Crystals saved this Penang biz from bankruptcy, now its founders run a dedicated crystal cafe

Co-founded by Heng Cher Gee (CG) and Joshua Levi Rasen (Josh), WTF Studios, a crystal jewellery brand with a cafe, is more than just a business—it’s a testament to resilience, passion, and the serendipitous ways life unfolds.

CG and Josh both hailing from the hospitality industry bring a wealth of experience from their time as hoteliers, where they honed their skills in structure, service, and systems while mastering empathy, teamwork, and leadership. 

Their transition from hospitality to the crystal business might seem unexpected, but as they put it, “Life has a funny way of connecting the dots.”

“We’ve tried and failed multiple businesses; such as direct selling, events, training, YouTubing, writing books, developing an ecommerce marketplace, etc. However, everything we’ve touched, even in the slightest of ways, has added value, layers, and texture to what we do today,” said Josh.

The duo’s journey into the world of crystals began unexpectedly. In 2013, they started as a customised accessory business, crafting fashion jewellery and accessories. Despite their passion, something felt missing. 

Struggling to make ends meet, they were facing imminent bankruptcy.

“Even though we were passionate about designs and artistry, it was not enough to keep us alive. We found ourselves less than 60 days away from bankruptcy and losing everything we’ve ever built but thankfully we turned it around in time,” he said.

It was during this challenging time that a series of events led them to discover the transformative power of crystals.

A chance encounter with crystals

Image Credit: WTF Studios

As they were grappling with financial difficulties, Josh had a profound moment of clarity. After a heartfelt prayer for guidance, he felt inexplicably drawn to a nearby crystal shop. 

Although initially sceptical, Josh bought a bracelet and a pocket stone, which dramatically changed their lives within two weeks. They realised that the crystals had enhanced their focus, clarity, and intuition, setting them on a new path. From that moment, CG and Josh embraced their newfound passion. 

Each month, they bought strands of crystals to create bracelets, which sold almost immediately, often being the most expensive items in their shop. 

Image Credit: WTF Studios

This marked the beginning of WTF Studios, where they followed what was thriving in their lives, turning a simple idea into a full-fledged business.

“We fully transitioned the business in 2015 to the point it became a crystal-focused business,” he said.

A sanctuary for healing and connection

Today, WTF Studios is more than just a retail space. It’s a holistic sanctuary where customers can experience crystal healing in a unique, serene environment with an F&B space.

Image Credit: WTF Studios

Visitors can enjoy crystal-energised water and tea from their cafe, participate in DIY workshops, and attend intimate healing events.

“Today, nothing ever leaves our bar or kitchen, without being ‘energetically connected’ to our menus and crystals,” shared Josh.

Image Credit: WTF Studios

Their “Journey Back To You” workshops offer a comprehensive experience, including crystal tea sessions, healing and manifesting activities, jewellery making, and private readings.

WTF Studios is supported by a dedicated team, including Shu Han and Elise at Gurney Plaza, who are the main designers and readers for that outlet, and Indran, the caretaker of their studio. 

Image Credit: WTF Studios

But the couple’s vision extends beyond their shop at Gurney Plaza, Penang. They aim to create a space where people can find peace, clarity, and connection. 

Philanthropy is also a core value for CG and Josh. Before the pandemic, they dedicated 10% of their profits to societal contributions. They’re committed to resuming these activities once they achieve financial stability. 

Overcoming adversity

Like many businesses, WTF Studios faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They opened their doors on December 24, 2020, only to shut down again on March 1, 2021, due to lockdowns. 

For nearly three years, they kept the dream alive, visiting their studio regularly to maintain the space, despite financial strains.

“We relied heavily on WTF Bracelet to keep the dream alive, burning away the money needed for rent and utilities in the hopes that we can somehow bring it back to life someday,” said the founder.

Image Credit: WTF Studios

Their persistence paid off. Since reopening on January 1, 2024, they’ve seen a mix of local and tourist visitors, slowly rebuilding their following. 

While their crystal jewellery remains the primary revenue driver, they continue to innovate and expand their offerings.

Peering down the road

Looking to the future, CG and Josh have ambitious plans. They aim to expand their market by offering self-awareness talks to companies and educational institutions. 

