Armed with a spirited attitude and a dimply smile, Wei Long is a familiar face at Alexandra Point. He is part owner of Ply Baked Goods, together with his wife Helena. The duo began life-long passion for baking, starting off as a wholesaler in 2012, before opening their very first café at Upper Thomson. These days, they dish out home-cooked Singaporean fare and a large assortment of decadent baked goods from the homely Alexandra Road outlet.
We sat down with him over coffee and cakes to learn more about the man behind the apron, and his journey as a business owner.
Q: What inspired you to open a café with your wife?
Wei Long: My wife is my inspiration. She loves baking! She is so passionate about it that in the early days, prior to opening a café, I would come home to a house full of cakes and would have to rally some friends over for them to try her new creations. Her fervour for baking had her waking up in the middle of the night, thinking of new recipes or ideas, before writing them down.
I told her that since she loves this so much, let’s make a business out of it. Opening our first café at Upper Thomson was a tiring but fun experience for the both of us. We enjoyed interacting with all our customers and even make it a point to remember them. The kids spent so much time playing there that they ended up sleeping under the counter!
The husband-wife duo welcomed patrons such as popular Mediacorp artistes.
Q: How has the journey been thus far, working as a husband-wife duo?
Wei Long: I won’t sugar coat it - there are times when it has been difficult juggling our duties at the start. In the beginning, I could only produce about 6 tarts a day. This was a problem when we had orders for 30 tarts the following day. We found ourselves still in the kitchen slogging away till 2am during peak periods, and having to come back again at 5.30am for deliveries. That is one of the reasons why we have developed such close bonds with the security team, because we are like neighbours!
However after 6 years in operation, we are now a well-oiled machine. Our processes are much smoother, and we can produce about 25 tarts within an hour.
Q: Who wears the pants in this café? How do you divide the work between the both of you?
Wei Long: I don’t have the patience for baking cakes – my wife does all of that while I am in charge of the savoury pastries such as pies and tarts. I conduct the deliveries on my own as well. However, both of us share the duties of manning the counter.
Q: It is known that you make really good cakes here, how did you learn to do so? What inspires you to come up with the different flavours and designs?
Wei Long: I’m glad that you agree, as you can see from my size that I am also a well-fed chief tester of our operations! We offer over 40 different types of cake. Our popular ones are rainbow, and chocolate cakes, as well as our apple pie and lemon tart. My wife and I are self-taught bakers. She watches videos, and reads recipes during her spare time and picks up techniques very quickly.
One of the crowd-favourites, the Rainbow Cake at Ply Baked Goods
We experiment with different flavours based on current trends. More recently, ondeh-ondeh cake has become quite popular, although the most unique of flavours is the Orh Nee Cake. We transformed this Teochew dessert classic of mashed yam and coconut into a cake.
Our customers at Alexandra Point have the opportunity to try out new creations as they are our unofficial testers! Every once in a while, we will share new items not found in the menu, gather their thoughts before putting them up for sale.
Q: Cakes aside, what is the secret behind the perfect cup of coffee?
Wei Long: That is really subjective as one’s perfect combination is entirely up to their own preference. Some enjoy a thick cup of coffee, while others may prefer their coffee to be more acidic. When we first opened at Alexandra Point, we only offered Western coffee. Since then, we’ve had numerous requests for the more traditional cup of coffee, so we’ve expanded on our menu to cater to our customers.
Q: You have been a familiar face at Alexandra Point for 3 years, and have had countless conversations with the people here. Tell us one interesting thing that even your regulars don’t know about you.
Wei Long: I came from a communications background in school as well as a career in a property marketing before setting up this business with my wife. Hence, building relationships with people I know is something that comes naturally to me. It seemed like a natural transition from observing people’s pure look of joy when acquiring their new home, to now observing the reactions of my customers when they sample the food that I serve. Much of what we do, is for the people that we serve. When I see them happy, it genuinely makes us happy.
Ply Baked Goods’ offerings include many local dishes to go along with their coffee and baked goodies.
Q: What is one piece of advice that you would like for people to know before they follow the same route as yours?
Wei Long: It takes a great deal of passion and commitment to work in the F&B industry. It requires a sacrifice of long hours and a lot of hard work. We are even here on the weekends for our customers wanting to collect their cakes, and we have to bring our children along with us! This is our second home, but the results are rewarding.