Health & Fitness: ‘I was one week away from death at 18, quit my job to follow my hobby and now at 21 I’ve opened my first bakery’

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A young entrepreneur from Ealing has detailed his journey from being a week away from death, taking up baking to deal with PTSD, and then opening his first bakery at just 21 years old. Benjamin Michael, from Ealing, opened Benji's Buns three weeks ago, he says that his speciality cinnamon buns are already flying off the shelves.

His journey started two weeks before his 19th birthday when, during the coronavirus pandemic, he found himself seriously ill. He was told he had Gastroparesis, a disease of the muscles of the stomach or the nerves controlling the muscles that cause the muscles to stop working. He lost six stone and, at one point, he was told by doctors that he would have to be put on a drip or he 'would not wake up next week'. The road to recovery included months of medications- mixing and matching to try and alleviate his symptoms.

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Over the period of his illness, he couldn't eat, this meant he gained a fear of eating, PTSD, and developed an eating disorder. However, hope was not lost and Benji was inspirationally able to ease these mental health problems through baking. This self-healing process, which started as a hobby, eventually led him to the opening of his bakery.

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Benjamin has opened his first store and has plans to nationalise the business © Benji's Buns Benjamin has opened his first store and has plans to nationalise the business

Explaining the start of his baking journey and the illness that led to his hobby, Benjamin said: "I got really ill during the pandemic and had digestive health problems for two years. At the time I was just surviving on biscuits, crackers and water. Over the pandemic period, I lost a ton of weight- I went from 11 stone to 7 stone.

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"My stomach muscles stopped working and after they found the right medication for me I got PTSD, mental trauma and I had a fear of eating food- an eating disorder really. During that time of my life I would have panic attacks thinking about food. Strangely, the one thing that helped me was baking cinnamon rolls.

"I never intended for it to be a business but after cooking them for staff at work (a local estate agent) they started fighting over them and saying they were 'so good'. I thought that if I can cook and conquer the fear of eating through this hobby, setting up a side hustle was just a bonus."

With encouragement from the love received from family and friends, Benjamin moved on to market stalls in Ealing and West London. This provided more encouragement as he sold out at nearly all of the markets he attended. On a random day, after months of success at markets, he decided that he would follow his love for baking and handed in his notice for the real estate job.

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Here is where the hard work really started. Benji had to upscale his business and convince investors that his cinnamon rolls could go all the way to the top. Continuing, Benji said: "In one day I packed in my job and went solo and turned my love of baking into a business. I spent months doing recipes and making sure I had the right product to pitch to investors.

"I then had to raise investment. I pitched my business to angel investors which I found by connecting with them on linkedin and put together a pitch."

Benji with MP Rupa Huq at the opening of Benji's Buns in Ealing © Benji's Buns Benji with MP Rupa Huq at the opening of Benji's Buns in Ealing

Benji wanted his buns to be vegan so that there was a market for everybody. He added: "I'm not vegan myself but I wanted a consumer-friendly product. Veganism the future is the future and I wanted a sustainable business that is accessible to as many people as possible. If I can say so myself it is a really delicious product so didn’t want to stop anyone being able to have it."

His store opened three weeks ago in Ealing Broadway after months of managing the site himself. Benji says that the cinnamon buns are already flying off of the shelves. At 21-year-old, Benji is a very young business owner, he gave advice to anyone wanting to follow their dream.

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He said: "Never give up and don’t top trying, be determined and carry on going even when things look like they aren’t going to work. I used to look in the mirror and say that 'I’m going to get this store and make it happen'. I'm living proof that if you want something you shouldn't stop trying. I'm living proof of positive manifestation working."

If you want to visit Benji's Buns you can find them at Unit 2, 11 Oak Rd, London W5 3SS.

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