Gourmet cheese cakes for $19.90

It has been only four months since Mr Daniel Tay left Bakerzin, the patisserie-cafe chain which he founded in 1998 and subsequently sold, but the savvy entrepreneur is already busy catering to another part of the food and beverage industry.

The 44-year-old is now in the business of developing and manufacturing food for other businesses and has opened an online cake shop.

He spent $2 million to open Foodgnostic, a food creation and development company that does contract food manufacturing in a central kitchen in Kampong Ampat, in December last year and launched online specialist cheesecake shop Cat & The Fiddle last month.

In an exclusive interview with SundayLife! at his office in the 16,000 sq ft central kitchen, Mr Tay says he decided to go into these businesses because he saw potential in wholesale manufacturing, in light of the high rentals and "severe labour constraints" in the F&B industry.

The personable Foodgnostic founder and trained pastry chef, dressed in a pair of distressed True Religion denim jeans and a smart blue shirt, and looking decidedly relaxed, adds: "With high rentals and manpower costs, it often doesn't make sense for small businesses to make certain foods themselves."

His 40-strong central kitchen team produces everything from pasta sauces and soups to curry puffs and cheesecakes. The company develops and manufactures proprietary items such as an Asian-style sauce for a well-known restaurant, he says.

Because of the company's higher food output, investing in automated machines has also helped to increase productivity, he adds. The company recently bought a machine with a robotic arm that can slice cakes. He declines to say how much it costs.

For his online cheesecake shop (www.catandthefiddle.com), customers can pay for just the cake, which comes in a no-frills cardboard box. Delivery, special stencils, gift tags and boxes are optional extras which customers must pay for.

Mr Tay says that an online business does away with having to pay for a retail space and the need for additional sales staff.

"In this way, we are able to pass on the savings to the consumer," he says.

"It makes gourmet cheesecakes more readily available to the masses and the younger generation, who can enjoy these cakes without the heftier price tag."

At Cat & The Fiddle, prices of whole cheesecakes, which weigh about 1.1kg each and are 18cm in diameter, start at $19.90 each.

The cheesecakes come in 10 flavours that range from Sweet And Smokey Taffy, a toffee and salted caramel cheesecake; to The Emperor's Romance, a lychee martini cheesecake topped with a lightly torched meringue; to a pina colada-inspired cheesecake called Caribbean Surfari.

The company also bakes its own version of Graham crackers which are crushed and used as the base for some of its cheesecakes.

He plans to introduce two more flavours soon and is also in talks to launch his online cheesecake business as a joint venture in China, and later the region.

And when the cake business grows, he wants to work with overseas cream cheese manufacturers to produce cheese made to his specifications, which may include altering the acidity and flavour of the cheese, according to what the cows feed on. He currently imports cream cheese from Australia and the United States.

It was cheesecake - more specifically Oreo cheesecake - that had made him famous about 16 years ago, when he was just starting out.

His smooth and creamy cheese cake with an Oreo cookie-crumble base, now known as The Modern Duke's Pudding ($22.90), is still on the menu today.

Mr Tay, who is married to Dorothy, 41, a housewife, had made a name for himself over the years with French-style pastries and desserts. They have three sons aged 14, 10 and six.

He had started the Bakerzin chain - formerly known as Baker's Inn - in a single shop in a Sembawang condominium 16 years ago.

At its height, Bakerzin had stores in the United States, China, Indonesia and Thailand, and in 2007, it had six outlets in Singapore and 12 overseas.

An alumnus of the UFM International Baking Institute in Bangkok, he went on to attend the Cocoa Barry Chocolate School and the Valrhona Chocolate School in France, among others.

His father owned Seng Choong Confectionery, a popular traditional bakery in Marine Parade, which Mr Tay converted into the retail arm of a wholesale bakery business that supplied frozen bread dough to restaurants and hotels in 1995.

A year later, the wholesale business he started with a few friends ran into financial trouble and shut down. He lost the $500,000 his father had lent him, as well as the shop, which had to be sold off to pay debts.

But that did not break his spirit. He bounced back, working as a pastry chef at upscale French restaurant Les Amis before starting Baker's Inn.

He also plans to launch another online shop selling bespoke and limited-edition French pastries in the next year, although he is tight-lipped about exactly what it will offer for now.

He says: "I have so many plans and ideas in my head. I'm always looking for opportunities because I am an entrepreneur and starting something new is exciting for me."


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