IN FOCUS: A couple’s love story, their neighbourhood bakery and the difficult decision to call it quits

SINGAPORE: In a bakery at the nook of Orchard and Killiney Road, a woman fell in love – first with old-school English pastries, and then later together with her future husband.

“When I was young, I was often at the shop because there were cakes and soft drinks,” Madam Jenny Soh informed CNA.

“The shop was doing well, so they would also make cakes in our house (to bring over). There were always things to eat. All of us loved to eat, and we would watch the helpers make cakes.”

The bakery, known as Dong Log Wee (Dong Le Yuan in Mandarin), was owned by Mdm Soh’s father Mr Soh Siew Hong.

But as a younger youngster, Mdm Soh was not allowed to become involved.

“I remember them making Christmas cakes and we would put on the decorations. From there, I really loved cakes. But my dad didn’t like us girls making cakes or standing too close while the adults were making them.”

As she grew older, Mdm Soh would finally spend extra time in the bakery.

“My dad would allow me to go in the shop, and I would take down notes of whatever they were doing, take down the recipes. Back then they used ounces, so I noted that down,” she recalled.

But it wasn’t simply ladyfingers and English macaroons that she would fall head over heels with.

“He’d been working at the shop ever since he was a young boy,” Mdm Soh mentioned of her husband, Mr Tan Yong Siang.

“But I didn’t pay much attention to him because I was still a student,” she defined. “At the start, he liked me at first. But I never really noticed him, because I had my own life.”

It was not till she was in her early 20s that Mdm Soh started to work at the bakery full-time.

“From my time spent helping, I could see how tiring this job was. That’s why my dad didn’t want us to do it,” she mentioned.

And quickly, she additionally started to discover her future husband.

“He was very hardworking and loved what he did. When my dad was sick and asked him to help, he would always do it with a good spirit,” she mentioned.

For Mr Tan, there was one factor about Mdm Soh which caught his eye.

“I saw how pretty she was!” he defined with a uncommon chuckle.


After the couple tied the knot, Mr Tan took up a job as a pastry chef at Orchard Hotel. Even as her father’s well being deteriorated, Mdm Soh continued to work at the household bakery.

The enterprise was finally handed over to her older brother and Mdm Soh sought new pastures.

She discovered a job at Singapore Airlines cargo the place she labored as a server from Monday to Friday. On the weekends, she was a cashier at the Singapore Turf Club’s VIP room.

But as if by some invisible thread, life all the time drew her again to baking truffles.

“My husband’s job involved working for somebody else and it wasn’t one that was sustainable in the long run,” she defined. “Money was a problem and we needed to earn more.”

To make further money, Mdm Soh would bake truffles after she returned house from work.

“I sold them to friends and those whom I met at the Turf Club,” she recalled. “They told me that they really liked these cakes and asked why didn’t I open a shop?”

But opening a bakery would imply taking enormous dangers.

“At that point in time, it probably needed several hundred thousand dollars to do so. It’s hard to save that much money,” Mdm Soh defined. “We thought about it for a long time but continued with our daily lives and working hard.”

The alternative to lease a store at Serangoon quickly got here up. And when a number of companions got here on board to put money into the enterprise, Mdm Soh and Mr Tan took the plunge.

In 1983, they lastly had their personal bakery.

The couple labored there for about 17 years, recalled Mdm Soh. Business was good, and their enterprise companions initially allow them to run the present.

The couple determined to identify the bakery “Galicier” as a result of it gave the impression of the phrase “delicious”, mentioned Mdm Soh.

But enterprise disagreements emerged, she mentioned. Their companions wished Mr Tan and Mdm Soh to ramp up manufacturing of their truffles and deal with amount, comparable to another bakeries.

“Our thinking was to bake fresh cakes so that customers could enjoy them. (To focus on) quality,” Mdm Soh defined. “They wanted (us) to make more and use cheaper ingredients.”

