Quarantine Home Bakers - Part 8

Jul 09 2020. views 211

The coronavirus and the two-month lockdown haven’t been great for a lot of businesses
– especially restaurants and cafés relying on hungry customers and diners to make a profit. But turning adversity into opportunity is a special skill we Sri Lankans seemed to have mastered over the years and that is exactly what we’ve successfully done in times like these. 
In this series, we talk to people who turned their passion for food and baking into a business idea. Some have been in the market for years and others saw the new opportunity and took it! With dining out now a distant possibility, these businesses are changing the game and have overcome the odds of running a business during the quarantine. Here’s how they did it. 
Offering donut bouquets, Brown Sugar by Diarra Wickremasighe took over Instagram for their decadent range of donuts and sweets.  
What do you offer?
I’m a curator of all things sweet!  I do an array of cakes, cupcakes, brownies, doughnuts and more! A few signature items of mine include Ice cream tacos that I do only for stalls, eclair pizzas and doughnut bouquets! 
When did you start operations?
I was in operation before curfew and to be honest, there has been a spike in demand during lockdown; a lot of people were craving doughnuts especially! Operations have changed due to the many hygienic measures we home bakers have to take such as disinfecting the ingredients delivered etc. It goes without saying that home baker's hygiene levels must be 110% but COVID has definitely increased the pressure of disinfecting everything and ensuring that all operations are done correctly in accordance with required safety measures. 
What was it like running your operations during curfew? 
Pretty challenging considering that I couldn't arrange delivery during that time. Also, being a 'home' baker means that I have a duty to safeguard everyone at home! This meant that I had to take careful measures when customers would call over to pick up their order and in the collection of payment etc.  
What was the most challenging part about operating during curfew?
The most challenging part was not having a mode of delivery. However, I was able to take many orders for those who were able to pick up! I actually did a wedding cake during the curfew that just brightened up the house because I tend to play music to suit the occasion and spark inspiration so; love songs all day, everyone dancing, the works! 
How are you ensuring the proper hygiene measures are taken in preparation and delivery?
I am following all safety guidelines in terms of sanitary measures. However, for a period of time, I intend to take orders on a pick up basis only.
What do you enjoy about baking and operating your own home baking business?
The fact that it is 100% my own. I have the power to mould Brown Sugar and make it as authentic as possible. It's so refreshing to have something that is entirely yours and have fun with it. 
How has COVID-19 and the current state of the world changed your business and your baking?
It has actually given me time to realise how much more I can do and has helped me experiment at home with new products that I will unveil soon. It has also helped me get to know my customers and those who follow me- I put up a bunch of DIY desserts that people can make at home during curfew and I got so many people sending me pictures of what they made, asking me questions about the do's and don’ts, sharing their concoctions- it was so nice to engage with them! 
How do you Home Bakers going forward post-COVID?
I see a rapid increase of home bakers which is honestly so amazing. Sri Lanka has so many talented people coming up with new and fun ways of doing business and creating products. Post-COVID will be a little challenging due to the immense supply and availability of similar products, but it is still so great to see new places come up!
Any advice to anyone who wants to start their own business? 
You are never too young to start your own business. I started selling cookies at the age of 12 to buy my mum a phone for her birthday (which I did - I was able to collect enough money!) and that sparked Brown Sugar to be born in 2015. Being 21 now has made me realise that I am so lucky to have had the many experiences I did at a very young age, it really helped me grow my business and grow up in the process. The best advice of all is to be beautifully YOU in all that you create. Your energy and gorgeous ways must be embedded in your brand and it must speak the authentic language that you have designed. Copy cats and competitors come and go, but if you have a brand and line of products that are special and reflect what is important and real to you, I guarantee loyal customers forever. It's okay to be wonderfully weird and imperfectly perfect, as long as you are true to you. 
*. Brown Sugar takes orders only via Instagram (@brownsugar). Brown Sugar accepts bank transfers or cash on pick up. 
Nilomi Kurukulasooriya launched her tiny home business in 2012 on a very small scale having quit her career in the corporate world to be the primary caregiver for her kids. Considering herself to be a total foodie and a lover of all kinds of food, Nilomi introduced her home baking business ‘Foodie Colombo’ offering sweet and savoury delights. 
What do you offer?
I offer both savouries and sweets. Cakes, Cupcakes, Brownies, Fingerfood, Drinks, Lasagnas, Pasta, Roasts, Bakes, Sides and Sinhala Kevili to name a few. My best-sellers are of course my Brownies which are a family favourite and my Cakes. However, my Roasts are quite popular too.  
When did you start operations?
I was in operation before lockdown. I had just signed up with Ubereats and Pickme Foods in Jan - Feb so it was just recording a good offtake when everything shut down. In fact, I was shocked at the level of demand on the day in which island-wide curfew was declared. I, of course, shut down my operations during the curfew because I knew the implications of the Corona Virus in January itself and wanted to take all measures before getting back into my usual business! 
What was it like running your operations during curfew? 
I didn’t operate at all till May 17th when the curfew was lifted for a limited time. I particularly felt bad during the Avurudu days in which my clients were frantically calling me for a few Kevili but I had no access to good treacle and other ingredients so I didn’t want to offer sub-par products. 
What was the most challenging part of operating during curfew? 
Since I commenced work only on 17th May, the worst was behind, but sourcing my ingredients was difficult. I still find sourcing imported items so difficult. Fortunately, I met a few good suppliers on Social Media which helped quite a bit.  Working with a mask is difficult in the kitchen especially on a humid day but I know it’s a necessary factor. 
How are you ensuring the proper hygiene measures are taken in preparation and delivery?
I am well-stocked in hand sanitiser, hand wash, and rubbing alcohol to name a few. Everything has to be kept clean and sanitary as I already have 2 kids in the house. I clean up before and after each order. I also wear a mask at all times too. I personally handle the order myself so staff contact is limited. I also know my staff is equally obsessed with personal hygiene and personal protection (use of gloves/masks) as they have children in their homes too so I know they take every precaution.
What do you enjoy about baking and operating your own home baking business?
My catering operation is small and I haven't pushed it to the next level as I consider my kids my first priority. If I really wanted to work long hours, I would never have quit my corporate job, hence I never got around to opening a cafe. However, Ubereats and Pickme Foods has definitely changed the nature of the food business in Colombo, and catering to demand through this new delivery method has been exciting.  I also enjoy the flexibility of being a home baker offers, especially now as my kids are homeschooling and knowing I can shut down at any time. 
How has COVID-19 and the current state of the world changed your business and your baking?
I do feel people have less purchasing power as a lot of people have been laid off or salaries have been halved so people are more careful with their expenses. However, I have got a few loyal clients, who trust my homemade wholesome fresh food and have ordered off me and I really appreciate their support in these times. I also try to offer cost-effective options whenever a client gets in touch without compromising on my quality. For example, I always make my cakes, desserts with butter. I would not switch over to margarine due to changes in the economic situation.
How do you Home Bakers going forward post-COVID?
I think now may not be the best time to kick start a cafe or pastry business. But Home Bakers, provided they offer quality food for good value, have a chance of thriving and succeeding. 
Any advice to anyone who wants to start their own business? 
Start Small. Take Baby Steps. Don’t do major Capital Investment. Don’t slow down or halt your dreams just because of COVID. This too will pass. Hopefully, 2021 will be a better year!!
*Orders can be placed via Instagram or Facebook (@foodiecolombo) and on UberEats or Pickme Foods.


Panchali Illankoon

Law Graduate, food and travel enthusiast and full time dog mom..


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