How I Got Here: Katie Cross

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here with Katie Cross founder of Exeter-based vegan bakery Cake or Death

Related tags: bakery, Vegan

The founder of Exeter-based, vegan bakery Cake or Death on building her business, struggles with commercial property, and the need for a more inclusive environment in kitchens.

Why baking?
As a child, my step grandmother ran a bed and breakfast. I was always fascinated by what went on in the kitchen, so she taught me how to bake. By age 13 I was selling my Irish tea loaf every Saturday at my village market; certainly, something that would be frowned upon now. I’d always wanted the autonomy of working for myself, and after running a couple of tea parties, a friend encouraged me to start a bakery.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
If you have an inkling of an idea for a business, just try it and stop worrying about potential pitfalls or mistakes. I believe in just going for it and learning as you go.

What’s your favourite bakery (besides your own)?
I love Violet Bakery in Hackney. I did an internship there and loved it - they take huge care over their products; their ingredients and their recipes are unbeatable in my opinion.

What motivates you?
Customers - our product brings so much joy to people and I love receiving their messages and talking to them in Cake or Death's new bakery in Exeter.

What keeps you up at night?
Whether I’m doing everything I can to make my business a success. I’m quite hard on myself and if I miss an opportunity, I find it very annoying.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
I used to work for a brilliant charity called PEAS that builds and runs schools in Africa. For more than four years I worked with the founder John Rendel to transform it into a multi-million-pound organisation. He showed me how to grow a successful business and I still ask his advice about Cake or Death, even though it is in a completely different industry.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee! We serve lovely coffee from Crankhouse Coffee who are just down the road from the bakery in Exeter. It keeps the team going throughout the day.

How do you let off steam?
Going for a walk with my dog by the river in Exeter. It always relaxes me and it’s also the time when I come up with my best ideas.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
A smashing vegan lasagne made with roasted vegetables, cashew béchamel and garlic pesto. It’s out of a BOSH! cook book and everyone loves it.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Moving to Devon! We were stuck in awful traffic on the way back to London after a holiday and by the end of the car journey we had decided to move.

Favourite holiday destination?
We love visiting cities because of the opportunity to try new restaurants. Top of the list are Liverpool, San Sebastien and Bologna.

What was your dream job growing up?
As a kid it was to be a vet! I’ve always loved animals, which is another reason why the business is vegan.

Best business decision?
“You should make your business vegan, it's the future.” - I was told this in 2019 just before I quit my job.

Worst business decision?
Not doing enough research into a commercial premise I was looking to rent. I wasted a lot of money in legal fees before I admitted it was the wrong place to go.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
I hesitated setting up the business for quite a while. My advice is, if you see customer appetite, just go for it! The only way to know if a business will work is to do it.

If you could change one thing about the industry today, what would it be?
We'd be encouraging a more inclusive environment in kitchens and bakeries so everyone feels comfortable to enter the industry.


Born in Stoke on Trent, Cross studied Geography at Oxford University and later Arabic at SOAS. Having first worked as an English teacher in Paris, she spent a number of years as a fundraiser for the likes of World Cancer Research Fund, Greenpeace and the NSPCC. It wasn't until 2019 that she chose to leave the world of fundraising and launch her own bakery business called Cake or Death. Initially based in London's Dalston, Cross relocated to Exeter earlier this year in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the national economy.

Related topics: People, Profiles, Casual Dining

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