PETALING JAYA: It’s 4am. While many are sound asleep, Catherine Chan is in her kitchen, baking. At 12pm, freshly made cookies are packed into beautiful pink boxes and delivered to eager customers.
She pulls apart one of her bestsellers, the brown butter S’mores cookie, and the sight of the gooey, fluffy marshmallow and oozing dark chocolate – topped with a crispy Graham cracker and nestled in cookie dough – is enough to make your mouth water.
Chan is swamped with orders on a daily basis, but this was not always the case. In fact, the 35-year-old worked as a banker for a decade, before giving up her five-figure salary and eventually embarking on her home business, The Cookies Bar.
“As a banker, the money was good but I didn’t really like my job,” says Chan, who resigned in 2019 to travel with her fiancé while she figured out what she wanted to do next.
As fate would have it, her travel plans were thwarted by the pandemic, and she knew she had to quickly come up with a way to sustain herself financially.
She drew inspiration from her childhood, having helped her mother bake from as young as five years old.
“Baking came naturally to me because I love eating as much as I love seeing my cookies come out of the oven,” Chan tells FMT.
“I have fond memories of helping my mum and being extremely excited knowing there would be something delicious to eat after.”
Recalling the rich, indulgent cookies she had tasted during her pre-pandemic travels to the US and Europe, Chan set out creating cookies made from the finest ingredients.
After much tweaking and constructive criticism, she launched The Cookies Bar in May last year with two flavours – double chocolate with milk chocolate chunk, and dark chocolate chunk.
“It wasn’t long before the orders began pouring in. Through word of mouth and good reviews, my cookie sales have been picking up steadily,” Chan shares.
Today, the lineup consists of 13 yummy varieties, with the bestsellers being dark chunk, triple chocolate, the S’more series, the matcha series, and her Biscoff Bliss cookie.
There are also seasonal flavours like the oatmeal raisin cookie for Christmas, and Pineapple Paradise for Chinese New Year.
But it hasn’t been all sweet, as running a business presented challenges that Chan still has to deal with today. The first, she says, involved deliveries.
“Before I got the help of my supportive family, my insane routine would be baking for eight hours until noon, packing the cookies into boxes, delivering them until 6pm, returning home, only to reply to Instagram messages and end my exhausting day prepping cookie dough.
“Since this year, the orders have increased and it has become impossible for me to cover it all by 6pm, so I rely on the help of my brother and his girlfriend.”
She says if it wasn’t for her family’s help, she would have suffered from burnout.
Chan finds it disappointing when she has to tell her customers they have to wait a whole week for their orders. As she makes each batch herself – ensuring the quality is consistent – only a small batch can be produced each day.
“Another challenge would be replying to Instagram messages,” she continues. “I get hundreds of messages a day inquiring about the cookies or from customers wanting to place an order, but I’ve got my hands full. So it takes me time to reply, and some customers are offended by this.”
Despite the occasional bumps along the way, Chan’s new career has her smiling from ear to ear.
“Yes, banking was competitive and stressful, and I didn’t need to wake up at 3.30am,” she laughs. “But baking brings me joy, especially when I know it makes others smile.”
Her dream is to open a physical bakery someday. “When you do something you are passionate about, no matter how tiring it might be, it’s worth it,” she adds.
“To be able to bake for a living is a dream come true.”
To order Catherine Chan’s yummy cookies, head over to The Cookies Bar on Instagram.