SINGAPORE — While still holding a corporate job, a home baker worked “24 hour shifts”, baking on the side until she one day decided to turn her passion into a full-time enterprise.
Ariel Tang, a homegrown baker, opened The Fat Kid Bakery at Flora Vista in Ang Mo Kio two years ago selling pastries, eclairs, brownies and her signature bomboloni, an Italian pastry similar to doughnuts.
Now the 26-year-old is looking to expand the shop, and with the end of the lease in sight, Tang is looking for a place with possible seating space.
She told Yahoo Finance Singapore about her decision to start her own business at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges she faced.
Tang started baking at 14, when her friend invited her home to bake “for fun”. Tang remembers that her first product was a New York cheesecake that turned out “okay”.
But that was the pivotal moment that launched Tang’s career.
Hooked onto baking, Tang bought a hand mixer and began baking recipes she saw online, watching videos to teach herself. She soon began selling small bakes such as cupcakes and brownies on the side to friends during Chinese New Year and Christmas. Brownies are one of her bestselling products, and she hasn't changed the recipe since she began.
While Tang’s career has always been related to food, she wasn’t always a business owner. After graduating from culinary science in polytechnic, she took a two-year break to work at various kitchens and bakeries before studying media communications.
Her first job upon graduation was in public relations in a food-and-beverage business for about a year. She was still in the role when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Bambinos? It’s bomboloni
Even though she was still in her public relations job during the pandemic, Tang began baking sourdough bomboloni (or bombos for short) on the side as she had “a lot more free time” during the partial lockdown in April 2020.
Bomboloni are an Italian pastry similar to doughnuts with a stuffed filling. Tang’s bombos come in both sweet and savoury flavours and are sold in boxes of four, eight, 10 or 12. A relatively unknown pastry then, Tang would have customers calling the bakery to mistakenly ask for “bambinos”, which actually refers to babies or young children in Italian.
While Tang initially baked the doughnut for fun, things changed after a friend caught wind of it and urged her to sell them.
“I thought okay no one is really doing this yet, so I thought why not? That’s how it started. I gave it to a bunch of my friends and they ate and posted online, and I had customers starting to (directly message) us asking for it,” said Tang.
“It was intense,” Tang said, recalling with a chuckle how she had to get up early just to fry the doughnuts before work.
“I took (leave) and sent my own deliveries so it was like a 24-hour shift everyday,” said Tang, who was running a one-man bakery back then.
When Tang quit her job at the PR company in July 2020 due to some issues at work, she decided to focus on the impromptu bakery. By then, she had been rolling out of bed at 5am just to fulfil her orders. Her early hours were also in part due to her lack of equipment, which meant she could only prepare her bombos in small batches.
With just a single refrigerator and a pot that could fry up to three bombos at the same time, she managed to make up to 60 bombos in a day, frying for hours on an end. The afternoon would be mostly spent delivering the bombos.
Once the deliveries were done, Tang had to prep her dough and cream for the next batch of bombos. She worked until 10pm where she would stop for a break. But while her dough rested for six hours, Tang had even less rest. She had to get up at 2am to put her dough into the fridge before returning to bed. At 5am, she got up to repeat the cycle.
While Tang could still cope with the orders, the breaking point came when the bombos were unexpectedly featured in The Straits Times newspaper.
Overnight, Tang’s orders “blew up”.
“I slept and the next day when I woke up, my Instagram showed I had 500 unread messages. I got the shock of my life,” Tang quipped. Her father soon pushed her to rent a space for her business.
The Fat Kid Bakery moved to Flora Vista in January 2021, where it remains to date. She invested S$150,000 — mostly funds from her extended family — to rent a space at Flora Vista, excluding equipment. She also draws a low- to mid-four digit range salary.
While she now gets regular stream of customers buying her bombos, higher prices of ingredients such as flour, butter and oil have presented challenges to Tang, who had no choice but to increase the prices of her pastries in May.
But Tang is in it for the long haul. Even if The Fat Kid Bakery does not work out, Tang does not see her life any other way — she will still be in the kitchen doing what she enjoys the most for a living.
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