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

It’s the beginning of 2024. Wow, a brand new year. Everywhere I look (on social media), people are taking stock and reflecting on 2023.

What have I done in 2023? What did I achieve? I could sit here and list a number of challenges 2023 threw at me, challenges which I’ve overcome. I could sit here and list a number of goals I had set out at the beginning of 2023, goals which I actually did achieve. 

But, no matter what challenges I’ve overcome, what goals I achieved, I’m sitting here right now feeling a little bit… lost. I’m just a bit unsure of myself at the moment.

What I am sure of is that I am not the only one feeling this way. 

The cause? I think it’s excess. 

➕ Excessive to do lists. 

➕ Excessive expectations. 

➕Excessive stress. 

We’re constantly spinning ourselves around, never feeling quite good enough. Achieving something becomes the norm. It’s just another tick on the list. Moving on… Next!

The thing is, I like the look of 2024, it’s an even number, ya know. So I want it to be a good year. A good year to me means I am able to celebrate myself instead of beating myself up for not doing better. A good year means feeling that I’m good enough, in the present moment.

So, I’m starting today. Instead of taking stock of the year that was 2023, I’m going to take stock of the journey that is DTC so far. I need to do this in order to celebrate how far I’ve come, figure out where I need to go next and what I really want to do for the next five years.

Come down memory lane with me!

July 2013, pre opening

22 July, 2013

I opened Don’t Tell Charles Coffee & Desserts with my first husband and business partner. His specialty was coffee. Mine was literally just cupcakes and macarons at that point (lol). And I dared to open an actual dessert shop haha! 

You see, I had already done two different university courses: Media & Communications (Journalism) and Design (Landscape Architecture). I completed neither. I didn’t want to go back to uni to do another course that I’d leave half way through again, so Don’t Tell Charles to me was going to be my real life business degree. It was meant to be a learning experience.

From cupcakes and macarons, I learnt to make lots of different styles of desserts like cookies, entremets, pastries and cakes. I was selling them through the cafe while learning how to make them.

October 2013 - desserts selection sold at DTC

Cakes were fondant cakes at first, which I despised. I just couldn’t wrap my head around why we had to do everything TWICE. Cover the cake in ganache, get it nice and perfect THEN cover all of that up in fondant, get it nice and perfect again. My minimalist brain couldn’t compute. 

August 2013 - The worst cake I ever made.
That was a styrofoam sphere covered in fondant (complete waste of time). The cake under that 'grass' was completely inedible, a white choc mud cake I have never made before but took on because the client insisted.

Then along came buttercream cakes and the rest as they say, is history. 

In early 2015, I was still making piped buttercream cakes. Then came the semi naked cakes, and the drip cakes. I climbed on that bandwagon so fast! Buttercream made so much more sense to me. Mind you I was one of the early adopters of modern buttercream cakes inspired by the likes of Katherine Sabbath. At this point, I was still learning on the job and by trial & error as much as I could.

My piped buttercream cakes in 2015

You know, so much of my professional identity is attached to cakes now I almost act like none of the things we managed to achieve with the cafe existed. I have a tendency to downplay achievement (which I’m trying to fix). 

So, while I was learning, experimenting and having fun with buttercream cakes the cafe managed to:

Make the cut for the Specialty Coffee Book Victoria - we appeared alongside many other trendy specialty coffee spots
Fundraise for the Good Friday Appeal
Hold high tea events which started because Good Food Month asked us to do a high tea event (more on this mistake another day)
Supply wholesale cakes to cafes (another mistake for another blog 🤣)

Towards the end of 2015 & beginning of 2016

My cakes began to garner attention online due to their clean, polished and sharp aesthetics. The concrete cake was also born during this period. You see so many amazing contemporary buttercream cake designs now on social media but back then, this style was still very new. More often than you realise, aspects of contemporary buttercream cake design today originated from the DTC kitchen. 

Early versions of the DTC style

April 2016

I taught my first ever cake workshop in Singapore in front of 10 people. 

This workshop launched my teaching trajectory. I wrote about my cake teaching journey here.

April 2016 - First workshop in Singapore

October 2016

My first husband and I split up and we decided to close the cafe. Coffee was his thing, I had little interest in keeping the coffee side going. There were hot demands for my cake workshops, so closing the cafe was the right move. 

December 2016

Don’t Tell Charles reopened as a contemporary cake studio and workshop space, kickstarting the first of hundreds of cake decorating workshops I would be conducting here over the next 3 years.

Don't Tell Charles bakery set up for a cake decorating workshop

Wowee, we’re only up to 2016 and I’m already tired from all the recaps 😅. Tired and proud, of course. This whole celebration of achievements is shaping up to be a trilogy I think, as I cannot possibly fit another 7 years into one blog post. At this point, an era ended (the cafe) and a new one began (the studio & workshop). Those that have been following me over the years know that eventually, I closed this studio in 2020. What I did in these 4 years I will cover in part 2. So stay tuned!

I will wrap up Part 1 by saying that looking at my own pictures of what I’ve done over the years released lots of feel-good hormones, as opposed to looking at what other people are doing on Instagram which only ever made me feel bad about myself (truely). This whole exercise has definitely been super good for my soul. But I hope that it has been good for yours too.

I strongly encourage you to back and look at your own library of what you’ve done over the years. You’ll be reminded of how far you’ve come. Because my friend, you ARE more than good enough, right at this moment. The version of you right now is better than the version of you in the past. You’re constantly learning, improving, evolving and that’s all that matters. If you have to compare yourself, compare with your previous versions. Never compare yourself with anyone else. 

Til part 2. Much love, 

Thao

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Foodbank NSW – $4316

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Foodbank Victoria – $1575

Between May 2020 and August 2021, we donated all proceeds to Foodbank Victoria who are doing incredible work to help with the COVID-19 Food Crisis.  To date (end of August 2021) we have donated a total of  $7251.00 to Foodbank Victoria. 

You can read more about the amazing work they’re doing here: Foodbank Victoria.

THANK YOU!!

From October 2021, donations will also be made to Impact For Women, who are making a difference for women and children escaping extreme violence at home.

Impact For Women – $1587.55

Vinnies Flood Appeal – $777

Foodbank QLD – $663

Foodbank Victoria – $2233