After toiling 20 hours a day as a bank technology product manager by day and a baker by night during the circuit breaker, Ms Fiona Loh decided to call it quits.
She sent in her resignation letter and expanded her Instagram-famous, home-based bakery Whiskdom into a store in Alexandra Road in November last year.
The 28-year-old self-taught baker started taking orders from friends for her bake boxes, a mix of molten brownies and levain-style cookies, in 2019.
Demand for her boxes took flight after Chinese New Year last year and peaked when the pandemic hit. During the circuit breaker, the 100 boxes she put out each week, priced at $42 for a mix of six baked items, were snapped up within a minute.
The decision to pursue this venture tormented her. "I went to Google and searched what people regret before they die," she says. "The regrets were mostly about not chasing their dreams. Nobody says he or she regrets not getting a promotion or not becoming a high-flyer."
It became a family affair when she roped in her 62-year-old father Jackie Loh, a retired service engineer. He first chipped in to deliver the baked goods during the circuit breaker. Now, he helps prepare the brownies' ingredients and batter.
Soon, the 25kg bags of flour and other ingredients took over the kitchen of the family's four-room Housing Board flat in Queenstown, convincing her she needed a bigger commercial kitchen. "A home should be a place of comfort, not a place of business," says Ms Loh.
To open her 620 sq ft shop in Queenstown, she tapped her savings and cut costs by buying second-hand equipment from food-and-beverage outlets that were closing due to the pandemic.
Since going commercial, she has been able to churn out 2,400 baked goods a week, four times the number she could manage at home. She is also able to handle larger corporate and wedding orders, and sales have also doubled.
Moreover, she has expanded her menu, rolling out 16 flavours a week. She is exploring eggless options and looking into introducing blondies - brownies without the cocoa.
She also started shipping her bakes worldwide. She gets at least 50 overseas orders every month from places such as the United States, Australia and Hong Kong.
It is her dream to deliver a taste of home to those unable to return, as the pandemic drags on. She says: "To know that something we have created helped put a smile on somebody's face - even if it's just for a moment - is a magical feeling."
WHERE: 03-16 Alexandra Central Mall, 321 Alexandra Road
OPEN: 10am to 6pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), 10am to 2pm (Sundays); closed on Mondays
Puffs And Peaks: Artisanal doughnuts by mother-daughter team
A mother-daughter duo are behind hole-in-the-wall bakery cafe Puffs And Peaks, which opened in Tampines last November.
Its bestsellers are brioche doughnuts stuffed with fillings like hojicha and taro coconut-flavoured custard cream, which start at $3.80 each. It has other artisanal bakes such as tea cakes, cookies and bread loaves, which cost upwards of $3.70 a piece.
The bakery is the brainchild of 24-year-old Ong Jing Ting, who has a degree in business administration in food business management from Culinary School of America, and her mother Linda Sng, 57, a former operational director in a manufacturing company.
Puffs And Peaks started out as Ms Ong's Instagram handle six years ago to document her baking projects.
Three years ago, she went to Australia for a year to do a culinary internship at the Three Blue Ducks restaurant in Byron Bay, then begged her way to a six-month internship at Melbourne's Tivoli Road Bakery, where she picked up how to make most of the bakes she now serves.
Her mother, Madam Sng, had always wanted to start her own bakery, but had shelved that dream for her corporate career.
Then, in 2018, she was retrenched. With more free time on her hands, she found she enjoyed whipping up ang ku kueh, sausage rolls and banana cakes.
When Ms Ong returned to Singapore in mid-2019, the two joined hands to launch a home-based food business selling artisanal bakes.
Space constraints at their Pasir Ris apartment and a need for more professional equipment prompted them to search for a retail space last January.
But their plans were stymied by the circuit breaker, which forced them to go back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, they continued baking and selling their coveted doughnuts, with each batch snapped up within half an hour of being posted online.
"During the circuit breaker, we got to know our market better," Ms Ong says. As the pandemic raged on, the extra time they had to conceptualise their brick-and-mortar business proved to be a "blessing in disguise".
They decided to bring in coffee to complement their doughnuts. "You need something that is not too sweet to balance out the meal. It completes the meal," says Ms Ong, who also learnt how to brew coffee.
Five months since opening, the bakery sells out everything by about 4pm every day.
For Ms Ong, working for 12 hours, six days a week, turning out an expanded menu that now includes quiches and sourdough bread, is taxing. "But the experience of interacting with staff and customers, to meet them in person, is very valuable to me. I have no regrets about this move."
WHERE: 03-03 Tampines Central Community Complex, 866A Tampines Street 83
OPEN: 10.30am to 5pm or until sold out, Thursdays to Sundays; closed Mondays to Wednesdays
Rachelrax Cakes: A galaxy of baking
Along Lim Tua Tow Road, home-based business turned brick-and-mortar store Rachelrax Cakes stands out with its salmon-pink facade.
Self-taught baker Rachel Ng, 27, designed and opened it in January this year as a showcase for her signature galaxy-domed cakes and boba tarts.
Ms Ng, who has a degree in interior design from Singapore Institute of Technology, has been fond of handcrafting since she was young.
Baking served as an outlet for her creative energies. It became a side hustle for the interior designer when the galaxy cake fad took off in 2016.
Orders started streaming in and spiked during the circuit breaker. Out of the kitchen of her family's four-room HDB flat in Sengkang, she baked about 800 tarts a week.
In May last year, she decided it was time to pursue her long-time dream of setting up her own shop.
After months of searching for the right place, delayed by one landlord who backed out, she finally signed the lease in September.
Due to electrical power supply issues, she was set back by another three months.
Overall, the renovation, equipment and miscellaneous costs for the 1,000 sq ft store amounted to almost $100,000, she estimates.
"Once I accepted that I needed to invest more than what I had initially budgeted, I stopped counting," she says.
"If I really want to go into business, I should just go all the way and make sure I work hard enough to earn a profit."
Two months into business, she now churns out about 2,000 tarts a week.
Her bestseller is the lychee rose tart - a rose-flavoured panna cotta tart topped with lychee boba - which costs $8.50. Her galaxy cakes cost $8.70 a slice.
A constant challenge is anticipating customer demand. Previously, at home, she had baked on demand. Now, she has to make careful calculations to avoid wastage. "It's always that struggle of whether we have enough or not," she says.
Currently, her store is solely for self-collection and takeaways. But, to complement her popular boba tarts, she hopes to offer boba tea soon and expand into a cafe one day.
WHERE: 12 Lim Tua Tow Road
OPEN: Noon to 8pm, Thursdays to Sundays; closed Mondays to Wednesdays