the The world is full of stories that inspire, move and touch your heart. For a home baker, de ella’s inspiring story is how she managed to turn her lifelong passion for baking into a growing company, spreading delight to customers through her artfully decorated cakes.
Nicole Tan, owner and founder of AN Fraiche, started the business in 2015. The name – AN Fraiche – is made from the initials of Nicole’s name and the name of her friend and business partner Alex, the French word for “fresh”.
Nicole studied for an advanced diploma in confectionery and food at Taylor University, where she was told she would get a scholarship and be sent to France if she passed her exams. And guess what? She did.
She traveled to France for her training and continued her studies in Culinary Arts on a scholarship, graduating with first class honors.
We wondered how it first got going. Nicole explained: “It all started selling Christmas baked goods when I was attending Taylor University. It started as a side business to supplement income because I didn’t get a steady paycheck, and I was working on a strict spending budget set by my mum.
“Then, this job brought me back to Penang once I finished school, and I decided to make it a full-time endeavor.”
She has always been interested in baking since she was a child growing up in a single parent home. Her mother, Di Ella, was the sole breadwinner, and Nicole developed a passion for baking after watching her mother bake Di Ella, koi moi, and other pastries as a treat for her Di Ella family.
Nicole particularly enjoys baking because it’s less stressful than cooking in a hot kitchen. Baking needs more attention to detail; Even slight changes in the recipe may affect the texture of the final product, which determines whether it will be thick or thin.
AN Fraiche’s specialty is being able to customize cake designs based on what customers want. Some of the most popular requests are cartoon animal designs, or even photo-based character sketches.
Nicole said, “Drawing people’s pictures on the cake was initially a Korean birthday trend. I saw it would be something unique that would catch people’s attention, so I gradually learned the techniques from social media and [by observing] Other famous bakers’ social media pages.
She also follows many home bakers on social media to stay up to date on current trends.
“I am also always active on XiaoHongShu, which is a platform similar to Pinterest but with more Asian community and information. This site will inspire me by showing me what other bakers are working on, and what the market demands.”
While nearly all of AN Fraiche’s clients are satisfied with the end results, we queried how Nicole handles unsatisfied or rude clients.
She recalls: “Last November, I mixed up the wrong color of cake for a customer. The customer asked for a more grayish blue cake, but I was served a turquoise blue cake. The customer gave her feedback, apologized for my mistake and sent her the refund. What made me even more devastated was when I posted about the incident on Internet and received negative comments.I got so angry that I had to write a post on my page about it to clarify [the situation]and publicly apologized to her.
“Some customers send abusive messages if they don’t get a response. Some will text me in the middle of the night expecting cake the next day. I would text them saying I’m busy fulfilling orders at the moment and will get back to them as soon as possible.
“There are times when I might get angry customers because the date they ordered their cake is fully booked. For this reason, I update our availability schedule on our social media every day, to avoid any customers getting angry.”
Alex, her partner and culinary lecturer at MAHASA University Business School, is her strongest supporter at AN Fraiche. The two have been together for eight years, and Nicole runs her business out of Alex’s kitchen.
Alex said: “In these eight years I’ve realized she’s not the kind of person who’s going to put themselves out there. If she wants something, she’ll be quiet and do it on her own. Whatever she’s posting on Facebook or Instagram or any other pages, I will.” [be the one to] Share it with everyone [because] I want everyone to know.”
He added, “She discovered her ability to bake, so I forced her to come to Selangor to complete her education.
“I started to come out of her shell after that, but I still had to push her. It’s nice to have someone there to support you; sometimes all a person needs is a push, so I was there to push her.”
Nicole also makes pet-friendly cupcakes for her furry clients. For these special cakes, she will remove or substitute ingredients based on the pet’s nutritional needs. For example, you remove chocolate from the recipe if the cake is for dogs, because it is bad for them.
All of their cakes for pets are low in sugar and contain no nuts. They also do their best to keep the ingredients natural. For example, she uses beetroot for the red color in her red velvet cake, rather than food coloring. Beetroot also offers many nutritional benefits and functions as a health remedy.
Nicole’s goal is to open her own home baking studio or café, where she can accept customers without prior reservations. Her dream for Ella is to have a place that she can call her own De Ella, and to be able to see people enjoying her De Ella creations.
Check out @an.fraiche on Instagram for more updates.