Meet Arianna Majeed, the woman behind Singapore's modern halal bakery Spatula
Spatula's not only the pioneer modern halal bakery in town known for their wedding cakes, it was also a popular hangout with live music gigs on the weekends. In this instalment of CNA Lifestyle’s Creative Capital series, we brains behind it.
Arianna Majeed has decided to finally take her life a little slower. Majeed is the baker and entrepreneur behind Spatula, a popular wedding cake maker and bakery that for many years, was the pioneer modern halal bakery in town. These days, Spatula operates only online, but for several years, her café in the East was a popular hangout, known for live music gigs on the weekends.
Majeed gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in May this year. That, coupled with COVID, has pushed her to reduce her workload. One business – a home organising service – has effectively been halted – and for Spatula, the orders have become smaller, mostly due to the smaller size of celebrations during the pandemic.
Nonetheless, she seems happy and upbeat, enjoying both motherhood and a very manageable baking load.
HI ARIANNA, HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO BAKING AND COOKING?
I've always enjoyed food - particularly desserts. It's usually my first stop at any buffet, to scope out what they have on the menu for the day. Cakes, ice cream, brownies, tarts, choux… you name it, I probably like it, and can't get enough of it. I started baking probably sometime in my late teens. I would bake items for friends' birthdays, and found that I actually enjoyed the process, and appreciated how creative it allowed me to be.
WHAT GAVE YOU THE MOTIVATION TO START SPATULA?
Fresh out of university, I joined Singapore Airlines as a cabin crew in 2010. On my travels, I realised just how wonderful and beautiful the cafes and bakeries were in other cities - from Melbourne, to London, Rome, to New York. That would be the highlight of pretty much most of my overseas trips. I soon realised that there were very limited options for similar treats at the time, here in Singapore, especially halal ones. I started to look more into it, and two years later, I felt it was time to leave the airline industry, to start something of my own. I knew this was something I could get into and make something out of.
I left the company in 2012, and started a small-scale home-based business, mainly serving relatives and friends. I created a website and started an Instagram account for the brand - this was when Instagram was just starting to get popular. I believe that the photo-based app was a major factor in how and why the brand took off as successfully as it did.
Pictures of aesthetically pleasing beautifully decorated halal cupcakes in the most unique flavours - Milo Dinosaur, Lychee Rose Bandung, Cookie Dough, Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake, Butterscotch Toffee, etc - really caught people's attention online, and I soon realised that I needed to move operations to a proper brick and mortar store to keep up with the orders and demand. I signed the lease for my first physical store in February 2013, just three months later.
HOW HAS THE BUSINESS EVOLVED AND CHANGED OVER THE LAST NINE AND A HALF YEARS?
Spatula started out as a cupcake boutique in its first retail store located along Joo Chiat Road in early 2013. We would have up to 14 flavours of cupcakes a day, and we would sell everything out by the end of the day, pretty much on most days. My love for general decorating and aesthetics later expanded the business to include themed dessert tables as well. We would offer clients a package of six to eight beautifully decorated themed desserts, complete with a decorative table setup. It was not until about a year later that we delved into the realm of weddings and wedding cakes, which would later become Spatula's niche. I would say that since probably around 2015, we've been one of the go-to halal bakeries for bespoke tiered wedding cakes.
In 2015, we had a larger sit-in cafe in the Frankel Avenue area, where we served waffles, ice-cream, coffee, and milkshakes. We would have live acoustic music performances every weekend, mostly by my musically inclined sister and friends, and even rent out the space for private parties and events. However, it felt too much to handle after a few years, as I had to juggle the daily cafe aspect of it, while also tending to the bakery side - wedding cakes, dessert tables, custom birthday cakes, etc. After that brief but very memorable and amazing run, we decided that it was best for the business, and for me, to shift the brand's focus back to our niche and core area, bespoke cakes.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW 10 YEARS AGO THAT YOU KNOW NOW, WHEN IT COMES TO ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Timing played a big role in the success of Spatula - it was something that was conceptualised at the right time, based on identifying a glaring gap in the market at the time. If Spatula was something that was only launched maybe two to three years ago, I highly doubt that it would garner as large of a fanbase and clientele.
That being said, I do wish that I had been better prepared business-wise, prior to starting the bakery. My father is an entrepreneur in the engineering sector. He started his own niche company in 1987. So, he gave solid advice and guidance when I was starting out. However, because I had zero prior experience in business, or PR and marketing, I felt that I was just winging it the entire time. I truly feel that if I had more knowledge and experience in this field, I would have done a much better job entirely.
SPATULA TODAY SEEMS TO FOCUS ON HALAL BESPOKE CELEBRATION CAKES. IS THE MUSLIM MARKET, AND HAS IT TRADITIONALLY BEEN, UNDERSERVED WHEN IT COMES TO SERVICES LIKE THIS?
Yes, I think so, especially back then. As mentioned previously, the main reason I thought to start this brand was to fill the gap in the market for halal baked goods with modern flavours and designs. Today, customers have never-ending choices when it comes to halal baked goods, so I don't think it still applies now - which is great! I'm happy to see so many more people embracing these types of products today.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST PET PEEVE WHEN IT COMES TO MESSY HOMES?
For me, dirty dishes in the sink are a big no-no. Similarly, dirty clothes on the floor. Dishes should be washed after each meal, or at least before you go to bed for the night, and it's not that difficult to put dirty laundry in a hamper.
HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC AFFECTED YOUR TWO BUSINESSES?