They’ve also launched free mini crystal reading sessions to attract more visitors. 

Their long-term vision includes creating a private healing space, a crystal reading lounge, and accommodations for travellers. They also aspire to expand their brand globally, starting with Kuala Lumpur.

CG and Josh’s story is a reminder that every struggle, every setback, and every unexpected turn can lead to something beautiful and meaningful. As they continue to serve and heal others, their journey is far from over. And in their words, “The universe doesn’t make mistakes. Nothing just happens.”

  • You can learn more about their business here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Also Read: Net zero explained: Why Amazon, Microsoft, & M’sia itself are pledging to be carbon neutral

Featured Image Credit: WTF Studios

29 yrs ago, this M’sian pioneered saree cakes that have since earned her a global clientele

Sundri Ramesh wasn’t always a cake designer extraordinaire.

In fact, she spent years as a successful Human Resources (HR) manager. But a nudge from her CEO and a love for baking that stretched back to her school days led her down a sweeter path.

Sundri said before she left her HR job, her CEO told her, “If you go out there, everybody bakes cake, everybody does butter cake, and everybody does butter icing, so create something different, even if anyone else does it, your name is there. They will remember you.”

That’s when she decided to do something different. Sundri Bakes & Bites wasn’t born overnight. It started with a passion for baking and a desire to create something unique.

In 2014, after years of navigating the corporate world, Sundri took a leap of faith by opting for early retirement to focus on her baking business. This wasn’t a blind decision though. She meticulously researched the market, identifying a gap in cakes catering to the Indian community in Malaysia.

“I began promoting my cakes on a part-time basis in 1995. I would bake them at night after work, as I worked as the HR head for a top corporate events company during the weekdays and assisted in production for the same company on weekends. So, this was the only time I had available to make my cakes.”

“For about six months, after I retired I took time to read the market on what was actually sellable and who can I sell my cake to,” she said.

Image Credit: Sundri Bakes & Bites

The birth of sweet and unique creations

Inspiration struck when Sundri stumbled upon a newspaper article from India featuring a saree cake with a drawing design. This sparked a fire within her. She wouldn’t just replicate, she would innovate.

Drawing on her baking skills and artistic flair, Sundri crafted her own version of the saree cake. In 2016, she unveiled her now-famous saree cake, a beautiful and unique cake design on Facebook that quickly went viral.

“I was shy to post it at first,” Sundri admits, “But within 24 hours, the response was incredible.” Her social media post featuring the saree cake went viral, garnering a staggering number of likes, shares, and comments.

Image Credit: Sundri Bakes & Bites

The cake’s exquisite design and unique concept resonated with people, not just in Malaysia but across the globe. This wasn’t just a dessert; it was a celebration of Indian culture, beautifully presented on a cake platter.

The viral post not only catapulted Sundri Bakes & Bites into the spotlight but also cemented Sundri’s place as the pioneer of the saree cake in Malaysia.

Her philosophy is refreshingly simple: prioritise quality over quantity and creativity above all else.

Sundri focuses on custom-designed cakes, meticulously crafting each one to be a masterpiece. She refuses to compromise on the quality of her designs, ensuring every decoration is eye candy.

Image Credit: Sundri Bakes & Bites

This unwavering commitment to excellence has garnered her a loyal clientele and industry recognition extending beyond Malaysian borders.

Sundri cakes have graced the tables of Kollywood celebrities, and her talent has been acknowledged through prestigious awards like India’s Tamil Nadu Small Tiny Industries Association 2022 Emerging Business Award.

She’s not just a baker; she’s an artist who has carved a niche for herself in the cake design world.

Image Credit: Sundri Bakes & Bites

Besides her well-known saree cake, she has created the gravity saree cake, a five-element nature cake weighing roughly 30kg, and a lotus pond cake, her most recent masterpiece.

Sharing the sweetness

Today, Sundri Bakes & Bites is a thriving business that’s more than just a cake studio. It’s a haven for passionate individuals who yearn to learn the art of cake design.

Since 2018, Sundri has transformed into an inspiring educator, sharing her knowledge with over 2,200 students through online and face-to-face classes.

