After arriving in Malaysia, Holly Withers started missing the familiar tastes from across the pond and turned to baking to seek solace in a foreign land, over 10,500km away from home.
Soon after, she met Malaysian Tan Wei Shen while working in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. As their relationship blossomed, they spent some time in England, her homeland, before returning to Malaysia in late 2015.
Initially, the couple had no intention of staying in Johor Baru but after seeing the potential in the booming city, they decided to stay on.
Prior to establishing her business in 2016, Withers, 28, worked as a restaurant consultant, helping local cafes and restaurants achieve authentic western menus.
“I take great pride in making sure all of the restaurant team feel equal, and in giving people opportunities who are keen to learn new skills,” says this self-taught baker.
She started selling her cakes and pastries in a small cafe – and discovered they were a hit among the locals.
Amid the plethora of cafes in Johor Baru, Withers and Tan always dreamed of creating an open-plan loft-space. So when the opportunity came up, they seized it – and Can Kitchen Stories was born.
But all of this wouldn’t have been possible without help from their friends who chipped in to do the carpentry, plumbing and electrical work as well as give tips in exchange for a few drinks.
“Combining a kitchen and a photography studio under one roof definitely helped stretch our money,” says the full-time baker, who takes private orders for special occasions and collaborates with others on events and pop-ups.
In their one year of business, they had a hard time trying to get their concept across – people would show up at the doorstep, expecting to see a café.
“My selling point is I’m a British girl making traditional British cakes,” she quips, adding that the cakes at Can Kitchen Stories are made to order.
She says that her customers like the intricate designs offered; she believes that it is the finishing touches that set her cakes apart from those made by her competitors.
“I don’t really do anything too technical. I choose to focus on flavours and keep things simple with a minimalistic touch by including elements of nature into my designs,” she reveals.
Her Instagrammable cakes would not only tempt your taste buds but also the shutterbug in you.
Withers incorporates an array of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and star anise in her recipes during festive seasons.
Her recent maiden attempt at using organic hibiscus to make a non-alcoholic version of mulled wine was a success, much to her delight.
A firm believer of using the best and freshest ingredients, she hopes to offer honest home-baked goods. She sources most of her ingredients from local vendors, with the exception of butter, which she imports.
Also, she finds joy in sharing her knowledge with others through Can Kitchen Stories’ workshops on festive baking, styling, decorating and photography, a joint effort between her and her husband.
“I really enjoy seeing the look on the students’ faces when they see their end product,” she shares.
The workshops held recently received great response, and after testing the waters of merging both baking and photography into a six-hour class, the couple has plans of doubling the number of seats to accommodate more students.
From consultations for new cafes and developing menus to expanding their food photography portfolio, 2018 is looking bright for this power couple.
Slowly but surely, the husband-and-wife-team is conquering the local baking scene, one cake at a time.