Interview: Bake To Play
November 27, 2017
By Aiman Azri
How do you build a dessert empire? By baking one cake at a time. What began as a small, home-based business called Bisque in 2013 has now expanded into Bake To Play, a multi-brand enterprise for carefully curated desserts.
Juliana Omar, the original founder of Bisque and current managing director of Bake To Play, speaks with Eat Drink KL (joined by Bake To Play's Marketing Manager Akila Sharif) about the evolution of her family-run labour of love.
Akila (left) and Juliana (right) at the entrance to their office.
How did you get started with baking and Bisque four years ago?
Juliana: I was working at Media Prima and I started baking for family occasions at any potluck. There are six of us in the family. There are always birthdays and Mother's Day and a lot of celebrations. So sometimes Hakim (my brother) would make a banoffee pie. But at times, I would choose to do dessert. So I started from there, and then I started baking at home while juggling work.
When Raya came, I started making desserts for Raya and people liked them. Eventually I started looking into pricing, costing, and markets, and that's how I slowly grew. It started with word of mouth, then I set up social media platforms for Bisque.
Hakim Omar is the Director of Bake to Play and is Juliana's brother.
Why Bisque? What's in the name?
Juliana: Bisque is a colour. I knew bisque was a seafood soup. But the colour itself is very much a baking colour. Almond, vanilla, milky colour. It is very rare, while lot of colours are very common.
Initially, I did the recipes, I did the baking, I did the product itself, while Hakim was the one who decided on e-commerce, on how to expand, with his wife, Davina, who is part of the team as well, assisting on the day-to-day administrative work.
On the left is Davina Gomes, Operations Manager. To the right is Hana Noordin, Head of Pastry.
Did you have any formal dessert training at this point?
Juliana: No. I graduated in business and marketing. My first job was all events, marketing, sales-related. But my mom would always bake when we were younger â€“ so she gave me the basics. I'd try, test, give it back to my family to try, and back and forth.
We also tried out other cake shops for comparison. Hakim and I love to eat. We love our desserts.
Before quitting my job for Bisque, I was quite scared. Should I, should I not? But I had enough savings.
Initially, I would ask customers to pick up their cakes. Because it was difficult â€“ trying to bake, reply to enquiries, and then handle the delivery - it was quite difficult to juggle. When the website was set up, it was more proper. Hakim or Davina would do delivery while I baked.
Eventually you even started Bisque CafÃ© in Damansara Perdana.
Juliana: The cafe was just a small portion in the business. It started in May 2015. By having a cafÃ©, we could sell our cakes in smaller sizes so people could buy them and try them out. In a way, it's sampling before they order online. At the same time, we added hot food as well to have some variety.
In the first year, the cafe was very strong with social media followers. But of course, you don't go to places like this every week or every day right? Our location and parking problems during the weekdays also affected us. We closed in September last year when we saw that our crowd was reduced, and we were about to get a big contract for supply. Our ideal location to reopen would be in a high-traffic shopping mall.
Why did you introduce two additional brands, Poppy and Wildcard?
Juliana: Bisque is purely naked cakes and other desserts, while Poppy is B2B (business to business, supplying cakes to cafes) and Wildcard is fully customisable desserts, for events, weddings, parties, with cakes, cookies or even a dessert table.
There are cafes that don't have the manpower to bake cakes, so they tend to take outsourced ones. That's how Poppy came about. We've supplied to Second Cup in Sunway Putra Mall, Quartet, Wood & Steel, Trust Issue in Cheras, Kopi XOXO, a lot of independent cafes. Costs and ingredients are different - Bisque uses a different brand of cheese, and Poppy uses a different brand of cheese.
And all these brands - Bisque, Poppy and Wildcard - now come under Bake to Play.
Akila: We decided to have one main company that represents everything. We changed (our social media accounts) to Bake to Play, so everything is under one account for now. We want people to understand that Bake to Play has a few brands now, all with different objectives.
In other words: Bisque is for customers to order the brand's signature cakes and desserts. Wildcard is for custom cake orders. Poppy offers cakes to establishments for them to resell. Finally, Bake to Play was conceived to house the different brands collectively.
Your current team completely comprises women, except for Hakim and another guy. Does that have an impact on the working environment?
Juliana: I'm actually used to it. When I was in Blu Inc, my first job, it was nearly all female.
Akila: To me, it's the same as working with all men, but it's more comfortable. So that's one of the pros. You can be more open and you can be yourself. I think that's why here we're all very close and more like friends.
Bake to Play's management team.
What ultimately gives you satisfaction from Bake To Play?
Juliana: I think the team knows that it's about giving people the nicest dessert that you can. That's why I always test our products. Even if I think that I have the best brownie, I'll still try until I confirm that we have the best. When we create something, it's always well thought out.
Akila: We want to give the customers an experience, not just a one-time thing. It's something for them to remember. We have a lot of the regulars who have been with us since 2013, 2014. For office occasions, for someone's birthday, they would still get their desserts from us.
Bake to Play
Selected photos in this feature are courtesy of Bake to Play.