Before a new pastry, cake or loaf of bread makes the final cut on
The first, he’ll sample freshly out of the oven. If it makes the grade, he’ll take the second sample home to keep refrigerated. The next day, he’ll pull it out, sampling another small bite.
He’ll repeat the process for another two days, before concluding on whether it truly deserves a spot on their list of products, which now numbers over 300 items.
“I must know how each product tastes,” he says discerningly. “Not just after it’s made, but how it fares after a few days. We must be confident that it will be good for the customers, or it doesn’t go on our shelves.”
With $150,000 from savings and a loan from his father, Eric left his job as an accountant to start
Eric had a lifelong fascination with bread and baking – piqued when he was doing his accounting degree in Australia – but he was a mediocre baker at best.
His strength was then, on paper, in business administration, having worked for multi-national firm Ernst & Young, followed by starting his own consultancy company called Top Business Management in 2001 with two of his childhood friends.
Ironically, while Eric’s previous job was mostly handling accounts, it also extended to offering advisory services to smaller businesses. But six months into his own baking venture, Eric already found himself on the backfoot.
“We had budgeted that renovations would take a month or two, and we would be ready to open,” said Eric, who began renting
“We have a strict no preservatives, dough improver, emulsifiers or stabilizers policy, which I believe was the first for a commercial bakery at the time,” said Eric.
“The problem was that this meant the product would last about two days (unrefrigerated), compared to the processed, white bread the market was used to which lasted a week. So when people initially came into the bakeshop, they thought the bread was already old when it had been freshly made.”
Eric required at least $15,000 in sales monthly to break even. On their opening day, they were able to make $900, but sales dropped to $700 the day after, and by the fourth day, they were down to $200. On one quiet Sunday, little over $40 from the bakery was sold.
“I’ve always wanted
Eric persisted and tried out supplying
He turned to his father, a grizzled, small-time businessman who worked his way up from being a truck driver to
“I told him that I was sorry, that I had let him and the family down,” said Eric. “He asked if me if I was willing to risk everything – lose, walk away – and still be willing to start over… I answered yes.”
Not long after, he heard about a tender for a retail kiosk at JPMC. Eric dropped by the hospital with his father. He recalls it being an uneventful Saturday, with not much activity around.
The JPMC turnaround
The small kiosk at JPMC’s main lobby sparked a reversal of fortunes for
“It wasn’t long (after opening at JPMC) that I saw more traffic to our Batu Besurat store,” said Eric. He called his dad ecstatically, “I think it’s (sales) starting to climb.”
The wider awareness from working staff as well as visitors to JPMC provided the breakthrough
“Back in 2012, the (independent, western) cafes had just started to emerge in Brunei,” said Eric. “For Mr Bakers, we wanted an outlet where we could also show customers the different applications for our freshly baked bread and pastries, while also serving hot drinks.”
In 2014, he forked out $400,000 through a combination of company savings and the remaining on credit terms with contractors to build a central kitchen in Kg Jaya Setia to cater to rising demand.
With three bakeries, Eric saw the next chapter of
The move paid off, as the outlet’s sales increased to $1,000 daily, and Eric moved to open a similarly styled outlet in Sengkurong a year later.
“By hiring Dave Bautista (the barista) we were really take our coffee and cafe service to the next level,” said Eric, who has since promoted Dave to operations manager.
“We were able to move beyond just being a bakeshop. We started to expand the menu; introducing more food besides sandwiches like pastas and salads. Having worked internationally, Dave’s able to make strategic recommendations for improvement.”
Rising before dawn
While sales comfortably hit seven figures, Eric jokes that his relatively low profit margins would surprise many. “Those in F&B know that ingredient prices have shot up,” he says. “The price of butter in Brunei has gone up more than 30% for example, but we haven’t really increased our prices.”
Today, Eric makes his daily rounds in a t-shirt and sneakers, and at the end of the month, draws a modest salary, choosing the roll back the profits into the company’s reserve for emergencies or to fuel opportune expansion.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Outliers: The Story of Success, the eighth chapter begins with an old Chinese proverb.
No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.
Eric grew up in Sg Liang, a small coastal village in Belait. Every morning, his mom would walk with him across a sandy path before reaching the main road where the school bus awaited.
“It was so early that the sky was still dark,” says Eric with a smile. More than 20 years later, he found himself in a similar position.
For all his accounting and consultancy acumen, Eric could not get the public to buy into his product in his opening years. He told himself that if the day came that he did fail, he wanted to make sure that were no excuses that would be left behind. And so he opened the shutters with his bakers at
“The numbers… everything, it was supposed to fail,” Eric recalls of his early years. So I asked him – at any point – did he feel like giving up?
“Never,” he responds.
Mr Baker’s opens from 7am at Batu Besurat, Sengkurong, Lambak, JPMC and Gadong Central, 8am at Mabohai and 10am at OneRiverside.