When pastry chef George Alexander Fernandez, 56, lost his job last October after being in the industry for 37 years, he felt quite lost.
When he told his niece, Elvina Fernandez, about being laid off, she suggested that he start an online baking business.
But he admitted that he didn’t quite know what that meant at first.
“I didn’t understand how it worked and what she meant by Facebook online sales. I only started using WhatsApp last year. But I baked some samples and one week after I lost my job, she started the (Facebook) page. She did all the cover photos and uploaded the images. And then the orders started growing, ” he says.
Within the first week, Uncle George Bakes received hundreds of orders, with some 200 for his fruitcake.
“When the orders started coming in, I was surprised and overjoyed. I was so happy to know that I could continue doing what I love," says Fernandez, who has registered the business and is a KKM-certified food handler.
The fulfillment he gets goes beyond sharing his delicious baked goods with others.
A portion of his business profits goes towards helping those in need. This includes buying a meal for someone in need, distributing groceries to underprivileged families, taking the homeless to clinics and assisting the elderly in seeking medical help.
He also looks out for those who have lost jobs during the pandemic and offers them work as a rider, cleaner or helper for his home baking needs. The kind-hearted baker also makes it a point to buy things from struggling small businesses and donate them to those in need.
Recently, he donated school uniforms to underprivileged kids and got ovens for single mothers to help them start their home business.
Before the surge in Covid-19 cases, Fernandez would rise early in the morning to prepare nasi lemak with a friend before distributing them to the homeless in various locations around Kuala Lumpur.
When the pandemic situation took a turn for the worse, he switched to buns and packet drinks instead, as the people could keep the food longer before eating.
“I have been helping those in need since my younger days. I used to take public transport to work and when I walked around, I would see so many homeless people who have no roof over their heads and who struggle for food and basic needs. Their situation makes me really sad and I always do whatever little I can to help them, ” he shares.
Perseverance and passion
Uncle George Bakes started with just a few items on the menu: fruit cake, tuna puffs, cream puffs and egg tarts.
As sales increased, Fernandez got more ovens and trays to meet the demand.
Currently his daughter, Mary Melissa, a patisserie programme graduate, is also his baking partner.
Other family members pitch in to help with other aspects of the business, like preparing the order forms, managing the Facebook page and coordinating the deliveries.
Elvina notes that it is refreshing to see her uncle tackle this new challenge with enthusiasm.
“I am very proud of him for having the courage to take up my suggestion and not sit around feeling sorry for himself. I have always had a soft spot for him for his giving nature.
"In fact, growing up watching him give back to the community instilled in me the desire to do the same. So it was rather natural for me to reach out to him and help him in a time of need. As they say, charity begins at home, ” she says.
She was convinced that a project like Uncle George Bakes would touch the hearts of the public.
“I was very sure that the online community would show him some love and be interested in supporting a business that gives back to the community.
"While I didn’t expect a huge response, I knew his good deeds would be repaid when he needed it the most.
"A lot of people want to help the needy but don’t know where to start or how to do it. So when someone like Uncle George is able to contribute, I am sure people will want to support him, ” she adds.
Besides birthday cakes, almond tarts, cheese tarts, doughnuts and numerous other items, Uncle George Bakes’ latest offerings are Chinese New Year cookies and pastries, including his signature pineapple tarts, prawn rolls and chocolate chip walnut cookies.
“This venture has been very exciting and it is a blessing for me to be able to do what I love. I am getting older so working from home keeps me safe during this pandemic. I am also less tired and can spend more time with my family. I am very grateful for this.
"My niece says I smile more now and don’t look so tired like I used to. She also says I talk and joke more with the family. I am blessed because I can do what I love from home and can continue to help those in need with my hard-earned money, ” he says.
A firm believer in giving your all in whatever you do, he stresses the importance of perseverance and passion.
“The key is to never give up. You must be passionate, practise gratitude and have a giving heart. I don’t do what I do to be rich. I do this to be able to help the needy in our community while I keep active by baking.
"Sometimes I bake extra and just give them away. But not long after that, I find more orders coming in. I think this must be due to the good wishes of those that I help, ” he muses.
In the future, Fernandez hopes to open a small cafe and serve reasonably priced bakes so everyone can try out nice pastries.
“I would like it to be a place where struggling adults, students from poor families and the homeless can eat for free. I would also like to teach baking to those who want to start their own business to support their family, ” he concludes.