The macarons from Laduree was my first love, it's hard to describe the experience and how exciting it was. - Annabella Sonwelly, co-founder of Annabella Patisserie.
Macarons have never been a prominent fixture of my dessert life, mainly because I always found their sweetness cloying.
Recently however, I've had a bit of change of mind.
It all began when I was visiting My Sister Bakes at Commerze, and I happened to come across the baking studio of Annabella Patisserie. Instantly, I recognised them as the same brand consistently making appearances at mall roadshows.
Lured by the gorgeous colours, adorable designs, and mildly sweet aroma, I decided to find out more about the mysterious Annabella behind the brand.
FROM BANKER TO BAKER
Her love story with macarons began in 2008 at Laduree, Paris, Annabella Sonwelly shares.
The exquisite flavours enchanted her so much that Annabella took trips to over 50 brands across Japan and Paris to try them, and began trial and errors to make her own - a process that required over 100 tries and 5 years of her time.
By 2014, she had found her recipe.
She quit her 5-digit salary job immediately and invested $200k to launch Annabella Patisserie Trading Pte Ltd with her husband, Andy.
"We have always been interested to do business," Annabella shares, "but weren't sure about macarons. After all, we had no experience in it."
Singapore lacked the macarons she wanted, with many being "extremely sweet and overpowering with a lot of food colouring".
"I could not be going to Paris every time I wanted to eat macarons, so I Googled the recipes."
Baking whenever she had free time and doing taste tests with her husband and daughter, the tireless baker was finally able to create a flavour loyal to her first Laduree macarons.
It was only at a friend's birthday that she found her confidence.
"Strangers were asking to buy the macarons I baked, and it made me more confident in my creations."
"I am very lucky that my family is very supportive."
Today, this 4 kid-mumtrepreneur focuses on production while her husband handles the other business aspects.
"I began baking at home," Annabella says, before moving on to a shared kitchen and then eventually Commerze at Tai Seng.
Back then, their main challenges were in managing rental and staff, along with baking capacity.
There were occasions when our freezer would be completely empty with nothing to sell, all while we had secured and paid for 6 roadshow spots.
Those were "very painful experiences," Annabella reflects, and "costly to their operations".
Setbacks aside however, Annabella reveals that she managed to recoup her initial investment of $200k all within the span of 1 year.
"Business growth has been fantastic because we are new," she says, and they're planning to move again by the end of November 2017.
Their new factory at Enterprise Centre is close to 5000 sqft large - a significant jump from their current bedroom-sized kitchen.
"The new space and machines will let us increase production by 500 per cent."
The upgrade could not have come at a better time, as Annabella teases that they have secured long-term partnerships with 30-50 restaurants and 5-star hotels to provide them with macarons.
Their macarons have also been making small waves overseas, with enquiries from the "Middle East and Hong Kong".
"We lack the capacity for them right now but in the near future, we will be reviewing how we can be competitive in overseas markets."
In addition, the team have begun work on their new product line.
"It has been always our desire to enter the energy bar market - it's why we started up." However, as the demand for macarons was "overwhelming", they postponed Oat Bars.
Now, they have already begun acquiring the machinery and "will launch their Oat Bar products by mid-2018".
LESSONS OF A BAKER MUMTREPRENEUR
In everything they do, there must be "perseverance and persistency", Annabella says. "Grit is the one key trait of any entrepreneur."
Everyone falls at various points in life, but an entrepreneur falls more often than others.
Being a full-time baker, entrepreneur as well as mum to 4 kids, life is far from sweet for Annabella.
In her words, it is crucial to have a "solid state of mind and passion" that will keep them going for the long-term.
"Take one small step at a time, and when you fall, you [just] stand up and walk again."