Last year, she took a giant leap forward, transitioning from a home-based studio to a full-fledged culinary studio in Nilai.

Image Credit: Sundri Bakes & Bites

But Sundri’s vision extends beyond creating beautiful cakes and teaching eager students. Her ultimate goal is to transform this studio into a comprehensive training centre for aspiring bakers.

“I want to teach people more than just baking,” Sundri explained with a glint in her eye. “It’s about design, marketing, and the entire business aspect of running a successful bakery.”

Her vision is to empower bakers, not just with the technical skills but also with the knowledge to translate their passion into profitable ventures.

For now, she dreams of conducting masterclasses within Malaysia, sharing her expertise and unique cake-making style with a wider audience. But it surely won’t stop at the Malaysian border, she said.

Image Credit: Sundri Bakes & Bites

With her daughter by her side, eager to learn the ropes and eventually take over the reins, Sundri Bakes & Bites is poised for continued growth and success.

The recipe for success

Reflecting on her journey, Sundri offers invaluable advice to budding entrepreneurs—the “five P’s”.

Sparking with passion is the first ingredient, the foundation of any business dream. “You must have passion for whatever you do whether it’s baking or makeup or anything,” she said.

With that being said, only with passion, can one have patience. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Results won’t magically appear overnight, so planning is key.

Image Credit: Sundri Bakes & Bites

“You must know when to bake your cakes, when to ice your cakes, when to do your icing, and when to decorate. When you start planning, you will understand the planning method, only then you can know how to do 10 or 100 cakes,” Sundri shared.

Yet, planning is just the blueprint. To truly rise, practice is essential. Learning never stops, but knowledge without action is like flour sitting untouched in a bag.

The final ingredient? Persistence. It’s the secret to keeping the flame of passion alive.

“Never stop learning, never stop creating. Persistence fuels the drive to explore new techniques and keep that fire burning in your belly.”

“Remember, the competition isn’t the bakery down the street; it’s you yesterday,” she said.

  • You can learn more about their business here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Also Read: Net zero explained: Why Amazon, Microsoft, & M’sia itself are pledging to be carbon neutral

Featured Image Credit: Sundri Bakes & Bites

This M’sian gave up her city job to breathe new life into her family’s kacang tumbuk biz

Jennifer Tan has vivid memories of her childhood. She remembers that at four years old, her grandfather would stack up chairs and place her on top to teach her how to wrap kacang tumbuk.

“The backyard of our old house, where we worked, played, and grew up, was my entire world,” she reminisced. “The rhythmic sounds of kacang tumbuk being made were the soundtrack of my childhood, echoing through my study sessions and revisions.”

Image Credit: Heritaste

After school and during holidays, Jennifer and her siblings would help their parents with their kacang tumbuk business. But despite the children’s deep involvement in the family business, their father never expected them to join it.

“He always hoped that, after university, we would find good jobs and build successful careers beyond our backyard workshop,” she explained to Vulcan Post.

And yet, today, Jennifer and her siblings are all a part of the family business, which has now evolved to adopt the name of Heritaste.

Image Credit: Heritaste

Building a family legacy

Jennifer took over the business a decade ago in 2014. Her elder sister, Annie, takes care of the retail side, while her younger brother, Alex, helps in the packaging department.

“During our family trip to Taiwan in October 2013, I saw how excited my parents were when they looked at the machines, packaging, and products like pineapple tarts, egg rolls, and cookies,” she explained the reasoning behind her decisions. “Their passion for the industry was clear.”

That was also when Jennifer realised that while they had a great product, they lacked good branding and packaging. Seeing the passion in her parents’ eyes, she wondered whether she should go back home and help them. She wondered, could she even make a difference?

“At that time, my parents were around 60 years old and starting to show their age,” she said. “They needed help, and we didn’t have enough people to keep the business running smoothly.”

Image Credit: Heritaste

There were two senior workers left in the business, and if they closed shop, those workers would lose their jobs.

Jennifer’s youngest brother was also eager to take over the business after graduation, and his willingness was a strong motivator too. Her friends and colleagues were fans of their products too, and thus supportive of her going back.

