Baking expert Amna Tauqeer shares the challenges she faced soon after opening her Karachi cake studio, Yum by Amna.
Let’s face it, we don’t always need a reason to indulge into a heavenly cake. And of course, no occasion is complete without a cake - be it birthdays, weddings or any celebration; nothing beats a beautifully decorated cake that looks and tastes equally amazing. In recent times there has been a boom in the bakery as well as home-based baking businesses. Browse the internet and you will come across a number of women entrepreneurs who are doing well in this business, offering thematic cakes, wedding cakes, birthday cakes and other scrumptious desserts.
We know for a fact that baking is one of the most delicate culinary arts, involving careful and precise measurements, ingredients and cooking techniques. Though for some the fine balancing act of baking can be quite intimidating, baking expert Amna Tauqeer of Yum by Amna shares how a little patience and some trial and error can go a long way in mastering the art of baking and decorating.
“It all started with baking for family and friends. I was often asked by friends to bake for them and started by making simplistic cakes and desserts,” she says. “Eventually I ventured into the fondant/celebration cake territory, as I wanted to explore the expanded creative freedom that fondant cakes allowed for.”
Amna started her venture Yum by Amna almost a decade ago (2010), while based in Dubai. She then moved to Karachi in 2013 and found a veritable void in the market for high-quality dessert spreads and artisan cakes. “Having had no formal training in this field, I learnt through trial and error and spent the first few years just perfecting the recipes for desserts and working on my cake decorating skills,” she reveals, adding that being a perfectionist, this journey proved much more difficult than she had anticipated. “Anything that didn’t look or taste perfect didn’t make the cut and had to be redone. It was the perseverance and hard work that led me to work with giants such as Rafhan, Magnum and on events such as Lux Style Awards and Pakistan Fashion Week, opening doors for some dream-projects.”
Amna’s creations are a bit on the expensive side, so how does she deal with the complains? “I’ll be very honest and own the fact that we are expensive, but ‘expensive’, I feel, is a relative term,” she responds, adding that premium quality desserts are pricey.
“Having said that, my business model is such that I never compromise on quality; we have cakes that use pistachio flour and almond flour instead of regular flour; our chocolate is the finest Belgian brand,” she stresses.
On why it took around 10 years to open her cake studio, Amna says that when she started baking professionally her kids were quite young and she needed to prioritise their needs. “I worked selectively, taking orders online. Working from home allowed me the flexibility to be with the kids when they needed me,” she shares.
“With time my client base increased, necessitating the opening of an outlet. Therefore, this year, I took a leap of faith and decided to open an outlet,” she informs, adding that the day she signed the rental agreement of her cake studio, the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Pakistan.
“To say that it put a spanner in the works would certainly be an understatement. I had two choices: let go of the staff and cancel the rental agreement or bite the bullet and wait it out. Needless to say, I went with the latter and utilised the lockdown period to engage with my social media followers, which helped me test the waters.”
Soon after the lockdown was lifted last month, Amna opened her outlet and according to her, she couldn’t have been happier with the response. “We were flooded with customers the first five days and our kitchen, store and the cake studio were flooded literally on the sixth day due to the torrential rains. I was devastated! Imagine seeing your brand spanking new machinery, packaging, tools and equipment drowning in front of your eyes. That day makes the cut as being one of the most devastating experiences of my life.”
She went on to say that she cried for two days straight and realised she had another choice to make; give up on it or pick herself back up and soldier on.
Amna shares that renovating a space that you had opened a week earlier tested the last ounce of her patience and strength. “But, we did it. I say ‘we’ because the credit goes to my fantastic staff that worked like machines and wouldn’t give up, even when I would break down,” she says. “Sadly, there was zero support from the authorities. The man holes outside the shop would get blocked every other day, and not only were we racing against time to fix everything and reopen soon, but there were issues like long power outages and zero water supply to battle with.”
Amna managed to reopen after 12 days and says that it’s as if they never closed down.
“The food business is extremely demanding in terms of time and attention. Ever since the outlet opened, I’ve been spending more than 14 hours there, making sure all the recipes are followed to a T and that all the customised cakes look perfect.”
As for what advice she would give to young bakers - especially women - who want to start their own businesses, Amna suggests to keep learning. “The only way you can grow your business is to make R&D (research and development) an integral part of your business model. Develop new recipes, assess what the market needs, figure out your niche and focus on that. Focussing too much on what everyone else is doing, won’t do you any favours and will side-track you only.”