How A Solo Trip From Malaysia To Australia Sparked Chef & Baker, Grace Earthiam’s Entrepreneurial Journey

“There were times when people around me would try to pull me down stating my dreams were unrealistic. I decided to challenge the status quo that has been programmed for me. As the saying goes, your dreams and your actions define you. Don’t let others define you with what they tell you to do and not to.”

What was your upbringing like?  How did you end up in Australia?

My family always been a strong pillar of support for me.  The values they’ve instilled in me have provided a strong foundation for me generally in life.  I was born in Malaysia in a quaint town known as Buntong, Perak – West coast of Malay peninsula. When I was a kid, my leadership qualities stood out among my peers. I was the head prefect in my school and also leading various curriculum and non-curriculum activities. 

I’ve always wanted to be a businesswoman as I was inspired by my father. He’s a businessman running his own successful “Mee goreng” (fried noodle) restaurant in my hometown in Buntong, Perak.  As a child I basically spent most of time in my father’s restaurant and I was fortunate enough to learn some business skills from him. Watching him doing what he loves has piqued my interest to follow in his footsteps. So, I decided to explore my capabilities and talents which lead me to a journey of discovering my love for culinary arts (mainly baking). 

I realized that there were a lot of things that captured my attention and I needed to explore and learn more about baking and cookery. So, I randomly selected Melbourne for a solo vacation and to do a short chocolate design course in Savour School.  Melbourne swept me off my feet with its mainly wonderful characteristics including beauty, culture, hospitality and friendly people.  One of the patisserie café which truly inspired me was Brunetti (Italian Dessert) and I had to mention this café because it was a mjaor turning point in my career journey. After I came back to Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia) after my vacation, I started to search for a baking and cookery institute in Australia.  I decided to enrol myself to study a Diploma in Hospitality Management in Melbourne.

I am proud to say that I am a Qualified Chef who lives in Melbourne independently and at the same time I am working as part-time cake decorator at one of the well renowned bakeries in the city. I carried all my skills with me to this country promising (Australia) to upgrade myself and my skills. 

Although I have confidence internally, my experience growing up in a conservative South Asian household/community definitely puts doubts in my mind about what I can do.  The journey to Melbourne was not definitely an easy one. I decided to take the road less travelled and that made all the difference.

Tell us about why you started Gracielicious Bakery.

It came in 2014 while watching Nigella Lawson’s fruit cake baking show and decided to bake a similar fruit cake at home. To my surprise it turned out very well, and my family/friends whom tasted it loved it. They encouraged me to bake another cake that same week. I baked a few cakes referring to the recipes I found on the internet and with God’s grace, I received an order from my friend for my first cake which was sold for (MYR 50). On the next day, I received positive feedback from my friend saying the cake was really delicious. It really motivated me and after few days, I decided to enrol myself for some baking classes which gave me the confidence to start a small business in Kuala Lumpur on a part-time basis.

What were some challenges you experienced setting up the business?

The baking industry is not as easy as I thought it would be. It’s highly demanding and customers will always come with their own designs and expectations in terms of creativty to be seen from the bakers.

The challenges I had to face during my initial years include:

1. Little experience/knowledge to run a business. I didn’t have this knowledge as I was self-taught.

2. Facing customers’ expectations and requirements based on current trend. Especially with dietary requirements such as Halal, Vegan and Vegetarian etc.

3. Financial difficulties to purchase tools to do cake decorations. Improper financial/budget plans.

4. Lack of time since I was working full time and ran the business part-time.

5. Balacing a good product, service & pricing. Mostly customers will expect the cake to be cheap.  It was quite challenging to beat other bakers.

7. Home-based business.  There are a lot of advantages doing it this way but it can be daunting in many ways especially if you are a one-woman business doing it all.

8. Lack of a social life.  Missing time with family and friends to focus on fulfilling orders. 

To overcome the challenges, I ventured to upgrade my skills tremendously to the next level based on customers current expectations, so I enrolled myself for some courses including:

– Wedding Cake Construction & Decorating course.

– Participated in a cake decorating class with few famous bakers (local & abroad) running their business successfully.

– Chocolate-making class in Melbourne, Australia in October 2016 at ‘Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School’ during my vacation. 

How did the COVID pandemic affect your business and yourself personally? 

The pandemic has impacted everyone’s life one way or another.  During the COVID pandemic, Melbourne was under lockdown for almost 8 months. The world was battling and continue to battle the worst pandemic in modern era.  We faced the same crisis like other countries where most of us have lost our source of income. The government announced that non-essential industries have to close their business temporarily due to this pandemic. Having said that, I still did not give up on my passion even though I truly missed and still missing all my loved ones who lives in Malaysia.  I’ve tried to maintain a positive outlook in life and have faith that there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. 

I know I am not alone in this situation. I decided to spread the positivity by cooking authentic Malaysian meals and post it in my social media to honour my heritage as well as the people that I miss back home during this period. A silver lining in this pandemic as that I had more time to try and improve my recipes/skills.

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