During the pandemic, violin teacher Melissa Yeo discovered a new passion as she learned to adapt to the difficult days of lockdowns and restrictions. Moving from violins to ovens, Melissa now enjoys being surrounded by the aroma of her pastries, although she admitted that she hardly had any time for herself nowadays.
Making life sweet one bite at a time
When she isn’t giving out private violin lessons, Melissa Yeo can be found in the kitchen, busy baking orders from her menu. And when she was not doing either, she would be experimenting, creating recipes for her next best release.
The aspiring baker and violin teacher had never thought that the pandemic would shift her career, allowing her to discover new passions. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Melissa now finds herself baking 50 to 300 orders daily.
Despite the success of Cakes and Dough, Melissa conceded that building her home bakery business from scratch was never an easy task. “I injured my Achilles’ tendon from standing too long while baking. Thankfully, I am fine now. I just needed to rest more during the recovery period.” Nonetheless, the injury does not stop the 24-year-old as she continues her life in the kitchen.
The rise of Cakes and Dough
Cakes and Dough was a product of the pandemic. Melissa shared her inspiration for her first product, bagels, which she ate while studying in the United States. “When I did my studies there, I loved eating their bagels. So when I returned, I tried to recreate bagels because I missed them.”
Melissa was also inspired by her mother’s love for baking. “My mother loved baking. She would often bake cakes for us when we were young. When I was in the US, I started baking too. I would bake chocolate chip cookies because the ones in the US were too sweet for my liking.”
However, when she started Cakes and Dough, Melissa encountered hurdles. “Since I don’t have much baking experience, I made multiple mistakes and wasted a lot of money. Once, I was baking one of my products and I messed up the recipe. I had to redo it.” Melissa claimed that she had squandered hundreds of ringgit due to a blunder she made on order day.
“Baking is fun. But you need to understand what you are doing. When you bake one batch of baked goods, it may turn out just fine. However, when you start making it in volumes, something is bound to happen. It is not easy,” the baker said.
Hence, Melissa always tries to collect feedback from her customers. “This is to make sure that the quality is maintained. To me, that is the most important. If you have quality products, everything will be good.” This was also the reason why Melissa only uses premium ingredients when baking. “I believe that when you use premium ingredients, your products will have premium taste. So the quality of the ingredients totally makes a difference.”
As her business expands, Melissa continues to release newer products. Having observed the food trends in Kuching, she realised that the market is usually enticed by something unique. “I noticed Cakes and Dough received many orders after I released my Sweet Potato Cranberry Cream Cheese bun. The feedback was good. It was then that I saw the pattern of the locals — they like something that is rare, something that is not easily found in the market,” she disclosed.
To create new recipes, Cakes and Dough regularly undergoes a research and development period. “I would do tonnes of research and create new recipes of my own. During the trial and error period, I would usually give the products to my family, to see their reaction.”
Once she manages a perfect recipe, Melissa does not stop there. “I would take up to two weeks, three to four times, to perfect the recipe before introducing it to customers. It depends on the product, but practicing means that my family would get tired of eating the same thing over the weeks!”
On the days of her orders, Melissa would wake up as early as 4am to bake. Due to the early hours of baking and juggling between violin lessons, Melissa could only take orders two to three times a week.
Asked whether the business had taken a toll on her weight, Melissa gave a resounding nod. “Of course I gained weight! I have to try what I bake. Don’t forget about the fillings I use in my products! All the cream that I had to taste during the process — all of these made me gain a few kilogrammes ever since I started. “
When times get tough
“Since I started the business, I can say that I don’t get any proper rest days. I don’t even have time to entertain myself,” she said. Since hurting her Achilles’ tendon, Melissa had to seek help from her siblings. However, there are times when it challenges her managing skills in the kitchen. “When you bake, it will be like auto-pilot. You will know what the next step is. But having more people in the kitchen, I have to learn how to manage the tasks.”
There were times she admitted that she wanted to throw in the towel. “When I get bad feedback, I feel sad and will often blame myself for it. It demotivates me, and makes me feel like giving up, but I didn’t.”
To her, everything is a learning process, and there is still much to learn. “I can’t give up just because of one bad comment. But of course, I took the feedback into account and tried to improve.“
In the future, once the pandemic is over, Melissa hopes to be able to establish a physical bakery. “Despite that, I would continue teaching violin as it is my main passion. I love both the violin and baking, so I don’t see why I should stop either.”