Hands up if you’ve been to NYC and fallen in love with Magnolia Bakery’s famous banana pudding.
The heavenly dessert made of vanilla wafers, fresh bananas and creamy vanilla pudding has cemented the bakery’s status as a must-visit New York attraction, and we can see why. It falls in between an ice-cream and cookie dough but tastes twice as good than both of them.
Visiting Magnolia Bakery and New York for that matter may seem like an impossible dream right now, but we have discovered a Muslim-owned brand that makes a similar banana pudding amid the deluge of basque burnt cheesecakes since Covid-19 struck.
That brand is called Okie.co. Why the odd name (it sounds more like it sells cookies) for a banana pudding brand? First, let us backtrack a little.
A New Business Is Brewing
When Siti Nurhayati Binti Rahim matriculated as an engineering student in the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) in 2015, the new campus in Changi lacked halal food options.
Together with her brother, Muhammad Izhaq Bin Rahim, the siblings saw the opportunity for a halal eatery on campus and decided to open sub-style sandwich shop, Gomgom.
Siti, who has a double degree in engineering and business, quickly found herself learning the ropes about managing a F&B brand even while she was still studying in SUTD. On whether she regretted dabbling in F&B, Siti had this to say “Honestly, I wasn’t a good engineer in the first place.”
Covid-19 reared its ugly head on the F&B industry, especially when you’re a small business like Gomgom. And that was exactly what hit Gomgom earlier this year. “During Circuit Breaker, business was so bad and sales dropped by 80-90% because the whole campus was closed,” says Siti, who now works on Gomgom full-time since early this year.
During Circuit Breaker, business was so bad and sales dropped by 80-90% because the whole campus was closed
Despite turning to online sales and delivery to push sales, business still did not pick up. Siti did not want to waste the space they had at Gomgom and knew they had to be more creative if they wanted to stay afloat. “I hate the feeling of being stuck, so I thought I might as well try new things during this uncertain period,” she enthuses.
And try new things, she did.
Siti returned to the drawing board and decided to dip her hands into the dessert business. Initially, she wanted to make and sell cookies. That led her to come up with the name Okie.co which is an anagram for the word “cookie”.
However, something just did not feel right so she dropped the cookie idea. Coincidentally, her sister has been making banana pudding at home. Upon researching and discovering that the Magnolia Bakery-style banana pudding is relatively unknown in Singapore, it sealed the deal: Okie.co will launch with banana pudding.
Going Bananas for Banana Pudding
Using her sister’s recipe as a base, Siti set about her task, tweaking said recipe multiple times before she was happy with the texture and sweetness levels. Friends and family became her initial testers who gave her valuable feedback to improve the recipe.
The pudding base itself was not an easy thing to nail down. Most online recipes use instant jelly, however Siti and family found them to be either too gooey for their liking or lacking in something.
They then made their own pudding from scratch without using any instant ingredients till they got it right. Next, they proceeded to tweak the flavour intensity and sweetness.
Siti admitted to having a sweeter tooth than most and hence not a good judgment of sweetness. That’s where feedback from her initial testers came in, allowing Siti and her team to tweak the recipe to perfection.
Before long, the banana pudding was ready for sale and Okie.co was born right around the end of Circuit Breaker and the opening of Phase 2.
New York State of Mind
For some of her customers, their first experience with banana pudding was at Magnolia Bakery in New York. So when they discovered Okie.co, it was easy to convert them as customers.
Interestingly, neither Siti nor her brother has ever been to New York, much less taste Magnolia Bakery’s banana pudding. So they had nothing to reference the product they had created other than what their sister made at home and feedback from the customers.
And the customers were quick to compare Okie.co’s banana puddings with those from the American bakery.
“The common comparison customers make is that our banana pudding is lighter and less sweet than Magnolia Bakery’s,” Siti explains. “Texture-wise, ours is not as chunky.”
Having tried both banana puddings, this author believes that one is not necessarily better than the other. If anything, local taste buds may find Okie.co’s less sweet version more palatable. Eating out of a pint, though, is very nostalgic. Reminds us of eating while sitting on the steps of the Met.
For now, Okie.co has two flavours: the Classic (creamy and fresh banana pudding) and Choc Fudge (rich, decadent chocolate banana pudding). They are sold by the pint and cost $12.50 each.
No kidding — both puddings are the best dessert we’ve had in a long time or at least during Covid-19. And we’ve had many. The Classic is milky, creamy, and is loaded with fresh ripe bananas and vanilla wafers that Okie.co also bakes themselves. The pudding has a smooth enough texture that makes eating the entire pint in one sitting (roughly an episode of Indian Matchmaking) possible.
Chocolate fans would appreciate the Choc Fudge version which takes its cue from one of Siti’s favourite Secret Recipe cakes: the Chocolate Banana. Unlike the Classic, this was slightly grittier thanks to the chocolate cookie crumbles present in the pudding.
There’s still lots to be done, especially brand growth. “Like coming up with the perfect recipe, we are also discovering a lot now that we’ve launched,” Siti says. “There’s a lot of customer education about banana pudding to be done as it is still a relatively unknown dessert here. I’m also keen to see how far we can go as an online business.”
The two flavours will be permanent fixtures in Okie.co’s menu, and may be supplemented by a third flavour that would rotate on a monthly basis come August.
Siti plans to keep Okie.co separate from Gomgom and focus on it being solely an online business for now. As such, pre-orders for the banana puddings are only for Fridays to Sundays. This is to ensure that they still remain committed to Gomgom while working on expanding Okie.co slowly during the weekend.
Collating orders is also a deliberate strategy to keep overheads low and minimise wastage. Customers also benefit as the product is made fresh one day before delivery date. For example, a batch made on Friday will be delivered on Saturday and never on Sunday.
Whilst Okie.co has launched with the banana pudding as its flagship product, Siti did not rule out the possibility of adding other types of dessert into the menu in the future.
To place an order, fill up the order form on @okieco.sg.