Even before Jia Sen, a lawyer-turned-food entrepreneur, started Donut Plan, he had always been immersed in the world of F&B.
Although born and raised in KL, Jia Sen spent a lot of his childhood in Kampung Koh in Sitiawan, where his grandmother ran a kopitiam.
“Dad mentioned that it was the one of the biggest kopitiams in Sitiawan. I remember hearing that made my chest swell with pride, and it still does to this day,” he reminisced.
Here at this kopitiam, Jia Sen witnessed scenes of his grandmother and other relatives preparing and selling an assortment of dim sum, noodles, and, of course, kopi.
Given his adoration for the art of serving food and beverage, when it came time to further his education, he naturally shared his desire to pursue culinary arts with his parents. However, that thought was quickly dismissed by his parents.
“[Is this] perhaps a recurring scene in many Asian households?” he wondered, though he understood that his parents just wanted the best for him. “At the end there were really only two options. It was either business or law.”
He decided on the latter, being more interested in linguistics rather than science and numbers, and graduated with a Second Upper Class distinction and obtained a Certificate in Legal Practice at his first attempt.
Even while practising law, though, Jia Sen kept that F&B dream of his close to his heart. And four years ago, the seed of that dream began to take root.
Drafting the plan
Before he went all in with Donut Plan, Jia Sen actually had a two-year stint as a barista that he said significantly changed his life in 2017.
There, he learnt all about coffees, teas, and more, inspiring him to pursue his passion in food.
“It was then the ball started rolling and the ‘Plan’ started taking its shape,” he said. “At that time, I decided that I want to continue working with speciality coffee, and I needed something complementary.”
Initially, he wanted to work with friend to start a micro-bakery focusing on French baguettes. However, it it didn’t take off as the friend changed his mind mid-way.
It was another friend who heard of Jia Sen’s situation that suggested the doughnuts. At the time, Jia Sen said that not many were offering handmade, artisanal doughnuts in the Klang Valley yet, which made the idea stand out.
So, he turned to the world’s best resource, the Internet. There, he started piecing together a doughnut recipe from various online publications. At the same time, he also got guidance and advice from friends who are F&B professionals.
“As I went down the doughnut hole, I was fascinated by how flexible and diverse doughnuts are,” Jia Sen shared. “They could be sweet, savoury, cakey, chewy or soft and fluffy, I can pay homage to classic flavours but twist them in exciting ways.”
With this newfound love for doughnuts, Jia Sen started up Donut Plan in early 2019, finally giving his dream a proper attempt.
Pursuing the plan
For about six months, he lived a life that was split into two halves—lawyering by day, making doughnuts at night.
In time, Jia Sen realised how much he enjoyed the process of making the pastries. So in the second half of 2019, Jia Sen took the plunge and resigned to pursue Donut Plan full-time.
Throughout the years, Donut Plan has grown its own community of fans, and in May of 2023, Jia Sen was able to open a little coffee and doughnut corner in Millenium Square.
“We have had the space for two years,” he explained. “During the COVID lockdowns it functioned as a central kitchen and a collection point for preorders.”
As restrictions lifted, Donut Plan launched same-day delivery and collection, and decided to also provide a small corner for dine-in customers.
Currently, Donut Plan offers three main types of doughnuts—filled, powdered, and glazed. Flavours range from classics with unique twists to seasonal specials. Their price range is RM6 to RM13 per doughnut.
Some unique flavours that they’ve done include Maple Beef Bacon, Cacio e Pepe, Basil Strawberry & Cream, Spicy Chicken Bakkwa, and more. These are all done in collaboration with people in the industry, typically coffee roasteries or shops.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a flavour will be well-received.
“One practice that’s served me well is to trust my gut and palate when creating a flavour—if a flavour is exciting, pleasurable to the senses and elicits agreeable nods of heads, more often than not it’s a winner,” Jia Sen reasoned.
“It may not be for everyone but thankfully my customers and I are aligned for the most part.”
Taking his entrepreneurship to the next level, Jia Sen actually has a second brand in the works with some partners.
Called Juno, it will be a new space in Bangsar that offers sake and wine. Although it’ll carry doughnuts from Donut Plan, it’ll be a new business that’s running independently.
As for the doughnut business itself, Jia Sen shared that they’ll be focused on growing the team of bakers and gradually expanding the range of doughnuts offered.
“The sky’s the limit on the variety of doughnuts that we could add to our menu: mochi, cakes, old-fashioned, and many more,” he pointed out.
Moving forward, they also aim to have more collaborations with fellow F&B professionals, as well as creatives from other industries.
When asked about whether he has any regrets about his career pivot, Jia Sen expressed that the only regret is not doing it sooner. Returning to the legal world isn’t something on his mind now.
Advising others who wish to pivot into entrepreneurship, Jia Sen said, “Begin with the end in mind.”
“Be as clear as possible on what they are trying to achieve and just do it! Do not wait for too long, no plan is perfect and it takes trying and stumbling along to get to where you want to be.”
It might be easy to succumb to external pressures as well. After all, Jia Sen himself faced rejection initially when his parents dismissed his desire to further his education in hospitality.
At the end of the day, though, he shared that his parents have actually been nothing but supportive since he started Donut Plan. He proudly said, “Mum especially has not shied away from any opportunity to introduce Donut Plan to everyone in her circle.”
Featured Image Credit: Donut Plan