We dedicate this special section to the makers of Beijing – the entrepreneurs, crafters, and movers and shakers who provide new ways of experiencing this great city. We know there are many out there who have exciting endeavors in mind but are just waiting for the right moment. So we hope that you find inspiration in each maker whom we’ve invited to participate in this feature.
Bakeries and cake shops might abound in the city, but confectioneries that put a premium on quality are few. Filipino marketing professional and teacher Leng Zhao hits that sweet spot with Sweet Indulgence, her business in which she home-makes a range of artisanal cakes, pastries, and baked goods. One of her bestsellers, the Mirror Glaze Cake, is definitely a sweet indulgence with its extravagant mousse and berry jam combination, garnished with berries and a shiny chocolate covering, making it perfect for special occasions or even as a present for the holidays.
beijingkids: You’re a marketing professional, so what inspired you to start Sweet Indulgence?
Zhao: It started when I was in Manila. I am fond of watching television networks that present programs on food, cooking, or baking especially if it’s all about desserts. I’ve always dreamed of putting up a baking business but we don’t have any equipment at home, and also, there’s this thought that I really needed to go to culinary school to learn baking. So, what I did instead was I searched for home bakers and small hidden bakeries and bought their products to resell them. I do this during the Christmas season, and actually, the income was good! But back then, I really wanted to start somewhere, so I attended short classes on learning chocolate molding, cupcakes, empanadas, and other baked goods. I kept watching baking shows on TV, as well. So, whatever I had learned I tried to do at home, tested and tasted, then sold it to officemates, friends, and relatives. And yet, I didn’t even have an oven to start with until I moved here in Beijing!
How did you face the first few challenges that came along your way?
Aside from my husband and his family, I don’t know anyone in Beijing. Most of the time, I was just home and my hope of finding a job related to my marketing career in the Philippines was fading alarmingly. So, I did what other foreigners have done here: teach English. While studying Chinese, I started to get different extra part-time jobs. But that dream of baking is still alive, so, one day, I decided to buy an oven. I took all those cut-out recipes from Manila, chose the easiest one, then bought the ingredients… and presto, I baked my first cheesecake! From then on, I made my favorites: cheesecake, banana bread, cinnamon rolls and so on. I felt confident and ready to offer my creations to others but I know no one to sell them to, because during those times the people I know were just my classmates and very few fellow Filipinos. So, what I did was, I gave them some of my products for a free taste just to get an order.
Share with us a memorable story with your customer/patron and how did that help you build your brand better?
In Manila, my former officemates were my first customers and they boosted my morale to continue doing this. They gave me an honest opinion in terms of taste, presentation, packaging, and price. But here in Beijing, it’s my husband who encouraged me to do what I really want to do for a very long time. He became my food critic, dishwasher, delivery man, and assistant rolled into one! He was also my first customer, he ordered one cheesecake, and brought it to his work. And when he arrived home, he told me all the feedback he received from his officemates about my cheesecake. This really uplifted my confidence.
We know that Beijing is a land of opportunities so what can you tell people who are planning to set up small businesses?
In all honesty, it’s very challenging. You need patience, you need to be focused because small and medium businesses are like mushrooms popping up fast here. Also, most important, take care of your customers and make sure you give your best products.
What’s that one thing that keeps you in Beijing?
Well, it is really my family, that’s why I am here.
Want to get that sweet indulgence? Contact Zhao on WeChat: Sweet_Indulgence
This is the digital version of the Making the New Beijing feature article in the beijingkids November 2018 Beijing Makers issue
Photo: Lens Studio