When Dale Thia and Vincent Tay met some eleven years ago as regulars in the Singapore Navy, it did not occur to either of them that they would eventually venture into a much “sweeter” pasture together.
In fact, Wunderfolks was never planned. “It just kind of happened,” says Dale, speaking on behalf of Vincent who was knuckle-deep in dough.
Fast forward to 2022, the pair finds itself with a staff of over 20 manning three outlets in Bishan, Orchard, and Joo Chiat, and a central kitchen in Geylang where delectable tarts under the name Wunderfolks are churned.
With a daily queue of customers snaking outside the main store, which has a facade that blends into traditional Peranakan shophouses at Joo Chiat Road, it is no wonder Wunderfolks gets mistaken for a timeless relic of the area.
But the journey of Wunderfolks only began in 2019 as a home-based venture. While the Covid-19 pandemic threw many businesses off their axis causing them to shut, the founders of Wunderfolks went against the grain to launch the bakery.
“Our Navy friends knew that I was a graphic designer. So when Vincent was trying to do his home-based business, he asked me to help design a logo and take some photographs,” says Dale.
Wunderfolks: An unexpected journey
For Vincent, the baker of the pair, the allure was the science that made it possible. The combination of techniques, temperatures, and precise measurements that result in an endless variety of tarts caught the interest and attention of this head baker.
Having left the Navy in 2011, Vincent enrolled in At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy. He graduated with a diploma in pastry and bakery and after his internship at Paul’s bakery, Vincent went to work in administration and insurance. In his free time, he continued to hone his craft by baking and selling his wares to friends and family.
“Sometimes things do not go according to plan. We just flow along with it. As much as there were worries, we thought about the opportunities. That was how we grew a fair bit over the last two years,” Dale says.
With Dale’s help in designing and branding, they decided on the name Wunderfolks; a play on the words “wonder” and “folks” to highlight the wonderful experience created for everyone at the bakery.
Seeing a steady demand for Vincent’s baked goods, the pair decided to formalise the brand with Vincent as the baker of the pair and Dale the marketing mind.
“Wunderfolks became official because we had an inquiry for a bulk order but it wasn’t a capacity that a home-based business was able to handle. Incidentally, we also had a friend who asked us if we were interested in setting up a small space,” says Dale.
Even though the bulk order fell through, the pair pressed on, opening the first store at Stirling Road, which is no longer operating.
Flavour and fulfilment
When it comes to the flavours of their tarts, they pick the ones that local customers love.
“We choose common flavours because it’s familiar to everybody. That’s how we picked our signatures like mixed fruits, dark chocolate, and lemon meringue. Nothing too fancy, but closer to the heart. Something everybody can relate to,” says Dale.
Personal favourite for Dale is the coffee hazelnut tart for its balance between bitter and sweet, while it is the lemon meringue for Vincent because he loves the sour punch.
But at the heart of Wunderfolks is still its customers whom the duo finds encouraging and it was word of mouth that helped the business grow.
“The support from the customers, friends, and family was a kickstarter for Wunderfolks. They ordered in bulk and shared with friends. I think having good customer service is very important,” says Dale.
Customer demands such as unusual delivery hours and getting the right flavours were growing pains for Wunderfolks, but as the guys learnt during their stint in the Navy, “change comes with pain and later this pain turns to gain”.
“There’s this uncle who walks about 15 minutes to our Joo Chiat outlet every weekend just to buy one lemon meringue tart. We asked him why and he said the taste reminded him of his childhood. It’s the little things like that that keeps us going. And now we need to feed more people,” Dale adds.
Hands forged by the sea makes the sweetest tarts
The long hours, the need to plan ahead, and juggling multiple roles are some daily challenges in the kitchen that the founders were well familiar with when they were in uniform.
“We had no issue getting used to long hours especially when we first started. There were only the two of us, so we had to come in early to get all the orders out and stayed late after,” says Dale.
The skills accrued from the Navy and other work experiences helped set clear directions for Wunderfolks.
“The good thing about our partnership is that we have very different skill sets. That’s how we managed to wear our so-called multiple hats,” Dale adds.
But beyond the hard skills, equally important is the bond that is forged after Vincent and Dale traded their uniforms for aprons.
“We call the Navy a second family because we are on board the same ship and we only see the same group of people. That’s why we want to come up with something wonderful to reflect a family kind of relationship,” Dale says.
As for the adage of starting a business with a friend is a risky endeavour, the pair places the emphasis on a “working agreement” instead.
“It’s about maturity in entering this kind of relationship. It’s advisable because if you understand each other, you can help spring one another to the next level. But if you can’t handle it well it means that the business can’t grow,” Dale says.
Sailing into uncharted waters
The pair is now looking to launch new types of treats and will be expanding their presence in both the east and west of Singapore.
“We don’t want to rush because at the rate that the business is going, we still want to achieve stability and be operating comfortably before we continue to expand further,” says Dale.
The tides that led Dale and Vincent from the Navy to the running of Wunderfolks were admittedly not smooth-sailing. Yet looking back where the waves have brought them and where they might lead them to, the pair wants to share this with anyone looking to “jump ship” for new adventures.
“We always leap ahead and try new things. You might fail but it’s very important to know at least you have tried and not regret it. It’s definitely not easy but, if you are able to rely on your friends and family, it might be quite an interesting journey for you too.”
From now until 30 June 2024, Wunderfolks is offering a 10% discount on its 4-tart box. Promotion is valid from Mondays to Fridays for walk-in customers who are SAFRA members and/or 11B holders. Present a valid SAFRA Card/e-Card via the SAFRA mobile app or 11B in person upon ordering and payment. For more information, visit safra.sg/promotions/Wunderfolks
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