The only thing the Welsh Baker is pouring these days is concrete for a new larger bakery, because Welsh cakes themselves are griddled dough, not batter.
Since 2009, Joe and Denise Carbone have sold the cakes, not quite cookies and not quite scones, and business keeps growing.
“The consistency of the dough is the key,” said Joe Carbone. Imagine something along the lines of preparing cookie dough, but instead of baking it in the oven, you put it on a griddle.”
Denise Carbone emigrated from Wales in 1988, bringing family recipes for Welsh cakes with her. The couple moved to Santa Clarita in 1992.
The couple started the company after Joe Carbone was laid off from his IT job, and the couple decided to start their own business.
“The timing turned out to be perfect,” he said. “Five years earlier, and our kids would have been too young; five years later, and I’d have been too old.”
Once they settled on the idea of selling Welsh cakes, they went through a tough six months figuring out the best way make them in volume, coming up with some proprietary equipment and processes that they still use.
Denise thought she’d run a corner bakery, “but I saw online sales as the only way we were going to succeed,” Joe said. “I feared failure more than anything. I saw this as something my wife would do and I would help out with.”
Joe’s first task was to figure out how to package the cakes they could be shipped affordably. “The model is IKEA: ship it flat,” he said.
He met with postal officials and determined precisely how thick they could make a flat-rate shipping envelope before it was considered a package. As a result, they can offer free shipping.
“We set up our website and waited for the orders to come in, and nothing happened,” Joe said.
The turning point came in 2010 when the woman the Carbones were renting kitchen space from suggested they share her booth at the Lancaster Poppy Festival.
“We had a ten-foot booth that was half hers, selling Jamaican food, and half ours, selling Welsh cakes.” They sold out their inventory in a few hours.
“Then an Irish guy came up to us and asked what we were doing a poppy festival when we should be on the Scottish festival circuit, which we didn’t even know existed,” Carbone said. “We were able to get space at the Costa Mesa Scottish festival, and now we sell ten times as much there as we did the first year.” Three quarters of the company’s sales are at festivals.
“People want an experience; that’s what they get at these festivals, and that’s what we sell.” The Carbones have added another facet to that experience by creating a Celtic Tea Room at festivals.
“We offer customers a regular price and a lower fan price,” Carbone said. “All they have to do is give us their email address” to get a 15 percent discount. They now have 20,000 names and ship to all fifty states.
“Once we started selling out everything we brought to festivals, I started referring to it as our business, not my wife’s business,” Joe Carbone said. When the new kitchen opens in a few months, the company’s capacity will triple. “It took us several years to get to the point where we’re willing to invest our retirement funds into the business” with the new facility. This year, they sold 350,000 cakes in nine standard flavors, along with seasonal flavors like pumpkin, and so far, the future looks bright.
Each year, they ask themselves a few key questions, with the two most important being, “Did we do better this year than last year?” and, “Is there anything else we’d rather be doing?” For eight years, the answer has been yes to the first and no to the second.