Ambitious women bakers are taking their passion and skills once confined to cramped kitchens to the market place — creating an entrepreneurial culture along the way.
Hobbies have been turned into lucrative food industries, with skills put into baking aromatic fresh cakes and pastries, while persistency has made them successful entrepreneurs.
In Cambodia, two sisters are shaking up the industry with their baking skills and business foresight after setting up a cake empire from humble beginnings.
The industrious siblings have nurtured their passion into a profitable business after launching “The Cake and Bread House” on Phnom Penh’s Kampuchea Krom Boulevard in 2016.
In no time the business has swelled to a chain of six outlets, employing some 60 Cambodians.
Their cakes are baked for birthdays, weddings and other social events – and are even attracting demand from provinces such as Kandal, Kampong Speu and Koh Kong.
“I opened the cake shop because I love to design and decorate cakes. Initially, I watched YouTube to learn to bake and decorate cakes, but that was not so useful.
“I wanted more practical experience. So in 2016 my sister and I went to Bangkok to learn more about baking cakes,” younger sister Thea Vouch Eng, 28, told The Post.
The Eng sisters are part of a flourishing baking industry worldwide, where more young female entrepreneurs are exploring ways to launch their own brands and become financially independent.
According to the international Food and Wine website in March 2018, 85 per cent of baking and pastry students at the Culinary Institute of America were women compared to 50 per cent of the entire enrolment.
Statistics in Cambodia also reveal another telling story.
According to the Exploring the Opportunities for Women-owned SMEs in Cambodia report from International Finance Corporation, which is part of the World Bank, the bulk of such businesses are operated by women.
“The reality is that women own the majority of businesses in the country [61 per cent], significantly higher than in many Asean countries,” said the 2019 report.
Now young female Cambodians are beginning to challenge the once male-dominated profession, and entrepreneurs like Vouch Eng are not only breaking the “glass ceiling” but also amplifying female empowerment.
“I don’t like working for others; I like to have my own business. Before starting the cake business, we had a small stall that sold coffee and green tea,” she said.
In the competitive cake and pastry business, The Cake and Bread House has anchored itself by baking to suit local taste buds – even fending off rivalry from popular foreign brands.
Of the four flavours available, which include chocolate, strawberry and durian, pandan leaf with coconut is a particularly hot seller.
“We have all sizes of cakes. The biggest cake we ever made for a customer was around 30kg.
“I focus on taste, decoration and price, but most important is taste – they are delicious.
Our prices are also affordable, starting from $5 [per cake],” Vouch Eng said.
The rising demand for cakes and pastries fuelled by improving household incomes, a boom in social media use and online trading are all helping businesses like Vouch Eng’s to bloom.
“Currently, cakes are getting increasingly more popular among Cambodians compared to10 years ago.
Almost 90 per cent of my sales are birthday cakes.“I always go live on Facebook, and around 50 per cent of my customers have come to know my cake shops through Facebook.
“Livelihoods have improved and more social events like birthday parties are happening. When there is a cake, any celebration is a hugely more enjoyable experience,” Vouch Eng said.