By EVELYN LEN and ANNE GRACE SAVITHA
Never did it cross Chan Chui Shia’s mind, back when she was in secondary school, that she would venture into the pet treat industry someday. It was not her childhood dream, after all.
Although she developed an interest in cooking and baking at a tender age, from observing her mother and grandmother in the kitchen, it was only in her teens that she actually started cooking.
“Grandma used to make wantan noodles and peanut brittle,” says Chan. “I would help her bake cookies during Chinese New Year.
“My friend and I experimented with dishes during our secondary school days. One time, we made spaghetti Bolognese. I didn’t know we were not supposed to soak the pasta beforehand. It turned out clumpy, but edible,” she recalls with a smile.
Chan finds cooking therapeutic, and picks up tips from cookbooks and cooking shows. She is inspired by food blogger Cheng Yi, also known as Fat Boy Bakes.
A graduate of the University of Technology Sydney, Chan had pursued Business Management and Information Technology.
“I helped out in my family business of distribution and wholesale of toys until 2014, and prior to that, I was in a marketing job for three to four years,” she says, at this interview in Kuala Lumpur.
The 40-year-old from KL had been inspired to look for healthy food options for her dogs: Mochi, a Shih Tzu-Maltese mix, and Miki, a Shih-Poo (Shih Tzu-Poodle mix).
In 2007, there was a major recall of tainted pet food. This set Chan on a search for safe, nutritious pet treats. Along the way, she came across the idea of homebaked treats and decided to try it out. So she became a part-time baker in 2011, making dog treats from home.
There was a sustainable demand for her dog treats so, in 2015, Chan went full-time.
Today, with the help of her mother and a helper, she produces a range of 13 biscuit flavours and eight dehydrated treats. Peanut butter biscuits and oats-and-cheddar biscuits were among the first treats she started off with. They are still bestsellers today.
Chan also bakes treats for cats these days.
Currently, the happy testers of the treats are her dogs Miki and Olly, and her cat Suki.
“Treat your dog like you would your own baby,” advises Chan, who believes in giving natural, wholesome stuff to her furkids.
As many dogs are allergic to wheat flour, Chan’s range of pet treats includes wheat-free products. She also makes her own flour which is a blend of tapioca flour, rice flour and chickpea flour.
All her pet treats are also free from sugar and preservatives. Even her homemade, bone-shaped “barkday” cakes contain natural ingredients, including beetroot extract and carrot juice to add colour to the cakes.
“During the initial stages of Barkery, I got the recipes from the Web,” says Chan, adding that nowadays, she consults a holistic vet. While it is early days yet to speak of making treats that target certain ailments in animals, such as arthritis or eye problems, Chan has already begun research into this area.
Chan recalls how, when she first decided that making homebaked pet treats was going to be her new bread-and-butter occupation, her family and friends thought she was crazy.
“They thought I was just playing masak-masak. But later on, when they realised that I was serious about it, they began to encourage me.”
Her husband Alan Cheah, however, has been supportive all the way. He helped her set up Barkery Oven’s website and designed labels for the packaging. She calls him the “marketing guru”.
For those who want to start their own business, Chan says the three key things to have are: passion, perseverance and patience.
“Keep improving yourself,” she concludes.