The pandemic brought with it a booming baking goods market. While a few have found mediocre success, it seems like no pandemic bakeshop has become as successful as Aegyo Cakes. Since their opening on June 6, 2020, Aegyo Cakes has amassed 76.9k followers on Instagram and 32,657 likes on Facebook. That’s quite a feat considering so many new businesses were vying for attention on social media! Currently, they also have waitlist for select cakes until July, with another waitlist for new line up of cakes for March.
Who are the masterminds behind this confection phenomenon and what makes them so special? We managed to pull them away from cake batter and frosting for a few minutes to tell us about themselves and their business.
Kihyan and Koleen Yap are the sister duo behind these Korean-inspired minimalist cakes. Did they have such a burning love for baking that they decided to turn that passion into extra income?
“We’re not into baking, necessarily,” they revealed. “We started baking when we were younger. Just baking for Christmas — cookies, and the like. We got bored during the pandemic when quarantine was implemented, and my sister was into cooking — cooking steak, and stuff like that. And Father’s Day was coming and we thought, ‘How about we make a cake?'” Kihyan told us.
“We were looking into more of an art than baking because we wanted to have a business that was more centered in art, and we knew that the online food industry was booming. So we looked at the opportunity and our interests, which are art and food. So what else are there that combines the two if not cake?” Koleen shared.
The sisters were fans of Korean minimalist cakes and wondered if they could introduce them to the Philippine market, and the rest was history. It’s a great example of “where opportunity meets your passion” as the sisters like to say.
Clearly their cakes not only look good, but they taste good, too. And while many home bakers are excellent, might at least one-half of the masterminds behind Aegyo Cakes have been formally trained in baking? Kihyan graduated from UST, majoring in entrepreneurship, and Koleen from ADMU, majoring in management.
“We worked in the family business for the longest time, and then we just wanted to put up our own,” they said. And while the family business is in no way related to the food industry, it’s where they get their artistic eye as they are also involved in fashion and design.
Given their success, you’d expect them to be stuck in the kitchen. But no, the sisters still help out with the family business. “Kihyan works primarily in admin and finance while I do sales and design,” said Koleen. “Right now, it’s our mom who takes over that side of the business. And she’s very supportive of us and Aegyo and we have a lighter workload in the business. If we have to submit designs, we’ll both do sketches for her, and stuff like that.”
Dealing with Chinoy parents
“Our parents were very supportive of Aegyo Cakes, but you know how they are at first. ‘Try it. We’ll see how it does.’ But when business got better, the support got better.” It’s typical of parents, Chinoy or otherwise, to want their children to pursue their dreams, but still be wary when they do.”
“They’ll always ask us ‘Is it going well?, ‘Are the sales good?’, ‘Do you have profit?’, ‘Are you getting money out of it?’ and if we say the numbers are good, that’s the time they’ll say they support us, if that makes sense. What helped us with the support of the parents is we had multiple features from [a publication] and they saw us online already, and we immediately had that market presence. That’s why [they said] “Okay, you can do it,'” Koleen shared.
Timing is everything, and Aegyo Cakes can attest to that. “I think we entered the market just at the right time. It was a time when Korean minimalist cakes were being shared. It was just proper timing. The trend was going up and we were the first ones there,” they told us.
When the sisters started their business, they only had 5 slots available per day. Nowadays, they handle 40-50 cakes per day. This is without hiring more bakers, as they are still cautious about physical contact with other people during the pandemic. “We’re still just two, but sometimes we have our mama do some of the work,” they told us with a laugh. She was the one in the kitchen while their daughters took time to talk to us.
“We grew up watching Cupcake Wars and those shows, and until now, we imagine ourselves as contestants on those shows. Sometimes we have a lot of orders to fulfill for events in a small time and we imagine ourselves competing. It’s probably one of the childhood dreams that we’re kind of experiencing in our business.”
The design process
In an effort to help them simplify their process, they made simple design guides for the clients. “But as we evolved, the clients wanted more, so we’re doing more complicated designs,” Kihyan said.
Koleen explained, “Our design comes from the customers primarily and sometimes their designs get really personal, and they can get very complicated because of the meaning they put behind every Aegyo cake … so it really comes from love, that they’re willing to spend on a cake. But that’s really our intention: to send love with Aegyo Cakes. So we made cake giving a little more special.
“Right now, we can’t celebrate occasions together so that’s really our vision and the clients really got it. They think about their love and what this special person loves. At first, it was just pictures from Pinterest and then they started getting really creative and now they want really complicated cakes.”
“We make it a point to interview each and every person ordering so we can share our opinion [on their cake design]. They usually have an idea going into the interview, but we try to help them organize it. And every step in the design process, we share our opinions with them. They also have an option to choose ‘Baker’s Discretion,’ if they don’t know what they want to put for draggies — the heart, the gold pearls, etc. And that’s where we come into the designing process.”
