Everything started when my sister-in-law came back from Hawaii in 1964. She had made fruit cakes for her friends, which they loved. They wanted her to teach them how to bake but she refused as she was leaving Singapore in 10 days. However, she decided to teach me so that I could make some money. In those 10 days, she taught me her recipes. “Lana Cakes” is a tribute to her, because her name was Lani.
At the time, chiffon cakes were quite new in Singapore as most shops were selling sponge cakes with buttercream or butter cakes with cream. People liked that my chiffon cakes were different – they were more spongy and moist.
I never expected to open a shop. I was quite happy to bake from home so I could raise my children at the same time. But everyone liked the cakes and the news started spreading. Soon, we had a lot of people showing up at the house for cake collections, and I don’t think the neighbours appreciated that.
My husband helped me register the business, and we set up shop near our house. I didn’t want a place too far from home and when the shop space became available, we opened for business on 2 November 1975. Customers liked the feel of our cake shop, with its various antiques. It wasn’t a traditional store.
It took a bit of trial and error to perfect my chocolate cake. In the early days, it was also difficult to get quality ingredients. For example, sometimes I had to drive to many different shops to get the right kind of cocoa powder.
I believe credit [for my success] must go to my former employer (Malayan Airways) for the training it gave me. The aircrafts we flew had only 28 seats, but we had to do and prepare everything by ourselves. We were trained to think ahead and be fast and disciplined, and I really believe this helped me in running my own business.
Quality has always been a very big concern for me and expanding the business would mean losing a bit of that homemade feel. I enjoy talking to customers, so I wouldn’t want to give that up.
I never expected that Jason would want to take over the business, and I feel very blessed that he’s decided to do so. I spent a long time thinking about how to continue the shop’s success. I interviewed a lot of people and none of them felt right. In the end, I was so tired of trying to find a successor. Baking is not an easy thing to train people to do, especially as I have over 10 signature cakes – all with different textures, types of icing, to name a few things.
Within three months of joining the business, Jason could do everything! He understood how to make the cakes, having been around the kitchen since he was a child. Of course, he understood the business side as well.
Our chocolate cake is still our bestseller, though the blueberry, coffee, orange, pineapple and fruit cakes are very popular. Our fruit cake sells very well, especially during Christmas when people order batches of 20 boxes to give away. It’s also popular with travellers, to give as gifts.
I’m very close to my customers; it makes me very happy to know they love my cakes for special occasions. They were very worried about the business too. They asked me if I had sold it and I said: “Don’t worry, there are so many other chocolate-cake shops.” But they told me they only bought Lana cakes and that when their children return from overseas, the first thing they ask for is a Lana chocolate cake because they miss that taste of home.
Our recipes haven’t changed, but we have made some adjustments. One thing Jason changed was the measurement of ingredients by weight instead of cups. It’s more accurate this way. We also have an online presence, which started in December 2018. We now offer island-wide delivery, which is helpful because we have clients from all over Singapore, from Choa Chu Kang and Woodlands to East Coast. I’m so happy that the quality [has been maintained] or is even better than before.
There is one cake that only I bake. Customers have asked Jason if the store offers this cake, but he’ll tell them that “it’s up to Mrs Kwan”. It’s a butter cake I make only on Saturdays, and I do just one lot – that’s four cakes. We are not accepting orders for it at the moment.