Dubai-based pastry chef on launching her business in the middle of a pandemic

Dubai - How Annika Dsouza embarked on the journey of launching her own home-grown artisan bakehouse, Crumb & Co.



By Somya Mehta

Published: Sat 12 Jun 2021, 10:02 AM

Last updated: Mon 14 Jun 2021, 6:38 AM

While the year 2020 will always go down in history as the year that plagued the world with a deadly virus, it is important to note the other not-so-grim takeaways from the year. 2020 was also a year of many firsts, a year of self-discovery, of rediscovery - one’s likes, dislikes, what sets the soul on fire.

The year 2020 wasn’t just a year of misery and havoc, it was also a year that enabled people to find their light amidst the darkness, by diving deep into their hobbies, passion and side-hustles.

Having completed her formal training in Pastry and Confectionery almost a decade ago, it took the pandemic-imposed slow-down in the pace of life and disconnection from the surrounding noise, for chef Annika Dsouza to embark on the journey of launching her own home-grown artisan bakehouse, Crumb & Co.

The Dubai-based pastry chef reminisces about her journey so far, from quitting her full-time job to launching her doughnut venture over social media to reconnecting with her love for baking and breeding the doughnut-loving community of Dubai, amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where does the love for cooking and baking come from?

Photos/Supplied
Photos/Supplied

I was born and raised in Dubai and back then the food and dining scene was no where near what it currently is. The love for cooking and baking comes from being part of a family that loves food. Growing up, we would always have gatherings centred around food. My mum probably has a part to play, for always showing me how to step outside the comfort zone and try new things. My love for food was further strengthened when I moved to Melbourne, Australia — a foodie’s paradise. I lived there for 7 years — there was no lack of fresh produce, brilliant coffee, creative menus and talented chefs.

How did you start your journey as a full-time chef?

I think I’ve been passionate about baking for as long as I can remember. After graduating from university in 2010, I took a year off to go to Pastry School in Melbourne. I didn’t actually take the plunge into doing this full time until June 2020 — a whole decade later. I believe the ‘lockdown’ period gave me a chance to pause, take a break and reflect on what I really wanted to do.

Was it always your full-time profession? If not, when and how did you take a call for jumping into this profession full-time?

I was a Human Resources Manager for a group of companies within the Hospitality, Real Estate & Construction sector. My previous roles were within HR for various 5 Star hotels in Dubai. I believe this was part of my journey as well — while I wasn’t in the kitchen it helped me understand the hospitality industry.

I think social media really helped. It started out with me sharing my baking experiments and the doughnuts were just another kitchen experiment, or so I thought. The demand that the doughnuts garnered and the feedback I received gave me the push I needed, to finally pursue this as a career. I only decided to leave my job once I was able to build up the product, develop a customer base and ensure there was a sufficient demand for it.

Why doughnuts specifically though?

The plan wasn’t to sell doughnuts only — however the response it got when I first launched them via Instagram was sufficient to say that this is what our customers wanted. I also think doughnuts have a bad reputation. They are generally associated with being very sugary, highly processed and are usually a quick sugar fix available at commercial fast food chains. Our doughnuts start with dough that is made with no additives or artificial ingredients, it is slowly fermented so that the flavour develops and its filled with jams, custards and pastry creams that are not overly sweet and all made from scratch to complement the dough. Sure it is deep fried but we also believe in honouring traditions and living a balanced life.

Is this a side hustle? If not, how did it transition from side hustle or a passion project to full-fledged business?

I am happy to say that I’ve turned my side hustle into my main hustle. I still held my job for a few months while doing it as a side hustle. It was only when I couldn’t cope with managing my full-time job and my side hustle when I decided it had to be one or the other. A chat with my then boss, who was very encouraging of me following my passion, was the final push I needed to quit my full-time job.

What do you think is the significance of following your passion?

You know the saying ‘Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life’. Its actually quite the opposite — do what you love and you’ll work every single minute of every day of your life but having passion for what you do is what gives you the motivation to keep going and keep creating, which in turn is very rewarding. Passion also gives you a unique competitive advantage.

I also think it depends from person to person — we tend to glamorise following one’s passion, however, some people love routine and sometimes it’s okay for passions to remain just hobbies, out of choice. I think it really depends from person to person and their individual goals.

Did this venture start with you getting orders via Instagram? How important is social media for start-ups like yours?

Social media can be a very positive tool if used the right way. Initially the Doughnuts were put out on Instagram, available to order, for two days only. It then started to become a monthly drop with a one month waiting list. The demand it received and the fact that it went ‘viral’ was the positive side of social media that gave me the ability to start my business. Social media has also helped me connect with my customers in a way that would otherwise not be possible. This really has changed the way we interact with each other. There have also been so many supportive strangers on the internet — it really has been such a positive experience.

Where do you get your inspiration for baking and creating recipes for doughnuts?

When I’m not eating I’m always thinking of food! This is a running joke with all my friends. I’m always thinking of new flavour combinations and trying out recipes when I get some free time. Inspiration can be all around if you’re looking for it.

During the global pandemic, the food industry took a toll in general as people didn’t order out as frequently as they would, but home-baking suddenly boomed, with many people whipping up desserts in their pantry. How did your business get impacted by the pandemic? What lessons have you taken away?

I actually think my business is a result of the pandemic. While it has been a rough year in general — we’ve seen a lot of loss and devastation. Many lives have been lost and businesses have shut down, which has been very sad to witness. We’ve also seen some more creative approaches to running a business. It has forced people to think outside the box, to survive. There is also a very supportive food community here that tries their best to support each other. That sort of comradery has been great to witness. The support for home-grown talent and local food businesses in Dubai and the UAE has also been another factor we’re thankful for.

How did your business adapt to the changing environment caused by the pandemic?

Our business started during the pandemic so we didn’t have to make any changes as a response. The fact that we’re delivery based helps a lot. However, we’re also lucky to live in a country like the UAE at the moment. With the leadership here, we see our economy returning back to normal. Of course we need to think for ourselves and exercise caution to ensure that this pandemic ends soon.

Do you make all the doughnuts yourself?

It started off with me making the doughnuts myself, taking care of the marketing, customer service, accounting, and everything else in between. I now have a small team without whom I could not have scaled up to meet the demands.

Lastly, do you think you will add other types of dessert to this venture?

Yes, definitely. We are constantly testing recipes and working on a few things but we are waiting for the right time to launch the right product. We want to make sure anything we put on the menu has been tested enough and has a whole lot of love.

somya@khaleejtimes.com


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