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sourbombe artisanal bakery genevieve lee
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When the Singapore government implemented ‘circuit breaker’, many returned to their long-forgotten hobbies or started up new ones. In particular, baking became such a popular hobby that people started coining the phrase ‘circuit baking’.

During the lockdown period, Genevieve Lee also occupied herself with baking because she was still figuring out what she wanted to pursue, much like many other fresh university graduates.

Beyond the usual cookies and breads, the then-23-year-old baked bomboloni (plural form of bombolone), which was trending at the time. Originating from Italy, these airy doughnuts are distinctive for their round shape and golden brown fried surface. 

She let one of her friends, Tan Chun Rong (also known as CR), try the bombolini she made and it was so good that he suggested starting up a business together selling it.

Incorporating the ideas of sourdough and bomboloni, Genevieve — who is also the runner-up of the first season of MasterChef Singapore — and CR started up home-based bomboloni bakery Sourbombe in June 2020.   

She used to run her own cafe at only 18

The home-based bakery specialises in Italian doughnuts that are piped with unique fillings, and only accepted online orders.

chun rong tan cr sourbombe
Tan Chun Rong, co-founder of Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery / Image credit: C.R Tan

Sharing more about their respective roles, Genevieve said that she handles the operations and production of the business, while CR — who is a photographer, stylist and social media influencer — manages the financing, accounting and marketing side of Sourbombe.

“I would say it’s a really good partnership because we are both strong in our own segments and we don’t really step on each others’ toes, which is quite good [because] I trust him and he trusts me in doing what is needed,” highlights Genevieve.

However, she shares that venturing into this business required a lot of trial and error. Before her MasterChef appearance, she was pursuing a medical science course in polytechnic, which did not provide her the sense of fulfilment and satisfaction she was hoping to achieve.

In retrospect, it wasn’t her passion. “It was quite a difficult three years. So my outlet was to open a cafe,” she remarked.

At 18, she opened a cafe at Ngee Ann Polytechnic as part of the Be Your Own Boss programme, in which the school encourages students to run their own cafes for two years.

Through the stint, Genevieve equipped herself with the knowledge of running her own business and familiarised herself with the different business processes from contracting to renovations.

“Looking back, it was quite fun and I’m glad I did it because I learnt a lot,” recounts Genevieve. 

genevieve lee masterchef singapore
Genevieve Lee, runner-up of MasterChef Singapore Season 1 / Image Credit: MasterChef Singapore

After her MasterChef appearance in 2018, Genevieve received many requests for collaboration, which opened up a lot of doors for her. She also realised that baking was her true passion, and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, where she learnt more on working in a professional kitchen setting. 

Going further down memory lane, Genevieve also shared that her entrepreneurial spirit started from a young age, where she would sell cakes at various farmer’s markets in Singapore over the years, which helped her meet and connect with many industry partners.

When sourdough meets bombolini

When asked to describe Sourbombe’s bakes, three distinct words pop into her mind: “innovative”, “fun” and “colourful”.

“Our food is always very lively, and we try to push the boundaries of what a doughnut could be,” emphasises Genevieve. 

The satisfyingly chewy and elastic consistency is coupled with creamy filling that comes in various artisanal flavours: the original Cinnabombe, Lavender-Lime Mascarpone, Hojicha Caramel Crunch, Passionfruit & Caramelised Banana, Blueberry & Lemon Thyme and Basque Burnt Cheesecake.

Sourbombe also offers viennoiserie, croissants, tarts and sourdough loaf cakes. 

Sourbombe filling
Sourbombe filling / Image credit: Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

She adds that one way in which they keep up with the competitive food and beverage (F&B) industry is that they try to continually innovate.

I think what makes a business successful is that the creators and the people working in the business do not become stagnant.

– Genevieve Lee, co-founder of Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

According to her, it is almost always hectic in their research and development (R&D) department, as they are constantly ideating, testing and shortlisting new, interesting flavour combinations to surprise Sourbombe’s consumers. 