The couple determined to arrange a brand new bakery in Tiong Bahru and strike it out on their personal.

“We thought Tiong Bahru would be a good place to set up our business. The name Tiong Bahru was a nice sounding one,” mentioned Mdm Soh. “We liked the atmosphere here and the layout of the shop.”


But irrespective of how scrumptious the bakery’s choices had been, they merely couldn’t appeal to clients.

Mdm Soh mentioned: “Only a handful of customers would tell me how good the treats tasted. They would ask me: ‘Why aren’t there any more customers?’” 

For the first eight years in Tiong Bahru, the bakery bled cash due to various elements.

For one, the Government relocated residents from the four-storey Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks throughout the street. What is now Link Hotel was finally constructed there, however it took various years for the resort to be constructed, mentioned Mdm Soh.

In addition, a lot of the space’s HDB flats had been rented out to tenants who had been international employees. These employees didn’t patronise the bakery, Mdm Soh mentioned.

“Those who lived in this area would go to Chinatown to have the traditional Chinese biscuits and cakes rather than what we were selling,” she added.

“It was very, very difficult. We were losing money every month – for eight years.”

Since they weren’t ready to promote truffles and bread at the bakery, the couple as a substitute made them on-site and equipped them to different companies. This helped defray a few of the rental prices for the Tiong Bahru store, mentioned Mdm Soh.

There had been occasions when tears had been shed, she recalled.

“It was amid this kind of tears where you tell yourself to stay strong and keep going on,” Mdm Soh mentioned. “My husband said we should give up because we were losing money … for so many years.”

The couple had been on the brink of closing the Tiong Bahru store and they started to entertain affords to purchase the bakery’s tools.

“We were very close (to selling),” mentioned Mdm Soh. “But the offers were too low. We bought the equipment for tens of thousands and they were offering us only a few thousand dollars.”

At their wits’ finish, the couple determined to make and promote kueh as well as to different choices.

Some of the recipes for the kueh had been from Mr Tan’s Peranakan grandmother. Mdm Soh modified them together with her personal concepts, making the treats much less candy however nonetheless equally scrumptious.

“When we started, we did not make much variety – just a few items,” recalled Mdm Soh. “But the customers loved it because they said that it was very different and not so sweet.”

Two to three years later, the extensively in style television drama The Little Nyonya started to seize hearts and minds. Peranakan tradition got here to the fore and curiosity in Nyonya kueh grew.

The couple determined to make extra types of kueh and experiment with extra recipes.

“Customers liked us making new cakes and kueh. So we continued to make new things and increase the variety of what we made,” she mentioned.

With the bakery additionally featured on an area Chinese tv programme, enterprise took off.

“Our customers were telling their friends about us and the word spread,” Mdm Soh. “I felt very happy to see the customers, (seeing) that they would support us.”

Fast ahead nearly twenty years, and the bakery has develop into an establishment in the neighbourhood. 

Queues typically type earlier than the store opens for the day. The line snakes previous the bakery’s ubiquitous yellow signboard and spills out onto the hall.

Often, the well-known kueh dadar – rolled coconut crepe with grated coconut – and putu ayu kueh – steamed pandan sponge cake with gula melaka coconut – are offered out by midday.


Working in a bakery is difficult work, mentioned Mdm Soh. The bakery is open 5 days per week, from 10am to 8pm.

But Mdm Soh and Mr Tan’s day begins hours earlier.

At the morning time, they go away their Bukit Panjang house and scour 5 to six markets searching for the freshest components. They arrive at the bakery an hour earlier than opening and be part of their helpers, who’ve already been arduous at work since 7am.

“We have to get all the different kinds of ingredients – coconut juice, coconuts, leaves, potatoes. And we have a lot of ingredients,” mentioned Mdm Soh.

All all through the day, the husband-wife duo busy themselves with all types of actions – pushing trolleys, folding dough, serving clients.

