Happiness is doing what puts a smile on your face, and what puts a smile on Chong Kwang Jun’s face is baking cakes. He tells KELLY TEY he has no regrets leaving jobs in the insurance, banking and restaurant lines to start his own online bakery business.
WHEN it comes to making dreams come true, you could say Chong Kwang Jun takes the cake.
Career-wise, the 29-year-old has been a Jack of a few trades, including banking, insurance and F&B. But it was baking that he always wanted to master.
Chong says he had wanted to run his own bakery ever since he tried his first slice of cheese cake 16 years ago. Today, he is the owner of Crepes 21 and Junandus, two bake shops that sell mille crepe cakes and conventional cakes respectively online.
Dreams do come true, but not without blood, sweat and tears.
Chong had to overcome parental disapproval in following his dream. His father, for one, wanted him to pursue his studies and land a practical job.
“He discouraged me from entering the kitchen when I was younger. This despite him being a hotel chef. But when I was about 15, I baked my first cake while my parents weren’t around.
“The more they tried to stop me, the more I wanted to do it,” he reveals.
Denied permission to study the culinary arts, Chong went on to study banking as his parents’ wished. After graduation, he worked in the insurance line, then jumped into banking.
“The stability of the hours during my stint with the bank really gave me time to study my own business plans,” Chong remembers.
When he was offered a job in the food-and-beverage business, Chong quit his bank job without a second thought. But he had to start from the bottom — cleaning tables, toasting bread and waiting on customers.
“Despite it not being what I had in mind, I learned,” he says.
Slowly, Chong climbed up the ladder, going on to become storefront supervisor, then operations manager, until he was directly reporting to the boss.
“When the business was sold to another entity, I had to decide if I wanted to be employed or to be self-employed,” he recalls.
“Knowing I could survive 18 months with my savings, I drew up a thick business proposal and started approaching contacts to back my bakery café idea,” he says. But Chong could not rustle up enough funds.
“My plan B was to operate a food truck, but due to technical and regulatory difficulties, I was stuck again.”
For months, he was left in an idle state, until his older sister’s birthday came up.
“My sister wanted mille crepe cake for her birthday, and we were going to get one at the shop when the car engine stalled. My younger sister then suggested that we bake it ourselves,” he recalls.
“We got the recipe from our dad, and the end result was a cake that won everyone over,” Chong reveals.
After some studying, he found it feasible to bake and sell online.
“Two years back, there weren’t that many online cake shops in the market, and this was a hint that the e-commerce platform may just work. I took nine months to figure out various mille crepe cake recipes and how to manage orders online. Crepes 21 was born in August 2013,” he says.
In the beginning, most of the orders came from friends and family, and he made about one or two cakes a day.
“Word-of-mouth worked too, and the orders that followed were due to recommendations,” he states.
While his baking skills were self-taught and more than sufficed, Chong attended seminars to learn marketing skills. He did all the deliveries on his own too.
Meanwhile, the orders started to increase. He found himself baking first two cakes, then four, then more. Soon his mother started to help out.
“My business started from home, the dining table was my working table. The oven that kick-started my business was 20 years old,” Chong notes.
But Chong knew it was time to move to bigger premises.
“I wanted to do more than just 10 cakes a day, and the fridge at home just wasn’t going to cut it.”
A year later, he moved his kitchen to a commercial lot in Cheras.
“All the profits I made were invested back into the business. I just took things one step at a time,” he says.
Currently, Chong runs a small ship with a crew of eight, including his parents. By end of 2014, Chong’s delivery business has expanded beyond the Klang Valley to Penang and Johor. Its two-day advance order for delivery became next-day delivery.
“Since October, we have been able to do same day deliveries, if orders are made before 12pm,” he discloses.
The business also supplies to various cafes and restaurants.
The name Crepes 21 came from the fact that Chong’s mille crepe cake recipe consists of 21 layers. Madagascar Vanilla and Chocolate Belgian are some of the crowd favourites. But with more artisanal cake shops and online stores cropping, Chong knew that mille crepe cakes alone were never going to be enough, so he created Junandus.
Junandus’ main focus is on such favourites as New York Cheesecake, red velvet and tiramisu, as well as cookies and premium chocolates.
Right now, Chong is eyeing Singapore as a market, but he’s also thinking of a brick-and-mortar presence.
Although he is, more and more, involved in the management side of business, Chong still helps out in the kitchen.
“I go back to baking once in a while because baking helps me to think. It’s when I have time to think of solutions,” he smiles.
Chong makes sure to go into the kitchen every day at 6am to prepare the “secret” ingredients, mainly batters and creams. His is a 12 hours workday.
“It’s my own business, I don’t rest!” he shrugs.