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A Decade in Review Part 2: the Journey of Don’t Tell Charles

*Warning: there are a number of photo galleries in this post, so if you’re viewing on mobile, just keep scrolling down*

If you haven’t read part 1, click here

 

Welcome to part 2 of A Decade in Review: The Journey of Don’t Tell Charles.

It’s now December 2016 and I have just reopened the studio and workshop space, starting with a workshop by Clifford Luu (Cakes by Cliff). 

There's Cliff with his face covered 🤣 (the only decent photo I could find with him in it)

A little history about this space. It used to be a restaurant. When the restaurant closed down, the owner turned it into an office space but they kept the commercial kitchen as this kitchen was huge and of course, expensive to put in or take out. I worked here, both as a waitress for the restaurant and as an Owners Corporation Manager in the office. Man, now to think of it, this space has gone through soo much with me. 

I started baking as a hobby while working this office job because frankly, this job was dry af 🤪. Answering calls, emails, addressing complaints, dealing with trades, ehhh. It was the furthest from creativity. So anyway, my boss said I could use the commercial kitchen if I wanted, and that’s how my first home baking business, Bake’n, started (cute name ey).

When I opened Don’t Tell Charles, I had been baking for Bake’n out of this kitchen for a year. The lease included all the equipment which they already had from the restaurant. The biggest upfront investment we had to make was $12,000 on the coffee machine. The existing equipment in the kitchen was old, but they got me through. They all eventually died on me and I replaced them as we went along. But that’s how we were able to start Don’t Tell Charles. It was a $50,000 upfront investment (bank loans and credit cards).

Pre DTC - Outside signage is the restaurant's, inside signage is for the office 😅
The kitchen is behind that area
The boardroom is behind that door

I continued working my office job for another 12 months.

My income from this job supplemented the cafe for those first 12 months. To be honest with you, the cafe didn’t make much money. The location for one, wasn’t great. It was the only shop inside an apartment building. The street it was on was a no through road. So besides the locals who knew we existed, there was zero passing traffic. In return though, the rent was affordable, there was heaps of space inside and plenty of parking out the front.

Our beloved regulars ❤️. I remember that baby, she was alergic to eggs.

For 2 years I toiled away.

Early mornings, late nights. I slept through most Christmas (or any) gatherings because I was so tired all the time. I was learning heaps, and my passion for baking got me going but financially it was not viable. I wasn’t using my time efficiently. There did come a point where I was ready to give up. However,  I didn’t want to just walk away with a mountain of debt. So I gave myself 6 months. 6 months to trade out of the debt that we got ourselves into opening this cafe. Then I’ll walk away and go back to school. 

In those 6 months, I knuckled down. I got rid of all the time-wasting crap we were doing like wholesale cakes (lol, how I loath wholesale with every fibre of my being). I focused on streamlining my recipes and processes. I focused on what I enjoyed making, buttercream cakes. I got real with time management. After 6 months, we did trade out of most of the debt. But I didn’t walk away. I stayed because for once, we were starting to thrive. What I did in those 6 months became the Cake Smarter, Not Harder®  systems that I teach in our courses now. 

 

So anyhow, back to the end of 2016 – the beginning of a new era.

No more cafe. DTC was now a designer cake studio and workshop.

Between December 2016 and October 2019, we held hundreds of cake workshops at the DTC studio. I got to meet so many cake enthusiasts and have made good friends with a lot of them. I treasure these memories so so much. 

Some happy memories from our DTC workshops❤️

Students also flew in from everywhere to do private workshops. 

You name a country, I have had a student fly in from there to do a private workshop with me. Many of these students went on to establish very successful cake businesses that are thriving today. You know, the Thao that was living in this time, she was just trying to do what she had to do. The demand for DTC workshops was crazy. So while I was just trying to do my job, I didn’t really think much of the fact that people literally booked a plane ticket to come spend time with me. As I’m sitting here now typing this, wow, that sounds incredible. So peeps, the lesson I’ve learnt is: stop and celebrate your achievement, NO MATTER where you are. Don’t wait until the end. You cannot bring back the past. Of course you can reminisce, but it does not feel the same. Celebrate NOW. 

Some of my private workshop students. USA, UK, France, Panama, Nigeria, HongKong, Malaysia, Argentina, Singapore etc, you name it, they came from it. ❤️

I was also flying everywhere to teach workshops. 

