In this new series, Lifestyle Asia speaks with individuals who were bit with the food business bug during the early days of Enhanced Community Quarantine and how their passions led them to cooking, baking and selling in the middle of a pandemic.
Chelle Acol’s Chellesis Cakes & Pastries started in 2009, selling home-baked goods for Christmas bazaars and the like. They expanded during the non-festive season into catering needs, and for customers who wanted the option of more personalised treats. For the lockdown, owner Chelle Acol decided to go all in on the business.
With a menu update that happened in March, it was a good time to start. “When the lockdown started, we were already prepared with a menu for the desserts we take pride in,” says Chelle, “most are classic recipes where we take the challenge of having our distinct take on each of them.” She considers what she makes as the better version of a timeless recipe, with distinct takes that make every bite a special one. Specialties include their Morgan Bread and their line of gluten free, sugar free and dairy free desserts. “We are also working on our toast and jam collection where sugar free and all natural jams are the centre of attraction,” she says.
When she saw that customers were willing to buy and try anything, she expanded the brand to offering favoured family meals. “Thus, the birth of Chellesis Food Crates. Since we didn’t want to overwhelm our selves and our customers, we kept the menu simple, offering half and full orders for all our entrees.” Chelle was happy to see the many occasions celebrated by their customers during the lockdown, from birthdays, mother’s day or any day to remember someone special by sending food. “We made sure the message was relayed clearly so we included special occasion tags on our cakes and food crates.”
In the beginning, Chellesis Cakes & Pastries took orders for a Monday and Friday pick up delivery schedule. Chellesis Food Crates were offered daily with a 2-day advance order. Their Mongolian/Japanese Rice Bowls were also offered twice a week, on the days of a non-baking day. Eventually, Chelle realised that repeat customers would order from all three lines, requesting a cake or dessert bars to the food crates. “Having in mind customer satisfaction, we had to adjust. Simultaneous cooking and baking had to be done,” she says.
According to Chelle, the decision to operate during the lockdown was a practical one, made lucky because the home food industry is one that can thrive during these challenging times. She saw that the system was home friendly and needed to be created for those in need of it. “Aside from the entrepreneurial aspect of this endeavour, it is very fulfilling to know that we are able to support local farmers from our daily purchase of produce,” she says, “for example, the evolution of our home made jams rooted from our desire to help the farmers of Benguet.”
The business is now a family venture, where each member of the household contributes their share from procurement, cooking, packing, marketing, sales and social media concerns. “Other than meat and vegetables, teamwork, patience and respect are the essential and practical ingredients to this endeavor. Family support and encouragement were high pitched,” she says, “we can’t complain about being tired and restless. This is way better than doing nothing.”
When the lockdown started, Chelle says they were lucky to have an ample supply of raw materials and packaging during the lockdown. They learned to be flexible with substitution without foregoing the quality of dishes made. “With the rise of many food groups, pages and Viber food groups, sourcing supplies became a lot easier. In fact, this paved the way to getting to many direct suppliers,” she says.
At the end of the day, despite the fear and uncertainties brought by the pandemic, Chelle is grateful for the life lessons, time and opportunity to ponder her passion for cooking and baking, and the ceaseless company of her family. “Chellesis Cakes & Pastries, Chellesis Food Crates and Inbento (Mongolian/Japanese) will all continue to offer our specialties and continue to reinvent new entrees and recipes,” she says.