Trading to Baking
In January 2012, after 25 years of trading, my wife Christina and myself decided to give up trading and start a bakery store front to make and promote vegan bread and cakes.
We were inspired to do so due to our daughters allergy to milk. Every year on her birthday we would make a round shape if different foods and celebrate her birthday, as she was still very young and as long as she blew the candles on her birthday, it was okay for her. As she grew older, more questions came up, why her cake looked different than the others, why she could not eat the cake offered by her friends on their birthdays. This is what inspired my wife and me to start a bakery. Without any knowledge of making bread or cake, without knowing how to differentiate between low gluten, mid gluten, and high gluten flour, we embarked on our journey to start the first 100% Vegan Bakery and Cafe in Taipei,Taiwan and 2nd in Asia as per information gathered at that point of time. Only one objective in mind, “if our daughter cannot eat a proper vegan birthday cake, there may be many more children in Taiwan who may have the same or similar issues, so we can provide the kids and all other lactose intolerance people a good vegan cake for their birthday (surely at an affordable price)
So started our journey for the vegan cakes and bread. An unimaginably tiring journey of never ending work.
“From Trading to Baking”.
Trading offices normally have a 9 ~ 6 working schedule 5 days a week, free on Saturdays and Sundays, all national holidays, and you can take a day or two off in the “not so busy” season. CNY holidays rests for 15-21 days and things like that. Working from a desk in an air condition office.
In a baking store front, working 365 days a year (for the owners) minimum 12 to 14 working hours a day, standing all the time, no rest, no comfort of Air-conditioning, nothing what so ever. Life as we knew ceased to exist. Only work, work and work. Lifting the heavy metal trays with bread non stop making 350 breads a day.
A start up of a business without any experience means nothing but total mess and total loss. Batch after batch headed straight to the garbage bin. What made our journey even tougher with more obstacles to obstruct our path was that we insisted on offering pure Vegan food without using any hydrogenated oil, No Palm oil, no Egg replacer, no fast rising agents, no baking Powder, no artificial colorings, no artificial flavoring, no onions, no Garlic, no GMO products, No MSG etc.
100% pure Vegan, natural, pure food.
In Taiwan there are 2 groups of vegetarians
- They believe Onions & Garlic are not Vegetarian, but Milk and eggs can be consumed as vegetarian diet.
- Eggs are not vegetarian. Milk, onion and Garlic can be consumed.
However in our store we had no milk, no egg, no onion, no garlic, no alcohol, no honey. Hence it provided a safe place for all the Buddhist communities to eat as all the ingredients we used they could eat and were considered vegetarian/vegan.
Thank God, the Buddha’s, Bhodisatva’s and all the heavenly Angels who came to our to come to our rescue, guiding us through human Angels to keep walking on our journey to promote Vegan bread and desserts.
The first miracle that happened was that not long after we opened, a salesman selling lecithin of the highest quality (expensive) walked in our store. Mr. Lin Liang Yi. After a long discussion with him and 2 more visits later, he introduced me to his oldest friend Chef Lin, owner of a very big and reputed company in the baking industry, a professional baker with 40 years of baking bread experience, with old school techniques of naturally fermented yeast & Sour dough, the healthiest bread you could eat. I could not afford to pay Chef Lin any fee to teach me on a one to one class that also from 10 am to 6 pm. No one could, I mean how can you define to set a price for the master Chef who is a super successful person and has everything he desires. Then came the miracle, he said he himself is a Buddhist and understood my commitment to make vegan bread at any cost, so he taught me one to one, how to make the bread from scratch, from naturally fermented yeast, to sour dough, to a different variety of breads and also help me set up the price points. In those 8 hours we got to learn first hand from an experienced chef to make vegan bread. And our bread was extremely delicious, healthy and 100% vegan.
I have been in this country from May of 1988 and in those days bread used to be made this way, at least from the bakery that I used to purchase. As years rolled by, more fast rising agents were introduced to the breads and many people get chest-burns or an upset stomach, but they ate it all the same.
So we had a great recipe for bread, what could be next? Cakes of course. We had basic chocolate and Vanilla base cake recipe which of course sold very well as you can imagine being the first vegan bakery and our cakes were appreciated by the Vegan community & Vegetarian community. The cake base still was not up to my high expectations as I still felt it could be made better. It took hundreds of base cakes and almost an astounding 3 years of trial before we arrived to a recipe that we could be proud of.
Today if you try any of our chocolate cake series, it could be compared to a non vegan cake. Our Coffee Walnut cake, Strawberry cake and Lemon cake are liked by one and all. Cake base are dense and moist and not Sponge cake base.
Even though with the best Vegan Bread and cake that we had, survival was getting tough as we did not do any promotions, advertising or anything to let people know of our existence. Then all of a sudden one fine day we received a phone call from a Buddhist TV channel, Jen Chien Wei Shih Thai. The next day we received another phone call from another Buddhist TV channel, Ta Ai Tien Shih Thai. After the broad cast from these 2 TV channels we became famous in the Buddhist community overnight. Clients starting coming from all parts of the city, phone calls from different cities asking for shipments, Buddhist Monks coming to buy and double check that food was really free of milk and egg and things like that. This was the 2nd Miracle.
In these 4 years of running the bakery, I had several injuries. The one that took a big toll on my health was a massive fall during the rains where I had 60 breads (2 box loads) and injured my spinal cord really bad. So we decided to close the bakery and start up a restaurant after that incident. That was the start up of Vegan Taipei