GIVING up a successful marketing career to work one day a week in a bakery might have been a step too far for some people in pursuing their dream.

However, for Jeni Hardie that is exactly what she did. Now three years on from opening her own little bakery and café and the business surviving a global pandemic, she has never looked back.

A series of serendipitous events led Jeni to where she is now as she has carved out a new role and life for herself.

“I have always liked to bake, but it was never something I thought it would do professionally,” said Jeni, founder and owner of Bad Girl Bakery in the Highlands. “I had spent 15 years in marketing and I loved my job. One day I randomly saw an advert for a baker, required one day a week, so I decided to apply. I got the job and gave up my career. I don’t think I thought at this point I would like to run my own business, but what really changed for me was when I moved to the Highlands.”

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Jeni had met a new partner, now her husband and she moved to Muir of Ord seven years ago, to set up a new life with him and his son Felix, who was just four-years-old at the time.

She added: “I wanted to be with Douglas, now my husband and to get to know Felix better. I wanted to contribute to the household so I started making cakes, only three a week, and then it just exploded from there.

“I think there is something about being in the Highlands, people really want to support you. Things began to change up a gear after I did the Black Isle Show and that was by chance. It is really hard to get into but I was offered a cancellation and it was such a great opportunity to get my name known.”

It was a meeting with catering firm Serco who were keen on her supplying cakes and treats for the Caledonian Sleeper route that led Jeni to consider taking on premises.

“I went along for a meeting with the company and I wasn’t even nervous as I never thought I would get the contract. They wanted muffins for their first class breakfasts. They were talking about the importance of produce and local firms, then I realised they meant me,” added Jeni.

With the help of her husband, Jeni began to look into premises but another chance encounter led to the perfect site coming up in Muir of Ord.

“I had a phone call one day from someone who heard I was looking for somewhere. He had heard about me from a lady who bought treats at my stall at the Black Isle Show. It was the perfect location and everything just seemed to fall into place. Serco were very good and waited a while for me to get set up before I could start supplying them. We needed to upscale and started to hire people so we could cater for the sleeper order,” she added.

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Opening in 2017, Bad Girl Bakery has become firmly established and is popular with locals and visitors alike. Jeni prides herself on certain values and uses seasonal produce and even the produce they sell are things they would use as ingredients. With a thriving bakery, then came the devastation of having to close her doors when lockdown struck.

“We lost 75% of our trade just like that. Our wholesale and café side of the business stopped overnight,” added Jeni. "We have only recently started up again for take-away and it was been wonderful to see the response from people. They are so pleased to see us open up and I suppose it feels like things are getting back to normal a little. We can only have a couple of people in at a time, but everyone has been great. Our hours are from when we open until we run out.”

Her sausage rolls have been flying out the door and a local butcher has been trying to keep up the demand for the sausage meat supply. Even with around 30 cakes and treats to choose from, Jeni likes to keep things local.

She added: “One the things I bake is a gin cake and we lace it with gin from Loch Ness Gin and when we made cupcakes with gin and lime we used a lime curd from a local apiary. It is really nice to collaborate in this way.

“I really think the success of the business is down to Highland culture and being part of a small place where people want you to do well.

“I think surviving with a business through lockdown has changed me. I already look differently at what we sell. Our deli side and café have had to change, the things we sell have to mean something to us whether we have used it as an ingredient or made it ourselves and I think that is really important.”

One new habit in lockdown, Jeni plans to continue is her blog which has given her a chance to share recipes with the community. And it led to new ideas to help the bakery ease out of lockdown. There is a new look shop showcasing a range of baking equipment and ingredients alongside a changing roster of cakes, pastries, biscuits and breads.

“The blog was something I started as a way of keeping in touch with people and also partly for my sanity in lockdown. I posted tips and recipe ideas. And it gave me an idea. When we reopened I started selling Bakery Bags with all the ingredients you needed to make a certain cake with the recipe card included. It can range from brownies, to flapjacks, but it is just to get people involved. I think life has change for people and we are just glad to be back at the heart of it in the community.

“We’re delighted that there’s been a surge in the popularity of baking at home and are keen to support local home bakers with ingredients and equipment. In response, we’ve transformed the café into a beautiful shop that provides wonderful food but also simply celebrates baking.”