Bake it till you make it!
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
“I tried baking around 200 cupcakes before I got the right recipe for my classic vanilla cake,” Guneet Kaur tells me as she recalls the struggles of starting her now-instantly-recognisable cake business, Labouqake. Born and brought up in Thailand, Guneet had moved to Australia to get her Master’s in teaching, before coming back to Thailand to look for a job – which is where her story begins. “When I started Labouqake, I was unemployed and was applying for jobs as a full-time teacher. While I had zero culinary experience, I’d always expressed to my best friend,Twinkle Khurana, that I wanted to open my own cafe someday, and we used to share amazing cakes with one another,” she recalls.
“She always thought I could do it, and we’d talk about how she could help me design my tea cake menu!” she adds with a laugh, while also crediting her brother as the other invaluable person who inspired her to start her business. “My brother was my full-time partner and supporter in Labouqake, from creating the name, the branding, products, helping to design the label, and getting the products professionally photographed. We’d both come across an idea of making a bouquet of cupcakes – that’s where the name comes from: la, meaning ‘the’ in French, and ‘bouqake’ being a combination of bouquet and cake. Our focus was on creating gift products – instead of just flowers and cupcakes, we put them together to create a luxury gifting product.”
And the rest was history. “From bouqakes, we expanded into baskets and boxes of floral cupcakes – the former is still one of my favourite products, and they were a huge hit. I then branched out to making designer cakes and wedding cakes, keeping the idea of beauty and sophistication intact. I want people to think of a gorgeous colour palette and a cake that is too pretty to eat whenever they think of Labouqake.”
She speaks to Masala further about how her dough-or die attitude helped her home business push through times when she kneaded it most.
You’ve expanded your recipes quite a lot from your first batch! Run me through your thought process when conceptualising a dish.
I always test different recipes and understand the importance of each ingredient, mixing and matching recipes to make the perfect one. A classic cake breaks down into the cake sponge, the fillings, and the smooth buttercream, and you have to find the perfect balance to make it delicious. I personally love cheesecakes for their smooth and creamy texture, and my coconut cheesecakes were a huge hit during COVID.
E-commerce businesses have risen exponentially in recent years, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. What advantages have you found are unique to running an online business instead of a brick-and-mortar one?
There were so many advantages with starting a business from the comfort of my house. With my full-time job, I couldn’t afford to be in a café or be in a store full time, and I’d usually work on my cakes late at night. The pandemic gave me the comfort to work on my own time, and I could juggle my job and my business very nicely!
I believe e-commerce businesses, if done well, are a huge advantage, especially financially. You don’t need a huge investment to start a business remotely, and display it online. There is no pressure of being at the storefront, and you’re able to do more with your time. Another advantage was that I’m generally introverted, so I couldn’t imagine selling my products face-to-face. This was a perfect way to be the best in both the fields I was working in, teaching and baking!
What are some unexpected aspects of running the business that you did not expect prior to starting it?
At the start, my brother supported and helped me in his free time, which was barely a few hours during the day, but at night he would stay with me and help me with all the packaging; arranging floral bouquets etc. while I baked. As he got busier in his business, however, I had to handle it on my own, from taking orders and chatting with customers, dealing with the raw materials, delivery, baking, and packaging. It was very difficult at times, especially during high seasons like Christmas.
I remember breaking down and almost giving up. It took a toll on my health a few times, as I was not only doing early hours at school, but also doing late hours baking. My job was also affected and I would sometimes be found lacking at school due to not having adequate amounts of sleep or rest. Many times, I felt like quitting and not taking up any more projects or orders. With time, I learnt how to balance everything. If I was swamped with orders and work, I would take up less work, and plan my days better. I realised that at the start, you don’t want to turn down any business, but your physical and mental health shouldn’t be compromised. I started focusing on the quality and not the quantity, and did my best to always prioritise both my jobs properly.
What have you learned about yourself while starting and running this business?
That being hardworking, consistent, and passionate is the way to get through anything. I am a self-taught baker and cake artist. I spent hours online learning tips and tricks to be able to bake the perfect cake. If it wasn’t for my passion for it, I don’t think I would have had the time or the patience to understand how to perfect something. I have always struggled with being consistent in some parts of my life, but Labouqake wasn’t one.
What have been your biggest achievements and challenges to date?
My biggest achievement was building this brand to the way it is today. I put in a lot of focus with the branding, and making sure there was an element I could resonate with. There is still a long way to go and I had never imagined that today I would be able to speak about a brand that I started out of love of desserts. My biggest challenge was just making Labouqake known. We’ve all tried to start something, but it takes a lot to establish yourself, and that was my biggest fear – I wasn’t confident that something I baked would be loved by hundreds of people. My brother was my biggest critic and support. If it weren’t for him, I don’t think I would have made Labouqake what it is today.
What are Labouqake’s expansion plans?
I am taking Labouqake to the UK! I’ve got plans to start a small café in London and sell luxury cakes and desserts. I would love to eventually become a luxury wedding cake artist with a café, and coordinate events where I do wedding cakes in-house.
What is the most important advice you’d like to give to our readers – both culinary advice, and in starting your own business?
Be resilient, and stick to the plan! No matter how hard it gets, keep trying until there is really no way out before giving up. I believe there’s always a way through, and people who are there to support you. Never be afraid to ask for help. Be humble through your path and most importantly, be consistent. It’s easy to lose focus in today’s world. As for culinary advice, you will never get it right the first time – be open to experimenting, and don’t be afraid to fail. Do it with passion and it will always be fruitful in the end.