Driven by a passion for cooking and two years of efforts and trials, Jan YU Hau-lam and Angel FUNG Chi-wai, a fresh graduate and final-year student respectively of the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Culinary Arts and Management programme of the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi), eventually set up a one-of-a-kind online patisserie together, selling nearly 100 cakes every month. The two post-90s patissiers have also enjoyed success running a pop-up shop at a Taipei hotel in the run-up to Mother’s Day, when they sold 400 cakes in two weeks.
Jan and Angel first met at an orientation camp organised by THEi, where they were brought and kept together by a strong shared interest in cooking. Jan was fond of making desserts while Angel was good at western cuisine. To further their interests and career development while inspiring happiness in others through food , they started to think about setting up their own business.
Making creative alphabet cakes
At the end of 2017, Jan and Angel started a western cooking workshop for children. However, after realising that online shops offered better opportunities for development with their easier cost control, they switched to running an online patisserie. In the early days of operation, they focused on making birthday cakes. “Every day, there are lots of people celebrating their birthday. If only a small number of them choose our cakes, the business will be lucrative”, said Jan with a smile.
While running the online shop and building the brand, both partners actively applied what they had learned from THEi. “In a brand management lesson, I learned the importance of an attractive name in successful brand building. We therefore gave our shop a special name, Jovial Patissier, which means ‘joyous pastry chef’, in the hope that our customers would feel happy after consuming our cakes,” Angel noted.
To make the image of their cake shop more distinctive, they started making “alphabet cakes”. “Using letters of the alphabet as the theme for cakes is like allowing someone to have his/her own unique birthday cake. Alphabet cakes have now become our signature and characteristic,” Angel said. To cater for customers from different age segments, Jan and Angel often design new alphabet cakes and launch special editions during festive times; for example, last winter, they launched Matcha-flavoured alphabet cakes decorated with white chocolate to create a snowy feel.
In line with the growing focus on healthy living in Hong Kong, Jan and Angel have specifically chosen soufflé cakes and Italian soft cheese cream over the more fattening sugar icing and butter cream. With colourful macarons, fruit and fresh flowers added on top as decorations, their cakes are lovely to look at and delicious. Jovial Signature, one of their signature cakes, is a particular draw for the ladies.
Operating at invitation pop-up shop in Taiwan
The duo were responsible for setting up everything big and small in the cake shop. Apart from leasing a “shared kitchen” and putting their heads together to make cakes, they create new recipes, purchase ingredients, handle financial matters, market their products and take care of customer services. They also make good use of social media to lure customers, like finding out the birthdays of key opinion leaders (KOLs) and presenting them with alphabet cakes to widen their business’s exposure. Jan noted, “As we have a limited budget for marketing, we can only work hard to woo customers through the quality of our cakes and word of mouth.” These strategies and the exquisiteness of their products have steadily driven up sales.
This May, they were elated to be invited by a hotel in Taipei to join a pop-up shop for Mother’s Day. “At the time, no Taiwanese cake shops sold alphabet cakes, so the hotel found ours creative,” Jan explained “To allow customers a taste of our cakes, we churned them out non-stop and even worked the whole night for ten days. In the end, 400 cakes in total were sold during the two-week operating period of the pop-up shop.” Angel also noted that quite a number of Taiwanese customers have approached them to buy cakes during subsequent visits to Hong Kong, affirming their well-spent efforts.
Winning a start-up competition
Now into the second year of their business, Jan and Angel feel they still have much more to learn about operating a cake shop. The internship arranged by THEi and the knowledge they learnt there have greatly helped them in this regard. “Apart from teaching culinary knowledge and skills, THEi programmes cover marketing management know-how, entrepreneurship, kitchen operations management and food cost control to help us set up our own business and develop a career,” Angel observed. Jan added that THEi arranged outbound exchanges for students from time to time to keep them abreast of catering industry developments and culinary arts in other places. Jan also joined exchanges to hotels and culinary institutes in Singapore.
To realise their start-up dream, the duo joined a THEi start-up scheme and participated in a competition it co-organised with other organisation. They won the start-up competition and were awarded seed capital as well as operational support. Looking ahead, Jan and Angel plan to continue developing their cake shop, hoping to achieve a thriving and expanded business in the future.