After that first workshop in Singapore, I was flooded with invitations to teach abroad. I ended up teaching in Singapore 4 times, London twice, Auckland once, Medan once and countless times in Sydney. Every time I was overseas for a workshop, I would have a guest instructor in at our studio to teach their signature cakes. We’ve had the pleasure of hosting Cliff (Cakes by Cliff), Raymond (rymondtn) and Gina (Ladybird Cakes) in the DTC studio. 

Meanwhile, I got to make cakes for so many special celebrations. 

In between the workshops, I got to design and make cakes for so many special occasions. If it seems like a crazy schedule to you reading this, believe me, it WAS a crazy schedule. Not only did I get to make these cakes, I ‘got’ to deliver them too 😅. I delivered a four tiered cake to New Zealand! Haha jokes, I flew to New Zealand and made a four tier wedding cake there. Juggling everything was a lot. But it was also one hell of a ride!

I was running through all this like Usain Bolt lol, and eventually, I crashed. I was so exhausted from it all. I just couldn’t keep doing it after two years. Something had to give, or I was going to break. So I gave up cakes. I stopped taking orders (even though they were bringing in hundreds of thousands a year in revenue).

One thing about me is that I am really good at letting go. Quick, smart, cut the cord, no hard feelings. I think this is a coping mechanism I developed because my mother died when I was eight, and at twelve years of age, I left my whole life in Vietnam and moved to Australia without my father. My grandma (mum’s mum) and aunties and uncle pretty much brought me up. Anyway, I’m good at letting go because I’ve experienced a lot of loss. If something feels like it no longer benefits me emotionally, I let it go. So I let go of cakes.

What I wasn’t good at was processing my emotions that are the result of letting go. I let go first. And then months later, the emotions creep in. At this point, it has been two years since my grandmother passed away. She was my safe space, my unconditional love. I didn’t process her death at all, and instead, I coped by working like a maniac. So when it all came crashing down, letting go felt like the right thing to do. I let go of cakes (taking orders that is).

Somewhere during this period, I also launched the online school.

After I stopped taking orders, I continued with the workshops and online courses. I still got the gratification from making cakes, but my workload eased a bit because I wasn’t running mad trying to fulfil orders and deliver them. I still had my team of 2 staff (1 was let go due to us no longer taking orders). 

Two weeks before a planned trip to London and Europe for some workshops and traveling, I discovered I was pregnant.

Well, I forgot to mention that during all the craziness, I also got into another serious relationship and eventually, married the man that would then become the star of Christo Bakes 🤣. We got married in January 2019, and we found out I was pregnant in June 2019.

July 2019 - This was me 6 weeks pregnant at a Dawn Welton workshop in London

October 2019

I held the last ever DTC physical workshop in our studio on October 31, 2019. I was towards the end of the second trimester then, so even without the cake orders, physical workshops were becoming too physically exhausting. Stevie was due on February 2020, so the plan was to take a couple of months off and then bring Stevie with me back to work (the naivety of a 1st time mum 😅). 

February 2020

Stevie came! Yay, my little bundle of sass. Shortly after we welcomed her into the world, the world welcomed Covid-19 and began the lockdowns on and off for the next two years. 

May 11, 2020 - On my birthday as a new mum, in the middle of the pandemic.

Wewwwww. That was a lot! I’m ending part 2 here because this point was the end of yet another era. The birth of my daughter, Covid, lockdowns, and then the world coming back to normal but never quite the same – this is a new chapter for me and DTC. Motherhood, lost of identity, many personal challenges, the next 3 years need their own blog post because I do have a lot of reflection to do for this period of my life. I closed the studio in June 2020, transitioned to working from home (still do), struggled with who I was meant to be and should become, and overcame many personal challenges from which I feel like I grew 20 years wiser. More on that in Part 3!

If you got all the way here, thank you so much for reading ❤️. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did putting all of it together. It really did remind me of all the crazy sh*t I’ve done, and it made me realise how precious time is. I’ve made my New Year resolution to be: taking more photos. Document my day to day, more behind the scenes, more of people I get to meet, more of my family. I always feel a bit ‘vain’ if I took too many photos in the moment, especially selfies. But, I always regret not taking enough photos after the fact. So, here’s to a 2024 full of new memories!

Til part 3. Much love.

Thao

4 Responses

  1. Wow. You have inspired me all the way in Zambia, Africa. I hope I could still learn something from you if you continue teaching. I’m a baker too for 10 years and I 100% know what you’re talking about.
    Your amazing, never forget that💕

  2. I throughly enjoyed reading this and look foward to the part 3. Happy New Year to you and your family.

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