INTERVIEW: Home-based baker, Joy Cheok of J.Laperriere — “We, the owners are the heart of our business—not our products nor our baking processes.”

Lifestyle Contributor
(PHOTO: Joy Cheok)

SINGAPORE – Chancing upon the profile of Joy Cheok of bespoke bakery J.Laperriere could only be described as a stroke of luck, primarily because there exists but a tiny percentage of home-based bakers who specialise in bakes and cakes that are keto-friendly. Joy’s culinary ketogenic journey was born out of a need to develop dessert alternatives to satisfy her own cravings for guilt-free desserts. What started as casual sharing on her personal Instagram page, has now morphed into a part-time endeavour that she finds increasingly challenging to maintain as a passion project. 

Serving such a specialised demographic of consumers meant that any disruption to the business will have a huge and noticeable impact on diners who depend on individuals like Joy to satiate sweet cravings and at the same time, cater to the diet lifestyle they’re on. I wanted to find out how the recent circuit breaker measures have affected the daily lives of the customers she serves. I also set out to better understand how her way of running the business since its inception in 2019 has, in some ways, cushioned the blows current regulations have imposed on HBB bakers such as herself.

What do Singaporeans misunderstand most about home-based businesses such as yourself?  

When compared to a regular bakery, while it has its perks, a home-bakery faces similar challenges to that of a brick and mortar store. In fact, we might have it at least ten times worse. We're a one-man-show wearing multiple hats—from managing customer queries, tracking orders at the backend, baking, arranging delivery schedules, handling marketing, taking food photography, copywriting, creating recipes, keeping track of inventory, and funds management. 

The most challenging would be time management. Our schedule mustn't coincide with other aspects of the business like self-collection and deliveries—an area commonly undermined by some customers who overlooked the importance of an appointed collection time.  

What do you remember of your initial reaction when you received official news from the government that all HBB is to cease operations? 

My customers' dietary needs and order fulfilments were the first that came to mind. I was in the middle of frosting a birthday cake when a customer texted me the news. I had thought it only applied to licensed confectionaries with physical storefronts. At the back of my mind, I was especially concerned about the Keto community—what's going to happen to their daily dietary necessity like bread? 

Admittedly, there was a bit of confusion with regards to conflicting messaging between MTI and HDB. How do you think the government could have better handled the transition to this stop-work order for all HBB? 

I was a little miffed with the conflicting answers at first. But given the fluidity of the situation, I think the government did admirably in handling this COVID-19 situation. 

I did question why third-party delivery services like Food Panda and Grab food were allowed. I presume that unlike food deliveries from a store on a commercial property to the consumer, HBB like mine transact with a higher volume of goods and frequency of deliveries which could potentially risk the neighbours in the area where I live. I guess that was not a positive visual in the fight against the virus. 

Not that I don't have faith in the government, but I do wish there could be a more transparent breakdown of the guidelines in succinct point forms instead of huge chunks of text. That would have unpacked it better for all of us HBB owners.

Keto rustic bread. (PHOTO: Joy Cheok) 

What has been the most important lesson this ruling has taught you since it was announced? 

It has taught me gratefulness and due diligence. I am genuinely grateful for a group of genuinely supportive customers. They understood the current situation and were willing to put their existing orders on hold instead of asking for a refund. 

I try to exercise due diligence in all that I do—for example, by operating on a "Pre-order" basis. This allows me to order the ingredients I need monthly, thus reducing the risk of overstocking. Having a summarised list of key contacts also helps as I'm better able to communicate with suppliers both locally and overseas to place my orders on hold until further notice. 

Granted, it had an impact on my cash flow. But money is something we can earn back. Health must take precedence in these times.

What have been the most important values you've taken away from this experience that might change how you pursue your business in future? 

I have come to realise that there are no guarantees of success for a home-based business or any business for that matter. The world is in a frenzy and is going to get worse in time to come from the aftermath of COVID-19. So many lives were lost prematurely. My heart truly goes out to the remaining families dealing with loss. 

For me, it's about making the best of the time given to treasure and appreciate what we already have and to be there for our loved ones would be the best measure in a crisis like this. 

Signature keto dark chocolate cake. (PHOTO: Joy Cheok) 

Recently, the government announced a potential easing of measures on May 12th for home Based businesses. What preparations do you intend to undertake, and how have your customers reacted to this news? 

Top on my priority list is to ensure sufficient inventory in the case of any unforeseen change. I decided to give it a week's grace after May 12th before resuming the bakes. But, even before I could reconnect with my customers, some of them already beat me to it! They were happy and excited to be able to place new orders again. They were genuinely missing their treats during this time and were relieved with the news.  

What advice would you give to other HBB owners such as yourself in getting through this tough time? 

We are the heart of our business—not our products nor our baking processes. We must dig our heels in and remain calm. Only with a calm mind can we be objective. Pray, confide in our faith, a loved one, or someone we can trust. Don't withdraw to isolation. Remember where we came from, and ensure that all the hustle we've done was not for nought. Resistance grows muscles and defines the shape. I know it isn't easy but let us keep a positive mindset and trust the process.