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Bake news

1 September 2022
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Photo: Sarah Rowlands

United by a love of food – and of course by the fact they’re brother and sister – Tom and Anna Worthington are on something of a (jam and cream sponge) roll in the Christchurch hospo scene. Words Juliet Speedy

As a parent, you can only hope when your children grow up that they become great friends like Anna and Tom Worthington are. The siblings share interests, friends and have an obvious great deal of respect for each other.

One of their biggest shared interests is food, which has blossomed into successful businesses for them both. Anna Worthington has Cakes by Anna, now 10 years old, and Tom has a more recent establishment, a small and simple delightful café in central Christchurch called Tom’s.

The pair are from a big family and grew up, for the most part, in Ilam. Tom and Anna are two of five children, now scattered around the country and the world. They say food was always important growing up; traditional hearty fare, barbecues, all their dinners around the table.

But Tom and Anna (in the middle of the pack) are the only ones that have ended up working with food. Tom says his endless love for a sausage ragu blossomed from his younger years watching yummy, saucy meals bubble away on the stove.

“Mum made delicious one-pot meals (a special shout out to her beef strog served with a big bowl of fluffy rice) and dad loved cooking a nice piece of meat on the barbecue. No one ever left the table hungry unless they were sent away early for singing with their mouth full – that was me.”

A career in food was never in either of their plans. Anna did a fine arts degree and travelled the world before Cakes by Anna came along. Tom did a Bachelor of Performing Arts in musical theatre. Anna says travelling definitely helped grow her love of food but she never thought she would end up as a full time baker.

“But I guess looking back it’s not surprising that I ended up creating a business that is creative and hands-on. I’m so happy to work in the food industry – it’s brought me a lot of happiness to meet and surround myself with people who love to make and eat food.”

She also spent lots of time in food markets abroad and on her return to Christchurch, Anna noticed a gap in the market for good cakes with a focus on seasonal ingredients. So she started making and selling cakes.

That was 10 years ago, and her little market stall is now a hugely popular business with a reputation all around New Zealand.

Tom has always loved to cook, but first dabbled in cooking for paying customers with a little home delivery business some years ago, called Meatball Monday.

“I home-delivered spaghetti and meatball meals on Mondays. I didn’t want to make meatballs forever but it made me realise I was a good cook,” he says.

The pair spend time together socially and they also collaborate in their work. Anna bakes cakes for customers full time but her only wholesale client is Tom’s café.

Her cakes have the feeling of something your clever grandma would make, but a little more refined. The cakes are in demand to the point where one of Anna’s biggest challenges is finding the right balance in life and work. Aside from a bit of help with delivery, she’s a one-woman business and does everything on her own. She loves being her own boss and that she can create the shape of her own week.

“I love that in summer I can leave work at midday and head to the beach. I love the creative aspect of what I do – developing recipes and coming up with fun ways to garnish the cakes. My interest in food has led to a huge passion for gardening, so I grow lots of flowers and herbs for the cakes, and have also planted a number of fruit trees.”

At Cakes by Anna, you’ll find flavours such as apple date caramel, chocolate olive oil and tamarillo, or a banging basque cheesecake. Tom says he admires the way she has kept her business so honest and of the highest quality while making sure she sets aside time to do nice things for herself.

“Anna is a really good person who makes cakes that are delicious and unique, and I think that’s what has made her business so successful.”

Tom opened his café only last year. It’s a small but beautifully designed space where the offerings are as simple as they are delicious. His five daily sammies are fresh and flavourful, with combinations such as peanut butter, pickled celery, sprouts, mayo and Kaitaia Fire hot sauce or ham, Swiss cheese, iceberg, gherkins, mustard and mayo.

You’ll always find a Cakes by Anna offering as well as an old-school homemade pink bun filled with raspberry jam. There are delightful daily scones too – like cheese and jalapeño. Tom said he wanted to sell only a few things but make them delicious. And he serves some mighty fine coffee (Prima Roastery) to go with them too.

Tom has already built a solid regular customer base but also welcomes many pop-ins including out-of-towners who have heard about the café via social media and word of mouth. Anna is one of his biggest fans and supporters.

“Tom won’t tell you this but part of the reason he’s successful is because of his reputation and who he is as a person, people just want to support him.”

It’s clear to see what a great relationship the siblings have and Anna says they’ve always been very close. Tom says they are, in fact, best friends.

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Photo: Mark Townshend

“Anna has helped me through a lot of growing up stuff. Our catch-ups these days involve a bowl of fries, a bottle of chardonnay and lots of laughing and eye rolling. Even though our work is tiring, we party very well.”

Anna says they share similar interests and have similar personalities and senses of humour.

“Which I think has led to us enjoying each other’s company and also sharing the same group of friends. We’re lucky to come from a big family and we are all very close – I think a friendship between siblings is very special and I’m lucky to have four of them!”

They also greatly admire each other’s success. Tom says his sister is fun, hardworking and generous. “It always amazes me how even during the madness of a big cake week, she still finds time for her friends or adds a couple of extra cakes to her list for someone needing a cheer-up.”

Fun is also a word that Anna uses to describe her brother. “And he’s kind with a great sense of humour. He has a calming presence and is very patient – a couple of traits that I lack.”

Both the Worthingtons are regular users of social media to promote their business but completely shy away from the term influencers. Each of their Instagram accounts are authentic little snippets of what they are making and doing, which is probably why they are also accounts with a big impact.

They understand the importance of social media from a marketing perspective, but Anna says her relationship with it is more love/hate. Tom enjoys posting and promoting his café and his cooking.

“And Anna’s always giving me shouts on her Instagram, which is really nice because she has a big following.”

The pair often have get-togethers with friends that revolve around cooking and good food and wine and, while they prefer eating in homes to eating out, they have a few favourite Christchurch spots, which include Londo, Gatherings, Smash Palace, Pomeroy’s, Salut! Salut! and Kinji.

Anna says she prefers to support owner-operator businesses and thinks Christchurch could do with a lot more of these in the food scene. A food scene that is lucky to have the Worthingtons working within it.

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