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How 2 S’pore millennials turned their bakery side hustle into a full-fledged home-based biz

Dapiku Sweets

Scrolling through Dapiku Sweets‘ brightly-coloured Instagram feed is a visual feast, featuring unconventionally-flavoured desserts punctuated with quirky graphic illustrations.

Their eclectic collection of treats are a fun and playful twist on local flavours, with bold pairings that keep their fans hungry for more.

From their home in Bukit Batok, Lee Jian Yun, 34, and his partner Aliff Tee, 32, work full-time constructing aesthetically-pleasing confections for hungry customers in Singapore.

They run their home bakery largely on Instagram

The man behind the bakes is Jian Yun (also known as JY).

He started Dapiku Sweets in 2017 as a creative outlet for his baking hobby, but only opened it up for sales a year later when demands came pouring in.

Dapiku’s resident illustrator, Aliff, handles the back-end with marketing-related work, and provides an extra pair of hands in the kitchen.

Dapiku Sweets team
The team behind Dapiku Sweets, Aliff (left) and JY (right) / Image Credit: Dapiku Sweets

“When we saw an opportunity in the market, we decided to take (the business) seriously, and our menu evolved organically to what we have on offer now,” said JY.

The home-based bakery started out as Tapiku, with a sashaying tapir with an “impressive posterior” as their mascot. They soon realised that another business in Taiwan bore a similar branding, so Dapiku, 大屁股, which means big butt in Mandarin, was born along with the slogan, “happy to feed you.”

JY and Aliff were fans of Shokugeki No Soma, an anime about students battling it out in a culinary school. The protagonist Soma, has a catchphrase they fell in love with, osomatsu, or “happy to serve.”

“With every order, we get the opportunity to create new food memories. We are just really grateful to be able to feed people,” added JY.

Jumping from banking to F&B

Although his desserts might suggest otherwise, JY never attended culinary school.

In fact, like most Singaporeans, he took the conventional route of education and went to junior college and university, where he majored in banking and finance. He knew all along however, that a future in banking was not what he really wanted.

He was always obsessed with sweets in all forms and always wanted to work in a kitchen. When he was in university, he began working in restaurants, albeit not in the pastry department.

In the restaurant he worked at, JY was tasked to prepare live seafood but he grew so attached to all the sea creatures sent to the restaurants that he started naming them. Eventually, when the animals had to be killed, he was overwhelmed with guilt.

“When the nightmares of lobsters chasing me started, I knew I was not cut out for the job. So the moment an opportunity to jump into pastries opened up in the restaurant, I made the switch and never left,” recounted JY.

Dapiku Sweets' Christmas launch, 2018
Dapiku Sweets’ Christmas launch, 2018 / Image Credit: Dapiku Sweets

As he continued working in restaurants, he realised how much of his life he was missing out on. He had to work instead of being present for family events, celebrations, holidays, and his cats.

When the pandemic hit, he found himself working 28-hour shifts despite a pay cut, catching a quick nap only when his pastries were baking in the oven.

“I felt I was stuck in this bubble and could not comprehend why I was working anymore,” said JY. “I grew increasingly detached from everything I created at work. That was when I knew I had to step out of the kitchen.”

Because Dapiku was already a project he had been working on, he naturally shifted his focus to growing it as a business.

Transferring skills in visual communications to desserts

Featuring European style bakes and treats with intriguing Asian inflections, Dapiku Sweets has a refreshing collection that stays true to its brand. They take unconventional flavour pairings and make them work — think burnt miso cheesecake with a brown butter almond base, or a lychee chestnut tart.

The belief that desserts should be kept fun, is reflected in their cheerful and offbeat branding.

Aliff is responsible for the branding, creatives, and related graphic design, and he’s no stranger to creative advertising. He worked as a graphic designer, having spent over eight years in the creative industry.

Cake by Dapiku Sweets / Image Credit: Dapiku Sweets

Aliff always had a fondness for F&B. His family dabbled in food businesses, from selling nasi lemak to running a coffee shop. He has also helped out at his uncle’s ice kacang store.

