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Keep Lana Cake artisanal

For as long as I can remember, I have celebrated my birthday with a moist and glossy chocolate fudge cake from Lana Cake Shop in Bukit Timah.

Last week, I blew out the candles on this same cake yet again, for the 34th and, perhaps, the final time.

I was distraught when I read last week that Mrs Violet Kwan, the cake shop's 88-year-old owner, is calling it a day and that her business is up for sale.

Will the cakes be the same when the shop is bought over?

Will they still have the same soft taste of nostalgia?

What will the new owners do to her Greenwood Avenue shop?

Mrs Kwan's shop is simple.

Old mosaic floors, a large sturdy wooden table, a few chairs and an old cupboard. Orders are still recorded with a pen and scribbled into a book.

All this is part of its beauty and charm.

It is with her cake that many of my most beloved memories were made. In 2014, I ordered 25kg of the fudge cake for my wedding dinner. It took months of persuasion before Mrs Kwan agreed to bake the cake because she was not convinced that the extra large, mahjong table- sized cake I wanted could be fudged on site or properly refrigerated, which would then affect the quality of the cake and, eventually, her reputation.

For her, it is perfection or nothing at all.

So I ended up ordering five individual 5kg cakes instead. She also made a concession and created a two-tier cake for me, for which I am eternally grateful.

I remember how warm and special she made me feel when she embraced and congratulated me when I was settling my order at her shop.

It was then that she told me she had been making her chocolate cake since 1964 and that she is glad it still continues to bring joy to people.

Her famous chocolate cake has taken centrestage at the tables of many birthday parties and celebratory events, filling the tummies of thousands of Singaporeans. It has spawned numerous copycats too.

Her cakes take many Singaporeans back to a time when photographs were captured on film and eating cake at a party was the highlight.

Lana Cake isn't a chain and Mrs Kwan is its embodiment.

Sometimes, she emerges from her kitchen with a dusting of flour on her face or bits of cake mixture in her hair, but this adds to the homespun appeal of the shop. She has turned down many opportunities for expansion over the years, preferring to stick to her single shop where she can keep track of and continue to make her cakes.

And because of that, her cakes have remained consistently good.

I understand that she needs to take a step back now that she is getting on in years.

Indeed, it is only natural that she wants her legendary cakes to live on, but will there be someone who can inject as much dedication, love and soul as Mrs Kwan when it comes to making them and keeping the brand alive? I'm not so sure.

Even if the texture and consistency of her cakes remain, commercialisation of Lana Cake could change the spirit of the business.

Take, for example, Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint in an old shophouse in Upper Paya Lebar Road, which was sold for $4 million to electronics conglomerate Aztech Group in 2014. It now has a central kitchen and has opened a more upmarket restaurant at Suntec City.

Yes, businesses expand and must change to keep pace with the times in this cut-throat world but, for me, to keep Lana Cake authentic is to keep it the way it is and the way it has always been: artisanal, made in small batches and frosted by hand.

Perhaps Lana chocolate cakes are so coveted because they are not widely available.

Change the dynamics of this scarce commodity and you risk reducing the desirability of the cake in the long run. That emotional appeal of exclusivity of the cake may well disappear.

It pains me to say this, but unless the new owners keep Lana Cake artisanal, I would rather see the shop close with grace and dignity.

Lest our memories go mouldy.

For me and for many, Lana Cake is a legacy and Mrs Kwan a legend.


• Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan


• Share your views on the sale of Lana Cake Shop. Write to stlife@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Keep Lana Cake artisanal'. Print Edition | Subscribe