But of course, not every flavour makes the cut. Only 40 per cent of their ideas come to fruition because they are really strict on their flavour selection, and wants their customers to only enjoy the best.

Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery
Image credit: Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

Besides flavour, Sourbombe also focuses on aesthetics like packaging and garnishing. Ultimately, they have to look good on pictures, especially during their days as an online business. 

She recounts that her expectations for Sourbombe weren’t very high considering the pandemic, and that she just saw it as a leisure venture. About S$3,000 was invested into it, mainly for ingredients and equipment to cater for their first week after launching. 

With CR’s help, they managed to reach a wider audience through marketing strategies such as word-of-mouth publicity as well as having their influencer friends share their reviews on Sourbombe’s bomboloni on social media platforms.

Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery
Image credit: Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

The demand was super crazy. For almost six months straight, we were selling out within a minute. It was the most surreal thing ever.

– Genevieve Lee, co-founder of Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

The strong traction was a double-edged sword. To cope with the surging demand, they had to invest an additional S$20,000 into the business to fund for equipments among other things.

What also helped the business boom during the pandemic was due to the fact that they solely operated online. With the right media strategies and well-taken photos, their bakes gained traction among customers who could not dine in-stores, resulting in a ripple effect of growing their customer base.

She shares that what warmed her heart even more was that Sourbombe managed to maintain the initial positive feedback for about a year, where the two then decided to shift the home-based business to a retail one.

They opened a physical store in less than 2 years

As a home-based business, Genevieve believes there is only so much that can be achieved due to the restrictions and limitations towards professionalism. Opening a retail store breaks through these walls, allowing others like investors to notice the true potential of the brand. 

Within four months of opening their first physical store at Dhoby Ghaut’s Park Mall in July 2021, Sourbombe managed to break even.

Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery dhoby ghaut
Sourbombe’s physical store at Dhoby Ghaut / Image credit: Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

However, despite making tremendous improvements in their growth, Genevieve highlights that they are still facing difficulties — “just very different kinds,” she remarks.

Setting up a retail store wasn’t an easy feat. Genevieve shares that a much higher sum of about S$300,000 had to be invested, leading her father to sell off the family car to help finance the business.

Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery genevieve lee
Genevieve Lee at Sourbombe’s store / Image credit: Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

She also points out that one of the biggest challenges is making decisions as an owner of Sourbombe; plans to expand mean more responsibility over the decisions made.

We don’t have a big backing behind us, so we are very careful with our decisions because one mistake could ruin everything.

– Genevieve Lee, co-founder of Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

Genevieve’s top criterias for choosing a location revolve around the questions of what the location does for the brand, and whether it is in line with the brand. Furthermore, choosing a location comes with analysing contracts and deals, not to mention the high costs required to set up a physical store.

After making these tough and important decisions, the two took a leap of faith in opening Sourbombe’s physical stores. It proved to be the right move, because within just a month, Genevieve was able to return the car and favour to her father.

Opening a second outlet at Jewel next month

magnum sourbombe artisanal bakery
Collaboration with Magnum / Image Credit: Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

As Sourbombe grew, opportunities for partnerships and collaborations increased. Genevieve looks back fondly on their early-stage collaboration with Magnum, depicting it as a dream come true to work with a brand that made up most of her childhood.

The international brand’s collaboration with Sourbombe made Genevieve feel a sense of fulfilment. “For Sourbombe, it was kind of like a game-changer”. 

Now, Sourbombe is on its way to launch their first East side bakery at Jewel Changi in August this year. Consumers can soon expect outlet exclusives such as soft-serve ice cream, sourdough waffles, and their flagship bomboloni, as well as interesting new mashups incorporating local flavours like chicken rice and chilli crab.

Opening an outlet at Jewel also served as a “doorway to international waters”, which is in line with their ambition of expanding overseas in the years to come.

Featured image credit: Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery

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