As with any legacy business, it is a challenge to keep things the way they are, while also pushing forward with innovation. In Lana Cakes’ case, the issue lies with maintaining the same flavour profile – the taste that customers grew up with – despite changes in technology and the supply chain.
For Kwan, having a taste legacy is important, but he feels that things do not have to remain status quo. For example, while the classic chocolate fudge cake has remained largely unchanged, customer demands for an even chocolatier version persuaded him to come up with a Fudge Lovers Only (FLO) variety, with two-thirds of the cake’s weight made up of pure fudge. He lovingly dubs it “a chocolate cake on steroids”.
Lana Cakes is charmingly anachronistic: The business still operates from the same single location, and it did not have an internet footprint until the end of 2018. Compare this with the rash of home-based baking businesses that have sprung up since the onset of the pandemic, many of them taking instantly to Instagram to attract customers.
“We look at Instagram, and some of these [social media] tools, as ways of promoting what we have as opposed to selling. We’re still a very traditional cake shop. And we believe that word of mouth still works,” said Kwan.
What of franchise plans, then?
“I think considering the challenges of the pandemic, it’s not an area that I’m focusing on. I do think that in the longer term, I would like to consider taking Lana Cakes international. But at the moment I’m focused on making sure that our business is Singapore is strong and as good as it is.
“We built the business based on quality and consistency. It’s never about mass production; it’s never about making as much as you can. I look at this more as a marathon, whereby we want to maintain this legacy, we want to go the distance. It’s not a sprint, where you’re just expanding. If we focus just on expanding, can we really continue the quality and the consistency the way customers expect of us?” he asked rhetorically.
No doubt, helming a business that has been around for 57 years comes with its fair share of responsibility. “At any time, a customer can walk into the shop and say that they’ve been eating this cake for the last 30, 40 years. I feel that I almost have to try harder. When I came back I knew it was not easy to take over this business.