A former flight attendant, Khun Orn owns and leads April’s Bakery, a very successful and every growing business that sells 20,000 pies a day around Bangkok. Hers is a story of resilience, determination, and resourcefulness – how to keep doing what you love even if the odds look set against you. Her first business – a coffee shop – failed due to little demand and it took her over two years to turn a profit on April’s Bakery. When even her friends were telling her to give up, she didn’t and kept working hard to turn her dream into reality. She refinanced her car, sold her bags and jewelry, and borrowed from friends to be able to pay rent and salaries. Until her famous Hong Kong honey pork pie got her on a couple of TV channels and customers started flocking in. April’s Bakery has now 60 branches around Bangkok and is a well-known brand in the city. She also owns a popular restaurant in her province of Nakhon Sawan. Next, April’s Brasserie is being planned.
“Keep doing it if that’s what you love. You don’t know how long it will take you to be successful”
“After university, I worked as a flight attendant for 2 years and then opened a small coffee shop in a community mall. I called it April’s Bakery after my name as a flight attendant. There were lots of other coffee shops around and I didn’t sell much so after 8 months I closed it and opened a small bakery kiosk in a department store. I believe that if you want to start something new, you should offer something different so I sold pizza and quiches that nobody was selling there at that time. The first week went well because people were excited about trying something new but then sales went down dramatically. The department store called me and said, ‘If you keep selling these products, you won’t be able to stay. You have to offer something else’. So I tried cookies, muffins, and other things but I wasn’t selling me much. Then I went to Hong Kong with a friend and she made me taste a honey pork pie that seemed very popular with Thai tourists. When I brought some back, my sister suggested I should try to replicate it. But it was very hard. My mother passed away 10 years ago so I had to learn how to cook from Google. It took me 3 months to learn how to make it right.”
“About 6 months after opening the kiosk, I was featured on TV Channel 3 because they liked the honey pork pie. Then all of a sudden people got very excited and others started calling to inquire about the pie. Soon enough, I was baking 800 pieces per day. I had a big oven but it could hold only 100 pieces at a time so I would bake from 10pm to 4am every day, sleep a few hours, and then deliver the pies. I did that for almost a year. Then I was finally able to open my own factory and yesterday I bought a larger factory because I got a new order from ThaiSmile Airways. Now I sell 20,000 pies per day in 60 branches.”
Each of the 20,000 pies is individually weighted to ensure consistency.
“From the beginning, the department store I was selling in asked me to expand to other locations because they had available space. I wanted to keep a good relationship and felt I couldn’t say no so I accepted and in 3-4 months I had about 8 branches. Opening new branches is very expensive and I had used up my savings in my first venture. And some of the branches didn’t sell much. I tried to get money from banks but I didn’t have hard assets like a house or land so they wouldn’t lend to me. I had to refinance my car, sell my bags and jewelry, and borrow from friends. I borrowed from the mother of a very close friend of mine and whenever I repaid a loan, I would ask for a new one. Sometimes I couldn’t pay on time but she knew I would pay. She didn’t ask for any guarantee but we signed a contract downloaded from the internet.”
“April’s Bakery has now 60 branches – 52 franchises and 8 are mine. I am at the factory every day during the week to make sure everything is fine. And I am the one that makes the filling because I keep the recipes a secret. My dream is to expand more. I am going to open a restaurant called April’s Brasserie in Bangkok, probably next year. I want something affordable, where office staff can go for lunch.”
“The most difficult thing was to continue the business because it was so exhausting to always make sure I had enough money for rental and salaries. I wasn’t making any money for the first 3 years but I wanted to stay in Bangkok and didn’t want to lose face and let my husband’s family down. His family is well-off while I am no one from northern Thailand. I wanted to prove them that I could do it by myself so I never asked my husband for money. He found out about my financial struggles when we were interviewed together by OK magazine.”
“Most of my friends told me that I should stop because I wasn’t making money for so long. They said, ‘If you don’t break even within 6 months, you need to stop.’ But I continued and this is the advice that I give young women when they ask me how to succeed. I tell them to be persistent if they love what they are doing. You don’t know how long it will take you to be successful. So many young people want to be business owners now but they quit easily. If it doesn’t work out in a few months, they close down.”