Remember the widespread #quarantinebaking trend early in the pandemic last spring? While many of us were making the latest TikTok treats or trying our hand at bread-making as a fun distraction from reality, some home-baking hobbyists managed to keep up that momentum and turn their passion into an actual side hustle to generate extra income.
The rise of Instagram bakeries during this pandemic is a very real phenomenon. The online baking community in Vancouver has expanded rapidly, and similar scenes have become popular in other global cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore as well. Self-taught and professionally trained bakers alike are creating delicious items either at home or in commissary kitchens, and there is high demand for everything from custom birthday cakes to Japanese tea pudding to Portuguese tarts.
Foodies already use social media (and specifically Instagram) to search for new restaurants to visit, takeout to try, and food to sample, so it makes sense for these online bakeries to pop up on the platform because it’s where people love to shop—especially now when we should be staying home as much as possible.
We asked a few local Instagram bakeries what it’s like to launch an online food business during a pandemic—and why our readers might want to pause on their feed as they scroll by a tasty treat on their phone.
Yurique Chang and his partner come from a culinary and baking background, and have always wanted to start their own business. When the pandemic hit, Chang, like so many others in the hospitality industry, was swept up in the wave of layoffs. With nothing to do at home, he decided to start Salty Sugar Patisserie, and rented a kitchen for operations. One look at their Instagram feed, and customers will be mesmerized by beautiful custom cakes, macarons, seasonal desserts, and plant-based chocolates.
Founder Lucy Lei is a home baker who was searching for a new passion project a few months into the pandemic. Her love for Asian food and baking eventually led to the creation of Moki Cookies, which specializes in mochi-filled cookies with flavours such as milk tea, ube, black sesame, and matcha. Everyone on the Moki team is Food Safe-certified, with hygiene and food safety a top priority. Lei also has ambitions to open up her own café, post-pandemic.
Kevin Ao is a Red Seal-certified chef who has worked in luxury hotels in Vancouver and Michelin-starred restaurants in France. When the pandemic hit, he returned home to this city and decided to create a business that would encourage people to stay in and spend quality time with loved ones. Bon Moment offers restaurant-quality afternoon tea sets, and his culinary creations draw from his Taiwanese roots paired with local and seasonal ingredients. His box sets must be ordered three days in advance.
Avelino Santos created NatasCanada in 2017 because he wanted to promote his own Portuguese food and culture in Vancouver after immigrating here 15 years ago. But it wasn’t until last year, at the height of the pandemic, that he saw a huge increase in customer demand. He has a pastry chef who bakes the natas (Portuguese custard tarts) in a professional kitchen, and most of the orders placed come through direct messages on Instagram or calling Natas directly. Pro tip: Santos encourages his customers to sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top of the tarts to bring the experience to another level.
Jessica Wan started creating recipes for tea pudding years ago, but only started Teapurin during the pandemic, when she had more time to pursue something she loved. Teapurin specializes in Japanese tea pudding, and Wan draws inspiration from her past travels to Japan. Some of its regular pudding flavours include matcha, houjicha (light-roasted green tea), kuki-houjicha (dark-roasted green tea stem), and genmaicha (roasted rice green tea). Rotating specials such as chestnut and black sesame have also been popular. Eventually, Wan hopes to be able to open a storefront for her home business.
It had been years since Rhea Gutierrez baked, but she revisited her long-lost hobby last July when she decided to bake a cake for her dad’s birthday. Having finally conquered her fear of baking layered cakes, she decided to launch The Cakerhe & Co. A self-taught baker, Gutierrez draws inspiration from her childhood, creating nostalgic cake flavours such as confetti birthday cake, cookie dough, and cereal milk. She offers everything from custom cakes to cupcakes to surprise boxes, and orders must be placed two to three weeks in advance.
Chae Sea has always been a hobby home-baker, but it wasn’t until quarantine life last spring that she realized how much she loved making desserts and pastries. So, she decided to create a small side project, and Chae’s Macarons was born. She currently offers a variety of thick, Korean-style macarons that aren’t very common in Vancouver, with flavours such as pistachio, chocolate, black sesame, matcha, sweet potato cake, and more. Since her family doesn’t enjoy treats that are too sweet, her goal was to create macarons that don’t scream sugar.
Bella Chan wouldn’t have created an Instagram dessert business if it weren’t for the overwhelming support of her friends and family. She’s a self-taught baker with a love for cooking, and decided to bake more when she was stuck at home for the pandemic. As a full-time university student, she doesn’t have much time to take on too many orders, but it’s been a fulfilling passion project and a helpful stress reliever. Some of the products offered by Eat Mo Mochi include mini cakes, mochi brownies, mochi muffins, and cookies.
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