“All these reasons together made me decide to return to the family business,” she said. “I wanted to make a difference and continue the legacy my parents had built.”

Modernising the branding

One huge change that the family business witnessed was a rebrand.

“My father has always been a master at making our product, but he never knew how to handle branding, marketing, or sales,” Jennifer said. “For the first 30 years, we didn’t have a brand, and the market had no idea that such a high-quality product was being made in Jenjarom.”  

Image Credit: Heritaste

She pointed out that even the people in Jenjarom didn’t know of the brand, except for those in the neighbourhood.

So, when the second generation took over the business, they changed things up to attract and retain talented people to work with them.

In 2014, Jennifer created their brand and set up their first retail shop in Jenjarom. She wanted everyone who visited Jenjarom or the Dong Zen Temple to take home their kacang tumbuk as a gift or souvenir.

“Our goal was to position our product as a specialty of Jenjarom,” she elaborated.

Image Credit: Heritaste

From there, they expanded to Selangor, and became the proud winner of the Baik Selangor initiative by the Selangor government.

Improving the operations and offerings

Marketing aside, the business has also improved their working environment, moving from the backyard of their old wooden house to a proper shop.

They’ve also enhanced their standard operating procedures, upgraded their tools and equipment, streamlined their workflow, and invested in team training. In 2023, they obtained MESTI certification.

Through extensive R&D, they’ve also created new flavours and products. Heritaste also embraced ecommerce, with a presence on Lazada, Shopee, and on their own website. They also attend pop-up events every now and again.

“We worked hard to make our recipes better by making them less sweet and adding new flavours like less sugar, Oreo, and black sesame,” Jennifer explained.

Image Credit: Heritaste

Heritaste now offers products such as salted peanut candy, almond flake crackers, pumpkin seed crackers, rice crackers, and heirloom rice crackers.

For the rice crackers, Heritaste has partnered with Langit, a social enterprise that supports local heirloom rice farmers from Sarawak highlands.

To accommodate this growth, the team has grown too, becoming a vibrant, multiracial team of talents.

“Throughout these changes, we have upheld our father’s teachings: conducting business with integrity, prioritising quality over quantity, and believing in the philosophy that ‘slow work ensures quality; slow is fast’,” Jennifer added.

Image Credit: Heritaste

Regarding the name “Heritaste”, Jennifer said that she simply loves the word “heritage”. “We are inheriting not only the business and the traditional taste of our old snack but also a taste of memories and times gone by.”

Embracing rural life

As Jennifer says, Heritaste is not just about snacks. One big thing they hope to do is empower the local youths to feel motivated to do their best, filled with happiness and purpose in their work.

Yet, recruiting and retaining quality talents has been a big challenge for the business.

Image Credit: Heritaste

“In 2017, a group of youths decided to leave our hometown for better opportunities in the city,” she said. “It was a tough decision, but I’m grateful my family supported me through it all. My siblings and my mother pitched in to help with production during those challenging times.”

Some of those youngsters eventually returned, realising that making a living in the city wasn’t easy. In any case, the experience pushed Jennifer to learn how to better lead a team and the importance of sharing a vision and mission with everyone.

“Communication became key. I empowered my team, established clear workflows, and provided training to improve their skills,” she said. “We continued hiring newcomers to share their skills and build a stronger team. I also created career paths for our team.”

The ambition here is to encourage more young people to return home and make a difference in the town’s growth.

“As we’ve grown, I wonder if kacang tumbuk can still support families. I believe in its potential, but without recognition or a strong brand, it’s undervalued,” Jennifer mused.

“If we can change this, our business could thrive, even in our hometown. The rural life is beautiful, and building a career here is rewarding.”

Image Credit: Heritaste

They also want to offer a glimpse of this beauty with those in the city. Jennifer shared that they hope to open a Heritaste outlet in KL.

This will be one step towards being a leading and representative traditional snack brand for Malaysia, allowing the Jenjarom-based business to build an even more vibrant and attractive scene for local talents.

  • Learn more about Heritaste here.
  • Read more articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Also Read: Malaysia’s quest for 5 unicorns by 2025 is now in the hands of MDEC’s game plan

Featured Image Credit: Heritaste

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)