SINGAPORE – Last September (2020), Ms Jacqueline Choo received an order for 700 pieces of mochi.
At the time, “Oh My Mochi” – her home-based mochi store – was only five months old and the 46-year-old had to engage the help of both her husband and eldest daughter, as well as pull an all-nighter, to fulfil that order.
Four months on, with Chinese New Year round the corner and orders piling up, Ms Choo is confident she will not have to repeat that experience .
“I can make mochi a lot faster now, and if I get a huge order, I prepare the decorations one day in advance so I only need to focus on making the mochi on the day of delivery,” said Ms Choo.
She has also stocked up enough ingredients for two months or so. They lie stacked against a wall in her living room.
Coping with Chinese New Year orders
Home bakers like Ms Choo are gearing up for the CNY season and finding ways to cope with the surge in demand. Some have started working longer hours and set limits to the number of orders they take.
Unlike established food businesses, home bakers here do not need a licence to operate.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Housing Board (HDB) permit both HDB dwellers and private home owners to run small-scale businesses from home, provided no one outside the household is employed.
Ms Choo also works as a financial services director. Her family has played a huge role in ensuring she can fulfil the 150 to 200 orders she gets each month.
Her husband makes deliveries on the weekend, while two daughters help to market her products.
This has brought the family closer together, despite one daughter studying in Australia.
But the daughter in question, Ms Shirley Lim, manages the store’s Instagram account. She also helped design red packets for CNY.
Said the 22-year-old student: “I thoroughly enjoy helping out in small ways, even though I haven’t been able to return to Singapore just yet.”
Baking every day
Mr Derick Goh, 40, started “Dream Hearts” – his home bakery – last May during the circuit breaker.
The ex-manager had already quit his job as he did not want to be posted overseas during the pandemic.
The father of two is now a full-time home baker specialising in fortune cat-shaped pineapple tarts.
Mr Goh said: “Now that CNY is round the corner, I have no choice but to bake every day to keep up.”
He has made sure he has enough ingredients to last through the season.
Mr Goh said: “There was a lot of trial and error involved, but I’m coping well now.”
Trouble securing ingredients
Mr Jonas Lim, 30, and his wife, Ms Soh Rui Yi, 28, have a home bakery they have named “Jo-Yi Bakery”. It sells Taiwanese bread.
Since starting their home business last May, they have struggled to secure the special flour they use, which is imported from Taiwan.
Mr Lim said: “There are often delays in shipment, which affect our ability to fulfil orders. Our distributor has had to call other customers to beg them to lend us bags of flour.”
Most recently, they also had trouble getting pineapples – which they needed for their seasonal pineapple tarts – from Malaysia because of the Movement Control Order.
The couple now order larger quantities of ingredients in advance. They have also learnt to cap daily orders to 20 to make sure they can cope.
The home bakery operates from Mr Lim’s parents’ house, where the couple lives.
Mr Lim said: “We wake up at 3am and sleep at 10pm. It was very tiring at the start, but we’ve gotten used to it.” He finds pockets of time to work while his wife bakes.
The pair never expected to run a home-based bakery, much less during a pandemic. When circuit breaker started, Ms Soh, who was an event planner, found herself without an income for four months as her company was hit hard. Egged on by her husband, Ms Soh’s years-long passion for baking turned into a way to supplement Mr Lim’s income as an engineer.
Despite the challenges, the couple has thoroughly enjoyed the process. Ms Soh said: “We’ve definitely gotten closer because of our business – it’s a good thing.”
Mr Lim added: “We make a good team. She covers my weaknesses and I cover hers.”