If you ever thought that running a business from home is easy then think again. Leandra and Alessa Lee are the dynamic duo behind Not Cute Sisters (NCS), home-bakers that are offering delicious bagels, cakes, cookies and many varieties of bread. It all began when Leandra was spending most of her free time cooking and baking during the Movement Control Order (MCO). Alessa, on the other hand, had returned from the UK when Malaysia announced that they were closing their borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They saw an opportunity to share their love of food and took it.
The decision to start a food business wasn’t always easy, especially during a pandemic. Leandra has a full-time job and she was juggling this and the NCS business while making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontliners. Alessa, who had just graduated from the University of Bristol, needed to secure a job. Being stuck at home is not easy, even for many of us. They wanted to do something positive that not only impacted their own lives but the community at large. However, beginning a new venture during uncertain times requires a lot of planning to ensure the longevity of the business. Despite this, the sisters were determined. So one thing led to another and NCS was born! With the social media boom over the last few years, it was a no brainer for them to start their business on Instagram.
Leandra and Alessa love eating and were taught that food brought people together. Growing up, they found that the kitchen was always full of life as the family would gather around to munch on snacks while chatting about their day. It’s what makes a house a home. They learned to cook from their father, who is an architect by profession. Leandra fondly shares that whatever he makes would bring warmth to their bodies (and bellies). Their mother, on the other hand, was an avid baker. It’s no wonder that both sisters inherited their skills!
Why "Not Cute Sisters"?
Well, according to Leandra, the process of finding a suitable name was quite an adventure! Playing with puns and using name generators online often resulted in hilarious outcomes. But it wasn’t all fun and games. It got increasingly frustrating and one day Leandra blurted, “Why can’t we find a cute name? Are we destined to be not cute sisters or something?” That was the light bulb moment. And it made sense as both Leandra and Alessa explained how they loved how the name was an oxymoron since it was the total opposite of their adorable packaging and food. However, I have to disagree and say that they are totally cute though!
Some of their best-sellers are from their sourdough series, which include their famous country loaves, Foccacia and bagels. Sourdough not quite your thing? Try their massive Hokkaido milk loaf — pillows of fluffy white bread, best eaten toasted with good quality butter. And if you’re a cookie monster, their levain cookies filled with gooey chocolate are to die for! There’s a treat for everyone!
If you’ve started drooling, you’re not alone. For a home-based business, they have so many tempting choices that one can’t help but want everything! It’s obvious that the offerings by NCS are not only delicious but also reasonably priced, as you can see from their extensive menu. And there’s a special promo code waiting for all of you at the end of this post for your first order. But let’s dive a little deeper into the faces behind the bread first!
When did you learn to bake?
Leandra: I learnt to bake from a young age. But I clearly remember my first cookie. It was a chocolate cookie filled with everything that I liked. I put in gummy bears and other random sweets that I enjoyed eating. My parents ate it and brought it to their office to share. They paid me RM5 for it. You could say that it was my first taste of what it was like to be an entrepreneur. Fast forward 15 years, my dad said it tasted like canned food. My parents were just being supportive and that helped. Of course these days our cakes are much better. And they definitely do not taste like canned food.
Are you doing this business full time?
Leandra: I am currently working full time. So currently, I’m balancing 2 full-time shifts to make Not Cute Sisters happen with Alessa.
Alessa: I’m not working at the moment. Actually I had to graduate early and come back from Bristol because of the pandemic. Malaysia was closing its borders and I didn’t want to be stuck in the UK. After my quarantine, we talked about starting a business together. It was scary but we made it happen.
Share your experience of starting a business during the pandemic.
Both: Honestly, it was tough because we didn’t want to look that we were taking advantage of this pandemic. But we wanted to share our food. To start, we had to leverage social media as our main platform. There was also a lot of planning involved to assess the longevity of the business after the pandemic is over. We had to discuss what the ‘new normal’ would look like and how NCS would fit into this storyline.
But since we were home every day, it brought meaning and purpose. We turned our boredom it into something more positive and encouraging. These days we spend time discussing how our next week would be like instead of sitting around playing our phones. It’s nice that we now have a project we are dedicating our time into. Plus, we get to spend time together playing “masak-masak” (cooking) like old times.
Both: The off-cuts! HAHA! Just kidding. We love everything we bake. We believe in only selling food that we absolutely love eating.
Alessa: But I made a strange concoction that turned out surprisingly delicious. I call it the bagel cookie sandwich. I take a plain bagel and sandwich a levain cookie in between. You get the gooeyness of the cookie and chewiness of the bagel. Best of both worlds!
You also made PPE during this time. How did you juggle work, baking and everything in between?
Leandra: Yes, we did. When the MCO was implemented, we started sewing up PPE for our frontliners. We did 2000 pieces in 2 months, through several organisations. They are doing amazing and selfless work! But I have to admit it wasn’t always easy. I stuck to a strict schedule every day. Work > rest > sew > bake. Eventually, I got into a pattern of working this way.
Hopes and plans for the future.
Alessa: Lots of planning otherwise it will be hard to sustain the business. And also a clear separation of space and time for everything so we don’t burn out. The key is to handle one project at a time.
Advice for anyone who wants to start their own side hustle.
Both: Go for it, but put in the time to plan and strategise. Stick to your key strengths as it’s a ‘side’ hustle so that you don’t get distracted. If you have three skills but great at only two and amazing at one, work on that one. Make it your key focus because it’s your biggest strength. But at the same time, don’t let your side hustle dampen your ability to focus on your main source of income.
It was such a treat getting to know Leandra and Alessa. It’s obvious that they love food and want to share that experience with those around them. They have also been so kind as to provide a special 5% discount for you on your first order! Just quote the promo code “THEMISSNISE5” when you place your order with them. The code will be valid for two weeks starting today. You won’t want to miss out. Orders can be made via direct message on their Instagram!
All images are courtesy of Not Cute Sisters.