Life comes at us with the most unexpected twists and turns—some good, and some not so.
But when Frances Voon stumbled across her life’s calling to be a baker, it was a development that she now can’t be more grateful for.
From studying Art & Design in Melbourne, to working in advertising, and then to dabbling in floristry, Frances hadn’t the faintest clue that life would eventually lead her to run a custom cake business.
“I’m the epitome of an accidental baker,” she effused. “I’ll have you know that none of my family—including myself—baked before this.”
The “this” she refers to happens to be the custom cake supplier Little Collins that she runs with her team of pastry chefs and bakers out of their shop in Mont Kiara.
As it happens, Frances started out in an advertising agency, but then moved on to floristry after getting retrenched. While this transpired, her family—after noticing a growing expatriate market—also decided to start a bakery just below her own business.
“Years later, we decided to combine all the businesses together,” she explained. “So we started looking for a space to fit all of them into one.”
So in 2008, Little Collins (named after the street in Melbourne) was started as an offshoot of the two separate businesses—selling cakes, breads, and flowers with a cosy café run on the side. This went on until 2015, when Frances decided to fully focus on managing the café and creating custom cakes.
“Everyone wants something unique,” she said. “When we customise a cake, the customer has free rein to come up with the design together with us. We can discuss their favourite colour, theme, and the list goes on.”
“It’s for that occasion that you want to mark as special,” she continued. “So it’s fitting that you have a cake that’s customised just for you.”
She noted also that the main goal when starting out was to provide “designer” looking cakes that would also be affordable for any casual occasion, and added that all cakes—including the ready-made ones—are home-made to order.
“We put in a lot of time into the details to make sure we get it right.”
Layering Her Experience
Speaking on her experience with baking, Frances frankly detailed her journey from cake novice to veteran baker and cake artist, first beginning with part-time courses and watching videos on YouTube. As time progressed, she and her family learned to make adjustments as they saw fit and slowly began to fine-tune their craft.
“I’ve learned that baking is a science,” she said. “Not that I’m a scientist or lean towards being one, but there’s a certain ‘logic’ behind baking that just makes sense.”
She’s also learned that when it comes to cakes and baked goods, it’s all a matter of preference.
“Ten years ago, Japanese fluffy sponge was all the rage,” she explained. “Nowadays, there’s a market for artisan cakes with a little more substance.”
Moving on to the topic of cake decorating, Frances shared how in the beginning Little Collins had little success with hiring bakers who could decorate cakes as well as bake them.
“At one point, all our bakers left,” she said. Out of frustration and desperation, she “then decided to enroll in baking and cake decorating classes”.
Editor’s Note: The sentence above has been modified to clarify the circumstances that occurred.
“I attended the International Centre of Cake Artistry (ICCA) in Damansara, learned basic Wilton decorating, and then moved on to a short course in fondant cake decorating,” she added. “The rest was a journey of self-improvement.”
Right now, Little Collins operates as a café selling ready-made cakes, sweets, savoury meals, and cafe beverages, as well as an online service that allows patrons to order cakes from the set menu that deliver within 2–3 days (depending on the type of cake).
The online store also lets customers place orders for custom cakes, with a variety of options available to allow them to personalise the cake as closely as they like.
“Our cake designs are inspired by the recent wave of drip cakes from people like Katherine Sabbath or Cakes By Cliff,” she explained. “As for tasting, customers can walk into our store to taste our cakes before deciding, be it for ready-made or custom cakes.”
Lessons From The Kitchen
Speaking on early challenges, Frances specifically singled out poor marketing strategy as a factor that caused her business to suffer financially.
“We lost money while learning the hard nature of this business,” she said.
“We failed to have an effective marketing strategy and relied heavily on word-of-mouth.”
But as Little Collins made the shift into becoming a full-fledged bakery, Frances discovered the power of social media, specifically Instagram.
“I engaged in a three hour session with my niece to understand ‘what on earth is Instagram?’,” she joked. “I then bought an iPhone after listening to her advice.”
From there, Frances learned to gradually market and build her brand, and now emphasises the importance of maintaining credibility and holding the customer’s trust.
“Malaysians are spoilt for choice when it comes to cakes and desserts these days,” she said. “Our challenge is not only to build trust, but to also stay in trend and offer quality goods.”
As a result, her hard work in building her brand has managed to win her some prestigious clients and jobs with major companies.
“One of my proudest moments was when I was asked to make a cake for the Johor royal family!” she exclaimed. “It was a major highlight, but it was also nerve-wrecking!”
Additionally, she’s made cakes for YTL, Shirena Hamzah, and Tun Mahathir’s granddaughter, and has baked and handled workshops for some major companies through event planners.
“I was also pretty stoked when we were invited by Samsung to attend the launch of their pink S8,” she said. “We were asked to conduct a mini workshop to teach participants cookie decorating for Christmas.”
On a whole, Little Collins currently sells about over 60 cakes a week including custom-made ones.
On the future of her business, Frances hopes to expand Little Collins to be able to deliver to a wider area while still maintaining her affordable prices (ready-made cakes start from RM52, custom-made ones start at RM300), and to grow their brand through social media and their website.
“If we grow big enough, then perhaps by God’s wisdom and grace, we’ll be able to offer workshops and classes to small groups,” she said.
“We’re even thinking about bringing out custom cakes to Singapore, since we’ve gotten requests from some interested people over there.”
In the meantime, Frances is just honed in on building her brand as best as she can, and taking it one step at a time.
“I don’t think challenges will ever end, because challenges are part and parcel of life itself,” she mused.
“However, humbling ourselves and learning new skills to adapt to our ever changing society is one way to overcome them.”
- Little Collins is bakery and café in Solaris, Mont Kiara started by Frances Voon and her family that serves cakes, pastries, coffee, and other savoury offerings.
- They specialise in custom designed cakes at affordable prices (ready-made cakes start at RM 52, custom cakes from RM 300).
- Customers can order their baked goods online, with delivery taking 2 to 3 days within the Klang Valley. Deliveries outside of this area are also available upon special request.
- You can check them out on Facebook, Instagram, and through their website.
Feature Image Credit: Little Collins