“If you want nice tasting food, you have to take the effort to make it yourself,” Mr Tan mentioned merely.

After the bakery is closed for the day, the work continues. Sometimes the couple and their helpers knock off at 11pm or midnight. Other occasions after they put together a bulk order, the clock ticks to 1am or 2am.

During the Chinese New Year interval, they’re in the bakery till 3am or 4am.

Over the years, Mdm Soh and Mr Tan’s outdated pals have helped them out in a method or one other at the bakery.

“We’ve been blessed to have friends like them who helped me during our difficult times. I’m very grateful to them,” mentioned Mdm Soh.

But the work by no means ends, and it has understandably, taken a toll.

The couple sleep between 4 and six hours an evening, and age is starting to sneak up on them.

“It’s quite tough for us and this job is not easy,” defined Mdm Soh, who’s now in her early 70s.

Mr Tan’s palms damage when he carries heavy objects, after he bumped right into a door at the bakery earlier this 12 months. “It’s an issue with the nerve,” he defined. 

The varicose veins in Mr Tan’s legs additionally throb when he stands for too lengthy. His physician’s recommendation? Stop working and chill out.

While Mr Tan insists that he can nonetheless keep it up, these aches and pains imply that the enjoyment of working at the bakery is not there, mentioned Mr Tan.

“It feels like there is no longer meaning to it,” he added.

The couple’s two youngsters, Madeline, 36, and Shaun, 34, have confirmed to be invaluable in operating the bakery and serving to out each day. But they haven’t any plans to take over the enterprise full-time.

“My children know how tough the job is and they have watched us do it since they were young,” she added. “It means long hours and having no friends to socialise with, no anything.”

“I don’t want my children to follow on this road that we have taken,” mentioned Mr Tan. “It’s simply too tough.”

And so earlier this 12 months, the couple made the decision to call it quits.

“People see the success, but they don’t see the sacrifice and pain that you had to go through to get there,” mentioned Mdm Soh.

Widely reported in the information, the deliberate closure noticed individuals arrive in droves, many anxious for a ultimate nostalgic style of their favorite kueh or truffles.

“After the news, there were so many different kinds of people from different places. Some are very old customers, they also feel very sad,” added Mdm Soh. “Our things are very ‘old style’, they love it because there are so many different kueh and cakes.”

Even after many a long time, the couple stay intensely enthusiastic about what they do.

Mdm Soh has an encyclopaedic data of the varied kueh, truffles and pastries and it is evident how passionate she is about her craft.

“The customers love us so much. Over the years they bought our cookies … They are very sad, they hug me. For me, I also feel sad, but the life is (too tough),” she added.

“But, all good things have to come to an end.”

Some of their present clients have identified the couple from the outdated days at Orchard Road. Other international clients go to yearly, however are unaware of the bakery’s impending closure.

Over the years, the panorama of Tiong Bahru has modified, mentioned Mdm Soh.

“Tiong Bahru was much different in the past.  Before it was very quiet and this area was different from other areas, with four-storey buildings. The people were very close,” she mentioned.

“Now there are a lot of cafes and restaurants.”

And in slightly below two months’ time, there will likely be another change: Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry will open for the final time.

There will likely be no new bakes, and no extra kueh.

“It is important to preserve cultural heritage,” mentioned Mr Tan. “But being able to do it is not easy.”

But regardless of all the hardship alongside her journey, Mdm Soh has no regrets about the street she and her husband have taken.

“It’s a tough job but when people come and enjoy your food and praise it, you feel that sense of accomplishment, like what we have done is worth it,” she defined.

Her reply was a fast one when requested what she plans to do after the bakery is shut for the final time – a cruise together with her husband, she added with amusing.

After a long time of arduous work, it is becoming that the couple will sail off into the sundown.

A new chapter and a brand new journey await.

IN FOCUS: A couple's love story, their neighbourhood bakery and the difficult decision to call it quits

Matthew Mohan

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