Well, our baby joined us in May 2021, and it couldn't have been a more perfect timing for us. Covid restrictions have affected the wedding industry - so I tend to get smaller cake orders now as couples tend to have more intimate receptions instead of grander ones. This is great for me, as I'm able to handle these smaller orders much more easily, compared to four or five-tiered wedding cakes, while also juggling a new-born. I also haven't done any physical organising projects under Spruced since Covid hit in 2020, as I try to minimise contact and exposure. However, I have been offering digital home styling services to clients. Most of the time it's been baby/kids' room decor consultancy - which I absolutely love!
DID YOU GET NON-MUSLIM CUSTOMERS PATRONISING THE BUSINESS SIMPLY BECAUSE YOUR CAKES ARE SO GOOD AND SO BEAUTIFUL?
Although initially the intent was to serve the Muslim community, today our clientele is not restricted to just Muslims. I would estimate that there's a pretty even split among our clientele demographics between Muslims and non-Muslims. The variety of flavours that we have on our cake menu is pretty extensive, so I'm pretty sure there's a go-to pick for everyone!
WHAT ROLE DO YOU PLAY NOW WITH THE BAKERY?
I am back to running Spatula on my own now. My husband and I decided to scale back the business as we were getting ready to welcome a baby – my baby boy arrived in May 2021! Running Spatula full-time at full speed since 2013 has been very physically exhausting, and really took up a significant portion of my and our lives.
We felt that it was the right time to cut back, to shift our life priorities for now. At the moment, as I work by myself, I take on very limited orders per week - usually only 1 wedding booking, and three to four bespoke cakes. This is a stark contrast to previous years, where we would usually have an average of six wedding bookings, and 15-20 custom cakes every week.
OF ALL OF YOUR CAKES, WHICH IS THE HERO PRODUCT?
Flavour-wise, the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cake has been a hot favourite all these years. The cookie dough filling itself is delicious on its own! Design-wise, we used to be known for our Lana Rosette Cake. I think we might have been one of the first few, if not the first, bakeries on the scene to offer this decorative cake design back in 2012. It sold like hotcakes back then, particularly for special occasions like engagements, Valentine's orders, and Mother's Day celebrations.
Today, I think this cake is no longer on trend, although we still do get the occasional order for it so it's still a staple in the eShop. Other than bespoke cakes, our fudgy brownies continue to be one of the best-selling items over the years.
AND WHICH IS YOUR OWN PERSONAL FAVOURITE?
Flavour-wise, my personal favourites are Cinnamon Apple Pie, and Boston Creme.
AND WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU BECAUSE OF SPATULA?
I'm glad that it challenges my creative side, that I'm always learning, trying new techniques, incorporating unique colour palettes. I'm grateful that I have clients who are so trusting with Spatula and me that they sometimes just allow me to have free reign over their bespoke cake orders. It allows me to explore the artistic side of cakes, which keeps fuelling me to do more, instead of being bored by it after almost ten years.
TELL ME ABOUT SPRUCED? IS THIS A WHOLE OTHER BUSINESS?
Spruced is a small side-line that I unofficially launched in 2018. It grew from my incessant love and passion for organising and home decor. I provide assistance to those who need
help in tidying up their homes, advice on implementing organising systems, and sometimes home interior design and decor consultancy.
WHAT DO PEOPLE NEED MORE HELP IN ORGANISING — THEIR KITCHENS, CLOSETS OR HOME DECOR?
Most of the projects that I've taken on so far have been for the kitchen. In Singapore, homes are getting smaller, and I think people sometimes get frustrated and overwhelmed that "there's no space at home". Honestly, there's usually enough space. I haven't really come across any extreme hoarding situations yet. So far in almost all my client projects, I've been able to re-organise their spaces within a day, and showing them better ways of maximising space, without having to force them to throw out or dispose of their belongings much at all.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DO THIS?
I think I've always been somewhat of a "neat freak", though I'm not sure how or why. I remember vividly that, when I was 7 or 8 years old, I would often reorganise my brothers' massive Lego collection, as a little child. I would empty out their numerous buckets of Lego bricks onto the carpet in the middle of their room, and spend the entire afternoon sorting them by type and colour, into partitioned containers. I have also, on numerous occasions, ironed our Monopoly bank notes as a child. Haha!
I think my stint in retail - I worked part-time in a couple of places back then, but I think particularly Uniqlo, back in 2006 when their first few stores were opening here - "honed" my skills somewhat. We were trained by the Japanese managers to fold jeans a certain way - all the labels had to line up perfectly once they're placed in a stack in-store - and t-shirts had to be arranged in a very specific colour order, etc. It's a very calming and satisfying thing for me, to spend hours organising whatever it may be, and to step back and appreciate the fruits of my labour at the end of it all.
MARIE KONDO — YES OR NO?
I appreciate the intent behind her ideas - a home is a safe space, it should be clean, relaxing, stress-free, etc - however, I feel her methods might be a tad too extreme and novel for most people to adopt off the bat. Like hugging each item close, and thanking it before discarding it! Really?
THERE HAVE BEEN A NUMBER OF TV SHOWS FEATURING PROFESSIONAL HOME ORGANISERS? IS THIS PART OF THE PLAN? ARE YOU SHOPPING AROUND FOR A TV SERIES?
Honestly, I'm quite a camera-shy person - the times I've had to appear on camera and in print for Spatula press coverage were the most nerve-wracking moments of my career. I would love to be given the opportunity to be part of such a project though! I've always been a massive fan of home makeover shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Trading Spaces, Flip This House, Queer Eye, etc.