- Rachel Genevieve Chia/Business Insider
Her garlic bread was once served in First Class cabins on national flights, and she counts celebrity couple Xiang Yun and Edmund Chen among her clientele.
But to get there, Yeap Cheng Guat, the 56-year-old founder of health foods brand Cedele, spent two decades growing her bakery to a national chain of 36 outlets, including restaurants and cafes.
Speaking to Business Insider ahead of the brand’s 21st anniversary, Yeap said that her starting capital of S$200,000 to buy a small shop in East Coast has now become a dining empire worth S$40 million.
The founder’s passion for baking started at the age of 10. Originally from the town of Taiping in Perak, Malaysia, Yeap learned to make cakes at a young age as the town had no cake shop from which to buy them.
Yeap then obtained a Masters in Finance from the University of Akron in Ohio, before working in a real estate business in Malaysia for three years.
She subsequently moved to Singapore and worked as a trade marketing manager in a tissue paper company until the age of 35, and often brought baked goods to the office for colleagues to taste.
They encouraged her to start her own bakery, and she quit her job six years later to do precisely that.
As the bakery grew popular, subsequent years saw her move stores to progressively larger locations in quick succession.
“As we got more shops, we would hold weekly meetings where I would go to the shops and help out there. I asked the staff to write down four questions that customers had asked, which we put into a box and used to do our consumer research,” she said.
The initial store sold just bread, cakes and muffins, but Yeap credits the brand’s expansion into its current – and vast – selection of health food offerings to the practice of listening to what customers want.
Yeap said she only started selling sandwiches after customers – who were friendly with her – began requesting space in the bakery’s fridge to store lettuce, tomatoes, smoked salmon and ham, which they would then use to make sandwiches on the spot after buying her bread.
Another time, customers who saw her cooking vegetable soup for her lunch requested some to go with the bread, resulting in soups being added to the menu.
Another customer asked her to open an outlet in the business district so he could buy her bread before work, leading her to open her first small cafe in town.
Other instances include a customer requesting quinoa and salmon (which was later added to the menu), and another asking for shredded chicken instead of chicken ham in the sandwiches.
“Over the years, the food and bread that we bring forward are from listening to our customers – what they want, how they want it,” said Yeap.
One key form of customer requests came from customers with medical conditions, such as gluten and dairy allergies, diabetes, and cancer. This inspired Yeap to tweak her ingredients, taking Cedele from the bakery business into the health foods industry.
For example, sugar-free cakes were introduced to the stores after Yeap heard of a 10-year-old girl with cancer who had never had a birthday cake due to dietary restrictions.
“I work actively, and talk a lot to my customers,” said Yeap. “It has been a very good learning experience, listening to customers that tell us what they need: vegetarian solutions, vegan food, clean food. We try to incorporate that into the menu. We’re here to serve the customer – that’s what creates a sustainable business.”