Friday 16 October 2020 3:23 pm

Back to Business: How East London baker Lily Vanilli changed direction to cope with covid

Save our SMEs

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Lily Jones from Lily Vanilli, a baker and cake decorator based in East London. I have a weekend cafe on Columbia Road and make creative cakes and pastries to order for home delivery, weddings and events, as well as consulting for other brands and businesses.

How have you coped through the pandemic?

My team were on furlough and my shop was closed, with all our weddings and events cancelled but I wanted to be able to stay open, so I baked solo, making little cakes for home delivery.

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I was able to spend time focussing on streamlining the business to make it more efficient and redesigned much of the menu. It was actually a really good thing to have so much time free to focus on looking at the business and how it could be improved, and good for my mental health to be baking for other people rather than locked down at home.

What are your biggest fears going into Christmas and beyond?

It’s tragic to see so many people losing work and businesses closing up and down the country. Our business is still hugely affected and we anticipate a slower than usual Christmas, but my overheads aren’t huge and I have been able to weather the storm so far. I’m most apprehensive that the next few months will see a lot of irreparable damage done to our economy.

Could your business survive a second lockdown? 

I’m hopeful we could survive. I adapted the business significantly over the last 6 months; growing the home delivery side and online ordering to try to compensate for some of the losses to footfall and events. The furlough scheme and grant helped enormously and I was able to save some jobs.

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what policies would you introduce?

The early closure of shops, restaurants and markets during stricter lockdown periods seems counterintuitive – if you want to prevent people from overcrowding and spreading the virus it would be better to have longer opening hours so people can avoid congestion, while keeping more people in employment in those sectors. It would be great to see the government discussing measures with leaders in the industry about what works.

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Do you think things in the restaurant world will go back to ‘normal’?

A lot of my restaurant experiences since lockdown have been pretty normal, even with new regulations in place, so I’m hopeful we can snap back to life as we knew it before. However, the wider impact on the industry is going to be huge, with so many cuts and closures that our industry will be substantially changed. I imagine 2021 is going to be a rocky ride.

What are the positive lessons you have learned dealing with the crisis?

On a personal level it’s afforded me a lot of time to practise and improve my skills in the kitchen, which has been a gift. I’ve realised the importance of an online presence for the business and learned how to better manage that and use my platforms to support myself and others in the industry.

It’s been inspiring to see my city and my industry prove so resilient and adaptable in the face of a crisis.

Lily is founder of Lily Vanilli bakery in East London, which is celebrating it’s 10th birthday on 25 October in collaboration with fashion brand Shrimps, all in aid of Unicef’s ‘Save Generation Covid’ fund. More info at