Little Nonya’s Cookies is a small side hustle that founder Anthony Tan started during his university days 14 years ago.
Together with his mum, they baked pineapple tarts and other goodies out of their home kitchen during the Chinese New Year period.
Their customers were mostly made up of family and friends, and they earned a “a few thousands of dollars” in sales during this peak festive season each year.
Following this positive response, the mother-and-son duo decided to sell their goods at pushcart stalls. Over the years, it has since evolved into one of the reigning pastry brands during Chinese New Year.
In this interview, we spoke to Anthony to find out how he grew Little Nonya’s Cookies from a side hustle to a full-fledged bakery business.
Sells Over 40K Boxes In 2 Months Every Year
Little Nonya’s Cookies draws from over three generations of Peranakan food heritage, and most of its pastry innovations stand out by blending traditional cooking with viral food trends.
According to Anthony, his grandmother used to live next to a Peranakan family. She had learnt Peranakan cooking skills from her neighbours and imparted them to her daughter (Anthony’s mother), who later passed it down to Anthony himself.
Anthony and his mother churned out cookies from their home kitchen every Chinese New Year and started selling from pushcart stalls.
Business was built up from word-from-mouth, after people tried their cookies and recommended to family and friends.
“We are quite well-known for giving samples at our Raffles Xchange pushcart stall,” he laughed.
One of their pivotal moments was when Takashimaya approached them to set up a store at their annual Chinese New Year fair.
As part of his sales strategy, Anthony would ask potential customers if they have tried their cookies, after sharing with them that Little Nonya’s Cookies has been featured in multiple newspapers, magazines and websites.
Whenever they say “no,” he will then ask them to “try it to know”. This is how he gets random passersby to try his products and eventually converting them into customers.
He has also conducted live baking sessions at Takashimaya fair and will push out multiple trays of fresh cookies for shoppers to sample.
To date, Little Nonya’s Cookies has been invited to festive fairs at Takashimaya, Raffles Xchange, Junction 8 and more.
Despite the strong demand, the 38-year-old shared that it was initially tough on them as they could only produce a limited amount of baked goods out of a home kitchen.
In order to scale up, he started working with overseas factories in Malaysia and Indonesia to achieve volume.
At last count, Little Nonya’s Cookies sold over 40,000 boxes of goodies in the span of just two months on average per year.
So far, he has pumped in S$100,000 to S$200,000 into the business and broke even in just two years.
Why He Turned It Into A Full-Time Job
When Anthony was running Little Nonya’s Cookies as a side venture, he held a full-time job in project management in the hotel industry.
Specifically, he worked with his friend, supplying chandeliers and customising lightings for hotels.
The COVID-19 pandemic took an extreme hit on the business. Due to Malaysia’s lockdown during Phase 1 of the reopening of the economy, their workers were unable to come into Singapore to work.
When Phase 2 came, his friend decided to end his struggling lighting business.
This presented the opportunity for Anthony to focus all of his attention on his side hustle and he decided to run Little Nonya’s Cookies full-time in August last year.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Anthony previously received many enquiries from customers asking if they are selling their cookies.
He unfortunately had to turn them down as they “did not have the capacity” as it was just him and his mum working on the business.
From Pushcart Stalls To Own Flagship Store
Little Nonya’s Cookies was previously available only during the seasonal celebrations through their pushcart stalls at Raffles Xchange and Novena Square.
Anthony shares that Raffles Xchange is its best-performing outlet as they have been there for about eight years. In fact, the pushcart stall can sell 10,000 over bottles of cookies in one Chinese New Year.
Meanwhile, 40 per cent of orders come from its Raffles Xchange outlet, while the rest are split between the online platform and the Novena Square pushcart stall.
With their flagship store at Changi, customers are now able to shop for goodies from Little Nonya’s Cookies all year round.
On their formula to success, Anthony attributes it to their low price points.
At Takashimaya’s Chinese New Year fair in the last few years, they were easily one of the lowest-priced brands.
“If you get a bundle of six, it only costs $90. That works out to $15 a bottle. We don’t earn much, but we go by volume,” he explained.
From The Original Green Pea Cookies To Unique Flavours
Little Nonya’s Cookies have 23 varieties in total — 15 of its items are core products, and the rest are seasonal.
The best-selling item is their Prosperity Pineapple Tarts, followed by Lucky Almonds and Green Pea Cookies.
When they first started, Lucky Almonds and Green Pea Cookies were their stronghold — a lot of people know them for these two creations.
In fact, he was the one who invented the Green Pea Cookies. To highlight its popularity, it is currently out of stock on their website.
On the other hand, their love letters (Money Egg Rolls) and kueh bangkit are made traditionally using a charcoal oven — they toast them over charcoal fire.
All these goodies are made using Nonya recipes, and are made in their Indonesian factory manned by his relatives.
Anthony told us that even though we are only two weeks away from Chinese New Year, they are reaching a sell-out as customers had started ordering since December last year.
This year, they have a range of nine new pastries such as the Lychee-licious Pineapple Tarts.
For the fusion Lychee-licious Pineapple Tarts, they experimented with grape, honeydew and other fruity flavours but found that the lychee pairing worked best.
“We need to come out with new flavours every year to satisfy our corporate clients,” said Anthony.
Some unthinkable concoctions that they’ve come up with include MaMa LaLas (mala butter cookies) and TomTom Yummy Muruku (tom yum flavoured muruku).
By introducing more all-year-round items, they have started becoming an everyday cookie brand.
However, a lot of their customers are still unaware of this fact. This is why they are working hard to grow Little Nonya’s Cookies into more than just a “Chinese New Year brand.”
Now, their next step is to venture into nyonya cuisine, such as nyonya acar or nyonya dumplings, to complement their cookies.
To accommodate this expansion, Anthony said that they are looking at shifting into a bigger space.
Featured Image Credit: Little Nonya’s Cookies