But what if the sisters create a design they love and the client hates it? “The end goal is to make them happy so if the design isn’t to their liking, it’s okay. There are no hard feelings. Sometimes with extremely meticulous clients, we’ll redesign 3 times. Sometimes clients will take a day or two to respond to a design only to say they want everything changed.”
But they’re grateful for everyone who wants to make Aegyo Cakes a part of their lives. “Since we opened, one of our clients has ordered every month for their newborn child, so we feel like we were part of his growth. They always send pictures of the baby back when he couldn’t eat the cake yet. We’re so excited for him to finally eat the cake. We’re celebrating his 1st birthday this March,” they tell us, with clear affection in their voices. “They’re kind of like a family friend now, but we don’t actually know them. We’re just their cake dealers.”
With the many cakes these ladies have made, there must be one they wanted to keep for themselves. “Almost every day we say, ‘This is my favorite cake of the day.’ It’s so hard to put it in the box and let it go but for me,it’s the cross-stitch cake,” Kihyan said. “That cake took me 3 hours to do without any guide on the cake. That’s my favorite cake — it’s a labor of love.”
Koleen took a pause to contemplate, but ultimately agreed. “It’s also the cross-stitch cake because it took so long to make. If I could just freeze it in a glass box and show it to everyone … ”
Kihyan’s other favorite is the first-ever Spotify code cake they made, where you can scan the code. The precision needed for the code to work must be perfect or you’ll be directed to a different song upon scanning it. “So I had to start on paper and practice there. Then I had to copy it on to the cake, but there’s no way to transfer it.”
“She’s like a machine now,” Koleen laughed. “But the first time we ever got it to work, we were jumping up and down. We even woke up our mom just so she could look at it.”
The way these sisters talk about their business makes it seem like it came easy, but they faced their own set of challenges. They could have expanded earlier had it not been for restrictions and precautions they took because of the pandemic.
“We did not want to hire additional hands because we didn’t want to spread COVID, and we were very cautious about that move. Even looking for a place was hard because we would have to go outside. We were lucky that the house next to us was open for renting and we were able to expand. God’s hand was at play.”
Yet, “time management and mass production was really a problem. Before we had more equipment, we had a really hard time with time in the sense that we weren’t sleeping,” Kihyan said.
“In a week, we’d probably only be able to lay in bed two times. We just have naps all the way through,” Koleen shared. “It feels like we had 36-hour shifts a day. But as we grew, we got faster, we baked more cakes, but since we add more cakes to our capacity, we still run out of time.”
They have no choice as customers are constantly asking them to increase the number of slots they have available, so they try their best to accommodate as many orders as possible. “We added our lunchbox cakes after we got faster with our bigger cakes,” Koleen said.
Korean lunchbox cakes
The lunchbox cakes are the newest addition to the delicacies they offer. “It’s another Korean trend — the cakes in a lunchbox. We made it because we wanted to give more to clients,” Koleen explained. “Sometimes, they don’t live with their families, and there’s only one or two of them, like a couple…”
“Or they want to consume it themselves,” Kihyan quipped. “Or they want to eat it while watching Netflix. Or sometimes you just want to celebrate on your own. It’s #SendLoveWithAegyoCakes.”
They also said, “A lot of our Aegyo cakes are sent amongst friends with small motivational quotes like ‘You did great today.'”
“It’s actually like therapy because we’re surrounded by people who love other people and are sending love through our cake. It’s a really nice experience.”
Advice for entrepreneurs
Despite the struggles, they have obviously succeeded and we wanted to know how to make a pandemic business successful, too.
“The thing that really stuck in mind through all of this is what our mother told us, ‘Don’t settle for okay lang. Never settle for just okay.’ Even when we were in school, or when we were working with her, just okay is not enough. So when we decided to push forward with Aegyo Cakes, you could see with our materials, our social media presence, the art that we put on our Aegyo Cakes, it’s not okay lang,” they told us.
“If the design isn’t something we love, we [scrap] it. We re-do the cake. So for aspiring business owners, don’t settle for okay lang. And for the ones who can’t seem to start, just do it. Time is money. There will never be a ‘right time’ to start. Go out and buy supplies right now.”
Aegyo Cakes has a Valentine’s collection that’s now available. Their Valentine’s set is a heart-shaped lunchbox Aegyo Cake inspired by sweethearts candies, along with House of 6 Malagos Classic Aegyo Cookies and a free Instax photo.
Slots open and fill up fast, so turn on your Instagram notification for Aegyo Cakes so you can get your own or your loved one a custom cake soon. You can check out their website here and the Facebook page here.