“Hi Ann!” screams a hyperventilating auntie on an escalator in JB’s KSL City Mall, as it carries her upwards and away. Ann Kok smiles and waves at her genially, despite being swarmed by a long line of fans all waiting to take selfies with her.
We can’t think of a better person than Ann to co-own a castella cake brand called Harmony Bakery (remember her 1997 music album with a song called ‘Love Dimsum’?). She is a first-time F&B towkay, but this is the second time she’s trying her hand at being an entrepreneur — the BFF Zakka Shop in Joo Chiat that she opened with Jesseca Liu shuttered in 2014.
“My Malaysian friends were the ones who wanted to open a cake shop, and they approached me to be an ambassador. But I decided to [invest] and be a silent partner ’cos I trust my friends when it comes to food. They also run a bistro-pub in Kuala Lumpur,” shares Ann, who also roped in pal Thomas Ong as a fellow ambassador.
8 DAYS: You now own a business in Johor Bahru. How familiar are you with the place?
ANN KOK: I’m not very familiar with JB. But I’m okay with navigating around the area, like most Singaporeans are. I usually go there once a year or so, but when I’m working I don’t even get a chance to go. But now I’m there more often ’cos of this shop.
When we did a throwback story with you about your swimsuit shoots recently, you mentioned that you watch your diet and workout regularly. You don’t strike us as someone who would gorge on cakes.
(Laughs) I don’t like cakes with a lot of cream. I prefer sponge cake. If you ask me to eat pandan cake, I will. But I didn’t try other [castella cake] brands ’cos I didn’t bother to queue. When I was in school, home economics was my favourite subject. I don’t cook, but I like baking cookies.
I want to learn how to bake castella cakes, so I hope to go to my partner’s home to learn from his mother ’cos she knows how to make those cakes.
Partner — do you mean boyfriend?
No, no. Not boyfriend lah, just business partner. You think too much lah! (Laughs)
You have a lot of fans in Malaysia. That must help boost business right?
I hope so! I also want them to taste our cakes lah. We are still discussing plans to bring the brand to Singapore. Hopefully it will be in the near future.
We already have a few people in Malaysia who are interested in franchising our business. But I’m a silent partner, so I leave such [business discussions] to my other partners. But if we open in Singapore, I will have to be the ‘guide’ since I’m the Singaporean here.
Harmony Bakery, G-44 Ground Floor, KSL City Mall, Johor Bahru.
PHOTOS: CHEE YAN