Cheers to businesses that are made with passion and are run by strong and talented women like Loretta Lee; a Malaysian entrepreneur and carer mind behind Nyonya Recipe.
Her business idea came from her willingness of making her passion for Malaysian cuisine accessible to everyone. Her touchy story of life and culinary skills are now shared here on the blog now.
Midlands Traveller: Tell me a little bit about you.
Loretta Lee: I am a Malaysian and I settled here about 11 years ago. This was for my children’s education as one of my twins has a learning disability and the education for pupils with special needs is limited.
As my husband is British, we felt that it was the best for the children, and still is.
In fact, I was in the UK on 1st January 1980, landing at Heathrow airport in the morning and feeling great to be in a new country.
I was gung-ho and looked forward to being a student. It was an interesting time, and I managed to get some part-time work in a shoe shop and did some cleaning jobs as well.
I passed all my professional exams within a year and was working for a short stint in the college where I studied. Then I left and went back to Malaysia. I work for a few years and later started my own business in conferences, seminars, and training. I also had a company that offers Quality Management Consultancy (ISO).
My training company was the first company, in the training industry, in Malaysia to be accredited with ISO 9001. That was years ago!1996!! I am so ancient! I beat all the large companies to it like Shell, Petronas, big banks, and giant manufacturers. And my company is a woman-led and women-run company with an occasional male employee or two!
MT: How did you come up with the idea of a business like yours?
LL: It was a long and tortuous journey. I am a carer, which means caring is not my job like someone works in the caring industry.
I am a carer by account of my daughter having a disability. Caring is such an emotional and mental draining responsibility. It is really, really hard and only a carer would understand what it means.
In the early days, I needed to take time off from this caring stress. It did not help when my husband works out of town, so all responsibilities fell on me. It did not help when I was new to the system.
So, I decided to do catalog drop as a time to remove myself from the stress and to do something on my own. I did this for about four to five years, part-time. This allowed me to plan my time and schedule around school. It wasn’t the best thing to do but I needed the outlet.
Cooking has always been my hobby. I make Malaysian food for my family. My family actually eats all sorts of food. I have always wanted to write a cookbook. During this time, I decided, after a long while, to have a blog. I finally did get the blog going, posting about 3 to 4 times a month.
NyonyaRecipe.com was my way of documenting my Nyonya food and recipes. I do experiment with other food as well.
I always like to share my food. I am involved as a volunteer with the Leicestershire Love Food Hate Waste initiative. I did many cookery classes in the local community. The feedback that I got from my friends and the community was that my food is good.
Based on that, and being an entrepreneur, I want to test whether my food is acceptable to the British public Joe.
If it is acceptable, then I have a good product/s. It started with the objective of testing my food, and then I went and got totally involved with the local markets and farmers’ markets.
I started in June last year and I only do it once a month. Now I am going a bit more by having 2 to 3 events a month.
My products have evolved, and I am focusing more on vegan products. I have vegan products is because when I take my food to a party or friends, some one or two of them would be vegetarian or vegan. I like to be inclusive and do not want to leave out anybody, as far as my food is concerned.
That was how I came up with vegan alternatives. So, you see, sometimes when we give, we receive in return. I tried to include my non- omni friends and it ended with me benefiting by having vegan products!
MT: Tell me about your mission and what products and services do you offer?
LL: My mission is to make Malaysian food accessible to all. Currently, all my food is homemade and handmade.
I also cater to gluten-free as well, Where practical. Gluten-free is a great challenge as there is no gluten to hold the cakes or cookies. Furthermore, the GF flour that I get her has a ‘rough’ texture. And the price of GF flour is about 8 to 10 times more.
I used to run a supper club, but I have temporarily stopped due to an injured wrist. I hope to start again soon.
MT: What is unique about your services?
LL: The cookies and bakes that are on offer are all family favourites. The chocolate chip cookies, while not entirely ethnic, are based on the popular Famous Amos cookies that we get in Malaysia.
The rest of the cookies, like the peanut cookies and Kuih Bangkit are usually made during Chinese New Year, or Hari Raya (Eid). Well, you are lucky you can get this all year round.
I only do Malaysian and Oriental, Asian types of cookies. I don’t do, say, carrot cake, Victoria sponges, and other British cakes as it is not my specialty.
It takes great efforts to promote my products as the main stream has yet to try and be familiar with it. It is a big challenge and I am slowly getting people to like and purchase my products.
It is like a shoe seller goes to a place and the locals are bare-footed. So does one feel that there is no market for shoes, or that there is a great demand for shoes? I would like to think the latter. I am an incorrigible positive person!
There are not many people selling Malaysian, Oriental, and Asian types of snacks in the mainstream. So, I intend to capture that market.
MT: What is your kind of clientele?
LL: My perfect customer would be a person who is adventurous when I come to food, has disposable income, and love to share good food with good friends and family. They would probably have travelled far and wide.
MT: What are the challenges of a business like yours?
LL: As a small business, I cannot compete with price as this has a lot to do with economies of scale that come with big volume. My product is also hand-made, and it is a bit slow.
My purchasing is still retail as I am not big enough to go wholesale purchasing. Hopefully, my purchases can be wholesales soon. As a small business, visibility is vital. I need to build a strong brand.
MT: How are social media important to the success of your business?
LL: When I first started my own business over a quarter of a century ago, there was no internet, Facebook, linked in, Instagram, etc. Having the golf-ball type of electric type-writer was considered advanced! I am not sure how many of you readers remember this!!
Then the daisy wheel, which the typeface can be changed. You probably need to ask your gran about this!!
I remember trying to incorporate the internet into my business, ie, having a website. It was an arduous task. It is a worldwide wait. We only managed to use email and a bit of the internet.
Things have changed and now I find that social media is crucial for any business, big or small. I have managed to blog and have an online shop. which is a great journey for me. I am now attending a lot of digital classes to up my knowledge. I still have a lot to learn.
Being a one-person operation, I am doing everything. So, it is a deep learning process. I know what is required. But getting the technical ability, and the time to do it is a great challenge. How I wish I have a team to ‘boss’ around, i.e. to delegate to.
MT: What are the next steps for your business?
LL: I am currently doing retail in Farmer’s market and online. I will be going to B2B soon. I will be contacting cafes and food to collaborate. Please contact me if any of your readers are interested. email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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