He only got on board Dapiku Sweets full-time when he found out JY was finally selling his sweets, and felt like it was a huge opportunity as he really believed in the business’ potential.

Dapiku Sweets' products
Dapiku Sweets’ products emulate the brand’s offbeat style / Image Credit: Dapiku Sweets

The visual communications graduate transferred his skills in design and applied it to the bakery. He designed cakes together with JY in alignment with the brand, incorporating Dapiku’s standout quirkiness into the products.

Creating products that stand out

JY and Aliff try to strike a balance between the familiar and the unconventional.

They also work closely with customers on customisation based on personal preferences, and cater to people with various dietary needs, from vegan to gluten-free cakes. Customers who want something extra special can also opt for custom illustrations and messages.

The pair love being given full rein on creativity on custom orders, so they can get inventive with the flavour pairings. JY’s background in restaurants also helped him to be bold and experimental with his flavours.

Dapiku Sweets’ treats are all made in a Muslim-household.

“Using halal-only ingredients is a challenge but we wanted to be inclusive for everyone. We also wanted to break the perception that halal food is of a lower standard,” explained JY.

Over the years, their customer base has expanded to the local Muslim community, despite some initial hesitation and confusion due to the brand’s Chinese name. The pair emphasise the importance of making products that not only taste and look good, but are inclusive enough to be enjoyed by everyone.

Their current popular products are the dessert boxes, burnt cheesecakes, and cookies. A personal favourite of JY’s is their red bean “burger”, which features honey red bean and chen pi paste, mandarin orange, kinako dango, and fresh shiso sandwiched between two almond dacquoise.

JY’s personal favorite / Image Credit: Dapiku Sweets

“Singapore tends to follow trends where there will be a huge demand for a particular item before it suddenly fizzles out,” noted JY on how their products change with time.

Their burnt cheesecakes, however, remain popular today, as they feel the trend has stabilised and found its way to the hearts and tummies of people around the island.

Rolling in the dough despite Covid-19

What started out as just a creative outlet for the pair is now a business that’s now seeing more traction among B2B customers.

Increasingly, companies have been approaching Dapiku Sweets to create visually appealing dessert products in exciting flavours.

The team of two handle everything on their own — from conceptualisation, baking and marketing, to receiving orders and handling payments. The only aspect that’s outsourced is deliveries because neither can drive.

As a home-based business, they faced difficulties in the beginning. For example, setting up accounts with suppliers was hard due to issues with meeting minimum order quantities.

“Starting from the ground up while juggling our full-time jobs was very challenging. We spent many sleepless nights baking and turning up for work the next day,” recalled JY.

When they first started out, they didn’t do much marketing, and grew organically through word of mouth and making their presence in flea markets and events.

Aliff (left) and JY (right) at a bake sale in 2018 / Image Credit: Dapiku Sweets

Their business soon grew by 40 per cent when notable Instagram influencers helped to showcase their products. Since they rely heavily on social media marketing, the pair constantly keep themselves updated on Instagram’s constant changes in their algorithm.

When dining restrictions were announced, they saw a huge jump in orders as people started sending care packages to their friends and families. Media attention on the #circuitbakers baking trend also put home bakers like Dapiku Sweets in the spotlight.

JY and Aliff are also very open to collaborations with other small local businesses. Most notably, they partnered with Makbibik to create savory-sweet cookies using their serunding, a Malay spiced coconut condiment.

Makbibik x Dapiku Sweets
Makbibik x Dapiku Sweets / Image Credit: Dapiku Sweets

These days, however, they’re facing more problems with storage as their business gains more traction so JY and Aliff have had to reorganise their home to free up space for new stock and packaging.

“Keeping a consistent growth of the business is also challenging due to budget, changing landscapes, and our manpower limitations,” said JY.

For now, Dapiku Sweets is working towards scaling their business to open a physical retail space, where they can increase their production capacity.

They also hope to hire new talent and provide a safe and inclusive work space for people who want to step into the F&B industry.

Featured Image Credit: Dapiku Sweets

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