Run by Esther and Isaac, popular bakery My Sister Bakes does everything from dessert tables to brownies, but the customised creations made by Esther are the ones that truly steal the spotlight.
And their Instagram feed, like their cakes, is a work of art.
Wow-ed by their designs and a curious backstory, I knew I had to find out more this baking sister.
Fortunately, their studio is a short walk away from my office (and Tai Seng MRT) so I decided to head over to meet the team.
Esther was sitting at the front counter, a petite woman with a cheery smile as she greeted me.
It Started With A Strawberry Crumble In Melbourne
I read the story about the leftover strawberries, I told Esther, drawing a laugh from her.
“Yep, I had some leftover ones from strawberry picking and you know how fast they rot. So I dug around and found some other ingredients that made up a crumble recipe. That was the first cake I ever baked.”
That first crumble also opened up the floodgates for Esther and her hungry friends.
“Studying in Melbourne I had a lot of freedom so I started baking and giving cakes out to friends. They would even leave boxes at my place for their share,” she recalls.
When she returned home during the holidays, her siblings bugged her to bake too – and the photos were uploaded with the caption “My sister baked this…”
“That was how the name came about,” Esther jokes.
“Not very creative, but I wanted a ‘cozy’ name.”
She began baking from home – a sight that piqued her businessman father’s curiosity.
“The number of cakes was increasing every week and he found this intriguing because to him, cakes were something you bought in a neighbourhood bakery.”
“From there he pestered me to find a shop, and in 6 months we did.”
Moving To Macpherson
The second home for My Sister Bakes was a quaint cafe along Macpherson Road.
Together with her dad, partner Isaac and his parents, Esther invested $80k to get their cafe started. But 7 months later, they told themselves no more.
“It wasn’t what I wanted to do. We were investing too much time on the cafe rather than the cakes. Cafe seating also needs to be 70% of the space – that left us with a small kitchen.”
They continued staying there, but Esther transformed the space into a baking studio for pick-ups only – but the problems weren’t over.
Passersby would scrutinise them at work through the glass, making it awkward for the team. Being on ground level also meant that pests were regular ‘customers’. And when the rental hike came, it was time to move.
Today, their studio in Commerze is half their original space.
“But we are on the second floor so there is less foot traffic. We can work in peace, and is also easier for customers who come by for customised projects.”
Lessons From Dad
Their businesses are very different so he doesn’t give ideas, but instead he teaches her principles.
“Your employees are your most important asset,” she says. “Treat them well, even if they want to steal your recipes and leave.”
When you deal with difficult customers, be more generous, laugh it off. You’re in a business that makes people happy. You need to be happy as well.
Another lesson he preaches is constant self-improvement. This motivated her to take classes in buttercream and watercolour techniques.
A New Venture – Esther Grace
Currently all their creations are listed under My Sister Bakes, but she plans to split her bespoke cakes into a sister brand – tentatively called Esther Grace Cakes.
“During my journey, I’ve felt that many times God has given me His grace and taken care of me. I also hope to post inspiration stories, even the cakes’ backstories.”
“I don’t want to give people a catalogue and say, ‘Nah, just choose’. Being able to create cakes from stories, and sharing these stories would make it more interesting.”
“Already, we are receiving a surge of wedding orders because people saw that I baked my own wedding cake. That’s my best memory from this entire journey.”
Business-minded Dad hopes that she opens more outlets but for now, Esther wants to continue staying where she is. Instead, she’s focusing on the new series.
As for aspiring entrepreneurs, Esther says she receives many requests and questions about wanting to launch a business.
It’s not about when is a good time, it’s about the mindset. Don’t go into a business if you want to earn a lot of money. Be prepared to not take MC, or a holiday. There is no leave for you to claim.
“Some people think they can just hire others and leave them be but it doesn’t work that way. Anyone can start their own business, but not everyone can be a boss.”
Featured Image Credit: Esther Lim