“To connect people and help spread love, hope and happiness through our sweet boxes of joy”
hOW IT ALL BEGAN
hOW IT ALL BEGAN
Harneet ChawlaFounder & Executive Chef, Socially Distant Cakes
It was February 2020 and I had just quit my job as Associate Partner at IBM with the dream to become an entrepreneur and make my dent in the world. Little did I know, that within 3 weeks, the whole world would come to a stand still and my life would forever be transformed. With my start-up idea no longer relevant to the new world (at least not until everything normalized), no job to do, and burdened with household chores, I did what most people in India and perhaps the rest of the world were doing. I re-ignited my passion for cooking and baking to take care of my family. As I was deep cleaning my kitchen one day, I found a “never-before-opened” box of a Wilton cake decorating tool that I had purchased years ago with the goal that I would one day learn how to make my own frosting and decorate my own cakes. It was time to finally use it.
my FIRST BATCH OF SOCIALLY DISTANT CAKES
Given that we were in the middle of the pandemic, and how important it was for everyone to stay socially distant from each other (remember Wave 1 when even family members within the same household would sit on separate sofas away from each other?), I thought it would be best to bake small little individual cakes for each member of the family so no one had to touch or share their cake with the other person. The result was my first ever batch of cupcakes which I lovingly called “Socially Distant Cakes”
That night, digging into these “socially distant cakes”, my family forgot all about the pandemic and the uncertainty around it, and instead smiled and laughed together after a long time. My husband was so happy and impressed with my skills that he joked that perhaps I should start a cupcake business. I took no heed to what he said but kept baking regularly over the next few weeks just to keep myself busy and have some fun. I started trying out new flavours and sending them to friends, neighbors and relatives whom I missed and could not meet because of the lockdown. Before I knew it, my cupcakes became famous within our small social circle and people proactively started requesting that I bake a batch for them, even offering to pay, to have them delivered directly to their loved ones for birthdays, anniversaries and other special days.
the early days
the early days
I officially starting selling cupcakes during the day and watching videos on YouTube during the night to continually improve my recipes and frosting styles. When the lockdown opened a bit, I made a trip to every popular bakery in town to research my product and spent hours strategizing the business model I would deploy for my newly founded home-based ‘cupcakery’. It led me to introduce many different flavours that no one else in the city was doing and devise a hygienic, temperature-controlled delivery system that ensured that the cupcakes reached their destination safely. While the expensive operational upgrade was great, it did not lead to any increase in orders.
One day, as I was reminiscing my good old corporate days and fretting over how poor I suddenly felt without a stable fixed salary, it occurred to me that there were a lot of lessons learned from my consulting career that I could apply to make my new business successful. Based on the digital journeys that I had helped deploy for many large enterprise customers at IBM, I had this crazy idea to introduce the concept of personalization to my “products” which would allow my “customers” (who were mostly family, friends and a few Instagram followers at that point) to add custom messages and pictures to the cupcakes they were ordering. I decided to try this idea on my Dad for Father’s day with digitally designed toppers and it was an instant hit.
THE RISE AND THE FALL
By Diwali 2020, I built a small commercial kitchen on my rooftop, hired a couple of people and went "professional". In the next few months, we followed every possible safety protocol and delivered hundreds of boxes of personalized cupcakes filled with messages of love, hope, good health, joy and encouragement to folks across NCR. Life finally seemed to be back on track when suddenly, out of nowhere, the Delta wave hit in May 2021, which literally shook the entire city along with the rest of the nation. Like most families in NCR, each of our staff members including myself lost close loved ones and were devastated. A domino effect led to many other personal and financial hardships and my entire world came crashing down. I lost all hope and in the face of heart-breaking loss and unfathomable challenges, I decided to shut operations and put an end to this "lame" experiment. Little did I know that destiny had something else in mind.
FINDING A MISSION
Over the next few weeks and months, phone calls started pouring in from across the city asking why we were no longer taking orders. The more I tried to ignore these reach-outs, the more people came forward to share some intense personal stories about how receiving (and in certain cases, even sending) our sweet boxes of cupcakes with such beautiful messages had helped reduce the awful isolation and loneliness they had experienced during the lockdowns and added some love, hope, joy and happiness to their difficult day. A son had welcomed both his parents home with our cupcakes after a long COVID stay at the hospital, a friend had sent cupcakes to wish good luck to her bestie who had to get married with no more than 5 people in her bridal party, a couple had spent their milestone 50th wedding anniversary with family on a zoom call with our cupcakes delivered to them all (in advance), a brother had sent cupcakes to her sister's home for Rakhi although they lived one mile away but couldn't be together due to Covid, a pregnant mom had celebrated her birthday in isolation with just her puppy and yes, some SDC cupcakes. The stories were endless and heart-warming and I couldn't believe the fact that our cupcakes had unintentionally ended up playing a small yet such a significant role in giving comfort to so many people during some of their toughest times. That is when it dawned on me that people had loved my cupcakes not just for the awesome taste and the original flavors, but the fact that it gave them an opportunity to send a thoughtful and delectable gift to their loved ones with personal messages which was a sweet way to stay connected with each other in the newly distanced virtual world. It made me realize that all along, my small home business was actually not just about baking and delivering cupcakes. It was about baking and delivering......
Love, Hope and Connection
In that very instant, I knew that I had accidentally stumbled upon a new
mission in life that I could look back upon and be proud of one day. It was time to let go of the fears and re-launch in a big way.