Lana Cake’s Violet Kwan, 88, is retiring

Mrs Violet Kwan with her rich and moist chocolate cake.
Mrs Violet Kwan with her rich and moist chocolate cake.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Owner-baker Violet Kwan, 88, is looking for "the right person" to sell her business to

After 50 years of selling her famous chocolate cake, Mrs Violet Kwan of Lana Cake Shop wants to call it a day and is looking for a successor.

The 88-year-old mother of two says she is getting on in years and is looking to sell the business, which will include her recipes and the shop at 36 Greenwood Avenue.

Generations of Singaporeans have grown up eating her moist chocolate cake, blanketed by thick, shiny fudge. She sells about 100 cakes a day, mostly chocolate ones.

"It is too much for me, I need to take a break," she says.

However, she would like to find "the right person" to take over the business, for the sake of her long-time customers.

"It must be someone who really values the cake, who knows how to bake and is not just looking for a business opportunity," she says. "I hope he will take Lana Cake to greater heights."

She will not discuss a selling price, but her daughter Jennifer, 53, says the shop is valued at $4 million. Inquiries should be directed to violetlanacakes@gmail.com.

Mrs Kwan adds that customers who started buying cakes for their babies' one-month birthday have become loyal fans whose children and grandchildren are also customers.

The shop is closed on Sundays and Mondays, but she still bakes on the other days, working from 10.30am till 1pm and then resuming after lunch. She is sprightly and drives herself to the shop from her home nearby.

She started selling the cakes in 1964.

Her sister-in-law Lani, who was visiting from Honolulu where she lived, baked cakes she had learnt while working in a bakery there and took them to friends who had invited her to their homes.

The friends loved them and Lani hit on the idea of teaching Mrs Kwan how to make the cakes so her friends could order them after she returned to Hawaii. So Mrs Kwan learnt to make orange chiffon cake, blueberry cake and the chocolate fudge cake and sold them from her Serangoon Garden home.

Initially, the orange chiffon cake was the most popular, but the chocolate one soon became the bestseller. A small cake cost $15 when she started selling it and an 800g one, with more chocolate fudge, now costs $42.

She moved to the Hillcrest area and in 1975, opened her shop at Greenwood Avenue.

Although she expanded her cake range to include fruit, mocha, carrot and date cakes, the chocolate one is still the most popular.

"I was just a housewife when I started the business," she says. "I did not expect the cakes to become so popular."

That popularity has not dimmed. There was a steady stream of customers in the shop yesterday afternoon when The Straits Times visited.

At Christmas last year, one corporate order alone amounted to 450 cakes. She had to split delivery over several days because the cakes are still baked in small batches and frosted by hand.

Her customers are not thrilled about her wanting to give the business up.

She said: "They ask me, 'What about us?' I've told them not to worry, that I will train the person who takes over to make it as good as I do, if not better. It can be done."

Over the years, her cake has spawned a slew of copycats. She has also fielded offers to open more shops or to franchise her business.

She turned them all down. "If you have other shops, you have to get other people to make the cake and it may not be the same. You cannot control the quality," she says.

Her chocolate cake is a taste of nostalgia for many Singaporeans.

Mr Daniel Chia, 46, president of Slow Food (Singapore) and a lecturer in culinary and catering management in Temasek Polytechnic, says: "I have fond memories of enjoying Lana's chocolate cake growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"Uniquely rich and moist, it was a rare treat which sometimes appeared on special occasions. What made it 'more special' was the knowledge that you couldn't just walk into the shop and buy a cake. You had to order one in advance."

Slow Food (Singapore) named Lana Cake Shop a Heritage Hero in 2014 and last year, for contributing to the "preservation of Singapore's Food Cultural Heritage".

Lawyer Genevieve Tan-McCully, 53, adds: "It's old-fashioned comfort food."

She remembers being in the shop one year, about two weeks before Christmas. A customer walked in and asked to order a cake for Christmas.

"She was asked, 'You mean this Christmas?' They have such a good sense of humour."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2016, with the headline 'Wanted: Successor for Lana Cakes'. Print Edition | Subscribe