
That’s a long discussion. Could be, could be not. It’s not a guarantee you’ll sell more if you’re in the center. In my case, Utrechtsestraat is a good street to be. There’s a butcher, there’s Patisserie Kuyt, Van Soest, and then my shop is in the middle, selling cakes. So it’s a nice “sweet” street. I had a checklist of all the things I was looking and I was waiting for the right shop. I wanted it to be in the center, I wanted it to be small and cute and of course to have the right kitchen space for all the things I make in-house.
What was the biggest investment you made in your business?
The cake display vitrine and the coffee machine. I sell quality cheesecakes so I can only serve quality tea and coffee. I found a company that makes privately-labeled coffee and they developed a special recipe for Cheesy Cakes with seven different types of coffee beans. The tea is coming from a tea shop and it's organic. Everything you find in the shop is of the best quality.
Are you doing your own marketing?
Yes, I do. I do social media, flyers, but nothing too much. I invested just a small budget because word of mouth is everything. Targeting, Google ads, nothing works better than word of mouth. When you come to the shop, you can taste my cakes. Whoever opens that door, buying or not buying, can taste the cakes. That’s my marketing.
What about your brand identity and logo?
I designed the logo myself. I did everything myself.
Would you go back to being a chef in a hotel/restaurant?
Only if I have to. I can’t work under these conditions anymore.
What are the challenges in your day-to-day?
Administration and cleaning are not so nice. The easiest part is making the cakes. Other than that there’s no real challenge for me because that’s the work I’ve been doing for many years. I didn’t wake up one morning and decided to open a shop. I knew what it is about. The only challenge was to actually make it happen.
How many hours do you work/day/week?
100/hours (laughing)? I try to finish at 6.30 and after that, I don’t do anything related to my business, no emails. The shop is open 6 days/week.
And what’s your inspiration for the cakes? I love the ideas you have when I see your cakes.
Every cake is a story. I have a huge book with all my ideas (and clients give me ideas sometimes) but it also depends on what’s going on in the city, or in the world. Next weekend, for example, I’ll have a Prince cheesecake because we have the My Name is Prince Exhibition in Amsterdam, A purple rain cheesecake made with blueberries, glitter, and gold!
Do you have vegan/gluten-free/sugar-free cakes?
I have a gluten-free cake and a refined sugar-free cake.
Advice for whoever wants to open a food shop?
Keep your ears open and listen, accept feedback. Or better ask for feedback. Do whatever you want to do but you need to trust and listen to people. Also to people who’ve been there before you.
I’m flirting with the idea of very special international pop-ups in different countries. We’ll see.