From Their First Job To Running Their First Business
Joseph Low quit his high paying banking job, just a few weeks after getting promoted to Senior Banker. Why? The answer might sound a little crazy.
It all started with Joseph’s colleague, Brian Chien. They met during a 6-week training session to become bankers and quickly became as close as brothers. Even though they were posted to different branches, they met regularly because of their shared love for food and their lifelong dream of becoming business owners one day.
Brian (left) and Joseph (right) standing in front of their Sugar Toast outlet in Wisma Atria, Singapore.
Feeling Like They Kneaded More Purpose In Life
Brian loved baking. When he was a kid, his mother would bake different types of cakes and bread but would not allow him in the kitchen for fear of her young child making a mess. This sparked his passion and determination to bake, and maybe even start a bakery of his own.
Joseph, on the other hand, was inspired from a young age to follow in his father’s footsteps as a businessman. He didn’t know what he wanted to do yet, but he knew he wanted to attain financial freedom and start something of his own.
So when Brian called Joseph for lunch and shared the ambitious idea of starting a bakery together which meant trading stability and promotions for something unknown, Joseph knew he wanted in.
They then launched Sugar Toast, a bakery that sells premium quality Japanese style milk bread. They opened their very first Singapore flagship at Wisma Atria in November last year during the pandemic.
Starting A Business They ‘Loaf’ed
Sugar Toast’s Signature Original Toast.
So why Sugar Toast? Some background first: Sugar Toast is an existing franchise with over 130 outlets across China and Malaysia.
Brian first found Sugar Toast when he happened to walk past an outlet in Malaysia and caught a whiff of the deliciously saccharine baked bread. He was so won over by the scent alone, he decided to buy one of every type of toast.
As fate would have it, the lady that took his order was the person in charge of Sugar Toast Malaysia Headquarters. After getting a better understanding of the brand he found out that he could become a franchisee in Singapore if he wanted to. So he exchanged numbers with the manager.
After sharing the bread with Joseph, who loved it too, they started the process of buying the franchising rights and eventually bought a brick-and-mortar store in Wisma Atria, one of the malls in Singapore’s most popular shopping district.
Starting A Business In A Pandemic, Not A Piece Of Cake
A loaf of bread waiting to go in the oven.
Launching the franchise required them to understand how the other outlets were run and training on how to bake the Sugar Toasts. This was challenging for the former bankers.
The travel restrictions didn’t make it easier. They were unable to fly in a chef from the China or Malaysia headquarters to train them, so Brian had to move to Malaysia for a month to learn and master the recipes, techniques and day-to-day operations.
In the meantime, Joseph played to his strengths and focused on the business development aspect.
As for Brian, learning baking professionally wasn’t a piece of cake. “It was very labour intensive compared to banking and I had to master everything within a month. Even though I worked seven days a week, from 6 am to 9 pm, it was oddly satisfying and fuelled my motivation further,’ he recalled.
After his training, Brian taught Joseph the skills he had picked up. Washing dishes and getting burnt from breadmaking was the reality for them working in a humid environment 12 hours a day, in those early days — till they slowly built their team.
Reaching Customers Working From Home Despite A Brick And Mortar Store
Sugar Toast’s Cheese Crown.
The skill of bread making was one challenge. Reaching out to customers as a relatively unknown brand at the time as another. The frequent changes of social restrictions also resulted in a lack of crowds at shopping malls during the pandemic which affected their sales.
The team pivoted their business online to ensure that their business could keep running. From taking orders via their website, engaging pre-orders and group buys to using food delivery platforms such as Grab and Food Panda they made sure that it would be convenient for their customers to place orders whilst maintaining the quality of the Sugar Toast.
At the same time, they continued their efforts with the physical store, as they knew it was important to have that presence and to let potential customers know who they were.
Why It’s All Worth It
To serve their customers better they have now doubled their team to 10 people strong, selling up to 500 loaves of bread per day. For both Brian and Joseph, the satisfaction that they get from the happy faces of their customers motivates them to keep going.
Leaving a stable, high paying job to become an entrepreneur in a brand new industry takes a lot of courage and determination. While their journey started together as full-time bankers and part-time foodies, their determination and resilience in bringing their childhood vision to life is truly inspiring.
Sugar Toast currently has 15 flavours available on the menu made up of sweet and savoury options such as Salted Cheese and Rainbow Cranberry Toast, ranging from $10.90 to $15.90 per bag. As of today, the Singapore outlet has racked up to 700 loaves per day and counting!