A Co Down schoolgirl has found the recipe for success after she began baking wheaten loaves during lockdown.
Eleven-year-old Zara Burney Keatings, from Moira, has seen her home-based business Use Your Loaf grow from a few batches of bread for families and friends to several hundred to meet demands of repeat customers.
Having watched both her grandmothers bake from an early age, she and her younger sister Savannah picked up a few tips and developed an interest in making cakes and buns. So when Zara asked her parents for a new mobile phone and was told she could have one if she came up with a plan to pay for it, she decided to put her bakery skills to good use.
Now the phone plays a key role in her business, as she regularly takes orders from her flourishing customer base.
Zara, who heads to Lurgan Junior High School this month, says: "My papa hadn't been well last year and I wanted to make him something nice so I baked him a few wheaten loaves.
"It turned out really well so when mum said I could get a new phone for going to school, if I could pay for it, I thought it would be a good idea to bake more bread and sell it.
"Both my nannies Doreen Burney and Joan Keatings are great bakers so maybe it runs in the family, and my mum certainly has a lot of energy and drive so I think that is where I get that from. I used to help my nannies bake and make nice desserts so I knew what to do and of course, mum kept an eye on me.
"To begin with I sold the wheaten bread to family and friends but then word got around and people started ordering it. I now have regular customers who phone me up with repeat orders. I never expected it to take off the way it has."
Using a 'secret' recipe featuring locally sourced buttermilk and flour, Zara, whose mum Joan is chief executive of the charity Cinemagic, has baked over 300 wheaten loaves over the last five to six weeks and the orders are still coming in. Each morning she rises at 7.30am, lays out her ingredients, washes her hands and starts baking in the family kitchen.
When the loaves are ready, she covers them up and leaves them out to cool, before heading off to an athletics club at her school, where she volunteers. When that work is done, she returns home to the bread and packages them up for delivery.
"Growing up, our house has always been super busy with family and people calling and my mum organising lots of events and films, so I am used to being around a lot of organising, planning and helping in the kitchen," Zara explains.
"Each day our house runs like a schedule, as there's always so much going on. I knew I needed to be up early every morning to start on the loaves; to get them all baked before heading out to athletics in school. Then when I get home, the bread is cooled and ready to be delivered."
Zara's growing business is very much a family affair, with all hands now on board. Her dad Johnny is an accountant so has helped her to set up spreadsheets and manage her orders while grandfathers Ronald Burney and Roy Keatings are both involved with the delivery side of the company. And her aunt Ashleigh has assisted by sourcing the stickers, bearing the business's brand name.
While the canny young baker won't reveal her turnover, she admits she's made enough money to pay for the new mobile phone.
"I'm really pleased with the bread," she reveals. "It tastes really nice and soft and all the customers are happy with it.
"I think I'd like to be a teacher when I'm older, but I do enjoy baking so potentially I could be a baker. I love having my own business but it can be hard work too. As long as the customers keep placing orders, I'll keep baking the bread."
Mum Joan said she was proud of Zara's business acumen and that it was teaching her and her younger sister about the importance of work ethic.
"When Zara asked about having a mobile phone I told her she could, as long as she was able to earn money to pay for it," she recalls. "It's just as well we got her the phone because she's on it a lot, texting her customers and taking orders from them.
"It's great to see her so passionate about her business and she's definitely learning plenty, like what products are better value, how to save and how to negotiate with customers.
"The wheaten bread is an old family recipe which Zara has perfected down to a fine art. She's even talking about starting up a Click and Collect service when she starts her new school later this month."
Having helped mum plan the world premieres of Cinemagic's two feature films, A Christmas Star and Grace and Golaith, Zara has been able to use her organisational skills as well.
Joan adds: "My mum was one of 14 children and has always been an amazing baker.
"It's lovely to see that skill passed down to the girls, but the whole venture has taught them both so much more. It's taught them that when you set your mind to something and work hard for it, it really can pay off."