The self-discipline that drives the Taurean brand

Poh Yee grew up in a modest family. By 30, she saved enough to open a cafe and despite being laid off last year – opened a new bakeshop

This year marks a decade that Taurean Cafe have been running at the Arch, and almost 20 years since they first opened in Kiulap serving colourful mocktails and fusion food.

The owners; married couple Tsang Poh Yee and Tony Tan aren’t celebrating however. Poh, 48, is lending a helping hand at 6 am at their new bakery located at the end of a shop house directly behind the Arch.

“We’re baking this morning’s batch,” she says through her face mask as she stirs a mixture. Their creations offer a mix of the practical and sensible, such as the classic white loaf and wholemeal –  as well as foreign favourites including fibrous, Western-styled country bread and the more fluffier, pillowy Pai Bao – a popular Asian sweet bread originating from Hong Kong.

Easily the most unique creation however are the four types of fruit and vegetable bread  – sweet potato, spinach, tomato and pumpkin – made without sugar added. Once baked and packaged, they’re sent to the cottage-like storefront of the Taurean Bakeshop located at the floor below.

Dressed in a plain black t-shirt and wearing no obvious jewellery, Poh is very much steeped in the Chinese tradition of self-effacement. Her story – or even picture – has never been told or captured by mainstream media before. But it’s one that deserves to be heard.

Last year, Poh, who had worked her away up to become the country manager for a multinational insurance firm, was told by her headquarters that they would be pulling out of Brunei.

“I remember telling my team (of five) that we would all be laid off,” said Poh. “It was one of the hardest days that we had to go through.”

By taking an unwavering, disciplined approach to personal savings throughout her professional career – eschewing many luxuries that she could otherwise afford – Poh managed to front the capital needed to open their initial cafe in 1999, as well as the bakeshop last year.

“When we first started in 1999, even though we had saved enough to open a shop, I couldn’t afford to give up my job,” said Poh, who was born in Brunei to modest parents who migrated from Hong Kong. “We didn’t know Taurean would work out, if it would survive. So while Tony ran the cafe, I continued to work.”

When she began her first job in a finance company, Poh would carefully set aside 25 per cent of her pay for household and personal expenditure.

“The other 75 per cent: 25 per cent would be kept as cash savings (in the event of an emergency), another 25 per cent saved for property and the final 25 per cent used for investment,” she said. “It may seem a little much, but it was advice from an old boss which I continue to believe to this day. He told me; ‘If you start work at 20 and retire at 55, you have 35 years of income. If you live until 85, then you’ll have to support yourself for another 30 years.’ Then he asked, ‘How much would you then save every month while working?’ The answer would have to be: at least half.”

(Clockwise top R to bottom L) focaccia sandwich, sweet potato bread with eggs, low GI country bread, and a cut baguette with tuna, eggs and beef. Prices for individual sets are in the $2 to $5 range.

While Poh admits that she hasn’t adhered perfectly to these prescribed ratios – there were several stretches where Taurean struggled and she had to shift more of her own income into the business – she continued to live by its austere principles. Even into her 40s, as a business owner then working as full-time as a corporate manager, she continued to drive a Hyundai Accent.

“My passion isn’t in owning things for myself. My joy comes from being able to create as well as support my family. This is why I do business,” said Poh. “My interest in baking came about four years ago. My daughter really enjoyed eggs but we found out that she was allergic to them so I wanted to learn how to bake for the family. So I planned out my leave every year and took baking classes at the Cerealtech School of Baking Technology in Singapore. That’s really how it all started.”

Today, Taurean bakeshop has expanded to offer a wide variety of pastries while also acting as a cafe that serves drinks and sandwiches. Opening and sustaining a bakery and a storefront across two floors requires substantial income, and Poh continues to judiciously search for more avenues to supply.

“In addition to getting our bread to cafes and restaurants, we’re also looking at gaining more awareness for our cookies and hampers as door gifts for weddings events and open houses,” she said. “We’re also looking at linking up with bruneihalal. With their expertise and network hopefully, we’ll be able to reach more people.”

Taurean Bakeshop is open from 7 am to 9 pm daily and is located at Unit 11, Bangunan Majid Mohd, Jalan Pasar Baharu, Gadong (behind the Arch). To learn more follow @taureanbakeshop on Instagram and contact +6732456388 to get in touch directly.