If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll already be following @melangedubai – an impeccably curated series of decadent desserts and fanciful multi-tiered confections magicked up by Nadia Parekh. Born and bred in Dubai, her bakery’s bread and butter was events; something the coronavirus put an abrupt stop to.
Yet the icing on the proverbial cake was that some quick thinking led to this pastry chef overcoming her culinary challenges and writing her own success story in these trying times.
You studied clinical psychology at McGill University; what first sparked the idea of doing sweet treats?
I founded Mélange four years ago, purely out of passion. I took a gap year and enrolled at the Cordon Bleu in London because I loved to cook, and after completing my diploma there was no looking back. I did a few placements at pastry kitchens like William Curley and Gordon Ramsay then came back to Dubai to join the pre-opening team of Fairmont The Palm. A few years later I wanted to explore my creativity and have free reign, so Mélange was born. It’s been quite the roller coaster!
“We wanted people to associate Mélange with an experience and the only way we felt we would be able to do so was to have a one-to-one relationship with our clients.”
What were your original plans for 2020?
Ironically, we were going down the café route. Our plan was to open in August 2020; we had a location picked out. We wanted people to associate Mélange with an experience and the only way we felt we would be able to do so was to have a one-to-one relationship with our clients.
When did you realise things were not going to pan out that way?
As soon as the whole world started going into lockdown like dominoes we realised opening up a café in the near future likely wasn’t the best idea.
What were the biggest challenges posed to your business?
We lost our entire business-to-business line of revenue – we supplied our baked goods to lots of cafés and coffee shops – and all events were cancelled as well so we woke up to a string of cancelled bespoke cakes for the month. The bulk of our income was gone. We were left with only smaller customer orders off our website.
“The idea was to turn quarantine into our very own occasion – own it – and celebrate it instead of attaching such negative associations to it”
Your initial impulse was to….
PANIC! I hoped that the community would do all they could to support local. We ended up selling cakes online for the first time ever. We made smaller standard cakes, coined them “quarantine cakes” and launched them on our website. We piped Covid-related tongue-in-cheek phrases on them like “Habibi wash your hands” and “Don’t touch your face”. The idea was to turn quarantine into our very own occasion – own it – and celebrate it instead of attaching such negative associations to it. Make the most of a bad situation; eat cake! And gift it to your loved ones as well. We launched and sold out of our quota of seven cakes a day for the whole month in just three days.
Any ideas you had that you didn’t end up using?
We weren’t fortunate enough to have a Plan B. But that was all the more ammunition to make Plan A work.
So, will the cookie queen stick with her new model or end up going back to concentrate primarily on occasion cakes?
We definitely want to keep the standard cakes online, but bespoke cakes will always be a unique mark of the company.
Anything else you’ve been working on?
We made a decision to invest in our own central kitchen and cake studio instead of a café. We recently opened that. It was the only way to bring together all our production and have the facility to keep and grow our range of cakes online.
“It was inspiring to see so many people start small businesses from home because their full time jobs didn’t suffice”
The people you think have risen to the challenge are?
So many small businesses! For example, Neha from @sogoodnoodles had to completely change her business model to adapt to delivery. It was inspiring to see so many people start small businesses from home because their full time jobs didn’t suffice. Many people were forced to be creative.
“The amount of support we received from our loyal customers and the local community was incredibly motivating and heartwarming”
Anyone who has motivated you through this time?
The community! The amount of support we received from our loyal customers and the local community was incredibly motivating and heartwarming.
What are you proudest of?
The fact that we came out of this stronger!
“You can plan all you want but the life of an entrepreneur is always up in the air”
Your biggest takeaway from this has been that…
You can plan all you want but the life of an entrepreneur is always up in the air!
Any words of advice for other entrepreneurs?
Hard work and passion will always pay off. You have to persevere through the rough days because they are present in abundance. It’s all about looking at them in a positive light and taking them as lessons learnt.
The comfort food you have craved during quarantine has been?
Ramen. Soul food. I really needed it during this turbulent time.
The soundtrack for your business this year would be?
Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
- Support Mélange Dubai by ordering Nadia’s gourmet desserts and bespoke cakes from melangeme.com
Photos: Instagram and supplied