Some of our readers may remember Alyssa Lam as Ziggy Stardust from the cover of the beijingkids February 2014 cover. We reconnected with her and her mom, Karen, after putting out a call for child entrepreneurs. It turns out that Alyssa – now 13 and in Year 9 at Dulwich College Beijing – has been busy with her own baking business. We recently caught up with mother and daughter to find out more.
Alyssa, how did your interest in baking start?
Baking is one of my favorite hobbies; when I’m bored or have nothing to do, the first thing that comes to my mind is baking. My mom taught me how to bake my first cake when I was about 6 years old. I had so much fun, I started watching YouTube videos and buying baking books. When I had spare time, I would try to use those videos or books to bake a cake. Sometimes it would look absolutely disgusting but would taste great – and others not so great.
How did the business come together?
It started off with me baking cupcakes and cookies for school events and friends. Soon, I was baking almost every week. My mom asked if I should sell my cupcakes instead. Since I spent a lot of my parents’ money to buy the ingredients, I thought I should pay them back.
But my mom started to think about how we could help the world instead of just paying her back, so that’s when we thought about donating the money to charity. I thought it was a great idea. Mom would always say how I should start my own bakery. We would joke about the name; I thought “Nose” was a cool name, as people would follow their noses to my bakery.
What kind of research or learning did you have to do to set up your business?
I researched different recipes and kept the good ones. Mom took me to the supermarket, where we started researching how much the ingredients were. When we got home, I was asked to write down the cost of things and worked out how much I would need to charge for my cupcakes in order to break even.
We didn’t want to charge a great deal to start with to get more customers. I started off charging RMB 120 per dozen simple cupcakes and RMB 150 for more complex ones. After running the business for six months, we decided to up the price to RMB 150 and RMB 200 respectively. So far, I have received over 70 orders.
When my friends buy cupcakes from me, I write it down in my booklet and put the money in a plastic bag. At the end of each month, I count up all the money I have earned to make sure that the amount on my booklet matches the one in the plastic bag. I also researched which charity I would like to donate to; I chose my auntie’s charity, Shen Shu Yi Foundation (www.shenshuyi.org).
Where do you get ideas for your baked goods from?
I love browsing the Internet for ideas. Since we love to travel, I often take pictures of anything that catches my eyes. I get most of my simple baking ingredients (flour, eggs, butter) from Jenny Lou’s or DD’s. However, I bring back most of my decorations from the US, Australia, and places I travel to.
Tell us a bit about the day-to-day workings of the business.
In the past I would make batches whenever I got a request, but soon realized how busy schoolwork could be. Therefore, I have limited baking to weekends only. However, if [the customer]has a special request such as for a birthday, I normally say yes unless I have a test I need to revise for. They would come to my house to pick up [the order]or if my driver is free, he would make the delivery. However, I would normally just bring it to school as most of my “clients” are my friends.
How has this experience influenced what you want to do in the future?
This has a massive influence on what I would like to do in the future. Since I started baking when I was around 6, by the time I turn 18, I will have triple the experience compared to everyone else if I do decide to become a baker. Baking is also something I do to relax and to have fun instead of studying all the time; it gets my mind off a lot of things. It is one of my favorite things to do in the whole entire world.
Karen, you mentioned that Alyssa will be attending culinary school in the US this summer. Tell us more about that.
Alyssa has shown a passion for making cakes from an early age. I enrolled her at the ABC Cooking School in Beijing, where she will obtain a certificate when she finishes her bread and cake-making course at the end of the year.
As Alyssa progressed with her cake-making skills, she expressed a desire to learn more. I have been searching online to see if there are other professional culinary schools in the States where she can continue to build her skills while enjoying what she does. I came across the Institute of Culinary Education’s cooking camps for teens. They have courses on pastry arts, cake techniques, and bread making. We are trying to build the skills of a budding chef to conquer the kitchen from an early age.
What is Alyssa like when she’s in “work mode?”
It is so much fun to watch Alyssa in work mode; she gets all hyped up singing and dancing while making cookies or cupcakes. Alyssa is a fun-loving person who has no fear when it comes to challenges and she is a total joy to watch, especially when you know she is doing something she loves.
What kind of thoughts and feelings have you had as you witness Alyssa grow into a budding entrepreneur?
I believe she has a gift with baking. She is already learning about time management and setting priorities when it comes to juggling her studies and her baking business. With time, she will only become better at what she does. I believe anyone with a dream will succeed.
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This article originally appeared on page 54-55 of the beijingkids November 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.