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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Female foodpreneurs: Fareeha Chowdhury on building Sugarrush Cupcakery

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My journey with food started early on watching my mom bake and cook. Born in Bangkok, a short stint immigrating to the States and back, along with a whole bunch of travelling later, these experiences heavily influenced my palette. Plus, having an extended family full of enthusiastic foodies surely helped. I was always the one cooking for friends as a teen and the designated desserts baker for family dawats. 

After finishing my undergraduate degree in PR and Organizational Structure from the University of Maryland, I had to stay an extra year to complete my citizenship paperwork. I think that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I spent that whole year exploring food in Manhattan. I took a pastry technique course at the French Culinary institute; I ate my way around the city and truly lived. No matter how many different desserts I tried, my inspiration lay in Magnolia’s Bakery and Georgetown Cupcakes. Classic, all American, no-frills, simply scrumptious desserts. 

When I moved back to Dhaka in spring 2013, I didn’t want a desk job. There weren’t too many online bakeries at the time, and certainly not a cupcakery. My family was already in the restaurant business, and I knew I wanted a piece for myself. That’s how I decided to be my own boss working on my own terms. Luckily, my family was exceptionally supportive.

Sugarrush Cupcakery began in April 2013. It was instantly overwhelming and the menu kept growing. I grew it myself till 2015 and then hired 2 helpers and an errand boy. This growth helped me muster the courage to open a pop up shop on the 3rd floor of the Gulshan Avenue Agora building in 2016 but that’s where I began coming face-to-face with some major struggles.

 

I invested a lot into making the pop up fancy. But I was burning through money. A bakery needs to be on the first floor of a busy street with a big display window.  I used to have a lot of wastage, I had staff and rent to pay, and I wasn’t selling enough. I even paid a marketing company to post on my social media but nothing worked and it seemed as though the online bakery business model was the best for me and I was trying to jump ahead too fast. It was a tough yet great decision when I decided to give up and close shop and go back to the online model. I used the extra time and joined Olive Tree Food’s to learn about the professional Food and Beverage industry and got a priceless experience for a good 2.5 years during the launch of Cold Stone Creamery as the Operations Specialist. 

This journey I embarked on 7 years ago has given me many fond memories, my favorite one being when I got my office space. It’s my safe haven. Peaceful, clean, and perfect. The Kitchen Studio by Sugarush was born in 2017 when I took an office and turned it into a test kitchen in Banani. I don’t only bake there with my team, I also teach baking and cooking classes there for all ages. My students seem to love the space as much as I do; it’s a therapeutic getaway and a creative outlet for most.

Being one of the older bakeries I need to make sure I stay relevant, there’s new talent and healthy competition popping up everywhere, but it only makes me research, try harder and try out new techniques. Before 2019, Sugarrush had about 500 instagram followers. I got comfortable with word of mouth and return customers. That’s changed and now I have 3000+ followers on instagram, with a fanbase that keeps growing. I keep learning about new ways to keep my followers engaged and use different platforms to promote my business. For example I have a YouTube cooking show with Bongo BD which we film at my studio. Also, due to Covid-19, we are learning to take our cooking classes online on Zoom.

I’m so thankful for how my work is appreciated by customers. I only hope to grow, learn and be better in the future. I’ve had a long and blessed career in Dhaka’s online baking industry and I’m grateful to share a space with so many other talented pastry chefs. I’m excited for what’s to come – with clear eyes and a full heart, there isn’t much to lose.

 

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