Determined to maintain his traditional bakery till retirement, Jimmy Mah shares what pushed him to continue running Jie Bakery and his unwavering drive for traditional bread-making
Words & Photos by Cerise
At a glance, Jie Bakery might seem just like any other neighbourhood bread shop with the lingering aroma of freshly baked bread. However, take a deeper look and it’s far from typical.
Nestled in the heart of Tai Seng, Jie Bakery is one of the few surviving old-school bakeries in Singapore. Undeterred by changes and trends over the years, Jimmy Mah, 55, the owner of Jie Bakery, has been sustaining this business for over 30 years.
Jimmy first got involved in a bakery business when his friend asked him for help. He eventually took over the business in 1992 when his friend felt that it was not profitable. Jimmy explained that he had agreed to take over due to his strong passion for baking, as well as the opportunity to enhance his baking skills.
“The sense of satisfaction that I receive from my customers is what keeps me going,” Jimmy said beaming. “They will return to my bakery at least three to four times a week to buy my bread as they find it extremely soft and tasty.”
Throughout the years, Jimmy stays true to his recipe and doesn’t compromise on the quality despite the rising cost of ingredients. Furthermore, he persists in baking traditional bread from scratch without adding any chemicals or preservatives. This explains why his bread is baked daily since it will not stay fresh after three days.
On a typical work day, Jimmy and his team of four workers would bake a day’s worth of bread at dawn. What’s impressive about Jimmy is that he has only taken two days off each year throughout his career as a baker.
Producing an estimated amount of 800 to 1,000 loaves of bread in a day, Jimmy shared that he’s usually able to finish selling everything each day. “Rather than having any leftovers, I'd prefer not having enough loaves to sell for the day," he admitted. After running the business for over 30 years, he knows the estimated amount of loaves to bake daily. However, if it rains heavily for the entire day, it will affect his business tremendously.
Jimmy’s primary motivators are his regular customers. They would often head over to have a chat with him, and encourage him to continue running the bakery. “They tell me that traditional bakeries like mine are very rare and advise me to raise the price of the bread if I need to,” recounted Jimmy. “In order to survive in this industry, I do adjust my prices over the years according to the competition and market.”
Persistent in keeping this business, Jimmy shared that he plans to continue running the business to the best of his abilities. “My children are unwilling to take over the business as it is too hard on them,” said Jimmy. “They previously helped out in my bakery for two weeks but felt that it was not suitable for them. Since they are studying in university, they have decided to focus on their areas of study instead.”
In an attempt to keep the culture of Singapore’s traditional bread ongoing, Jimmy often agrees to interviews conducted by online media companies and TV stations to spread the awareness of traditional bread to the youths.
“Recently, I read about a chicken rice store that had been around for quite some time, but had closed their business,” said Jimmy. He also noticed that many traditional biscuit stores have folded and realise it’s tough for traditional stores to survive these days.
“I hope that more youths will go out and explore the various traditional food stores so that we can keep Singapore’s traditions going.”