From a failed bakery to overcoming depression: How the “Ondeh-Ondeh Lady” rebuilt her business and her life

The inspiring story of Measuring Happiness.
Fafa and her famous ondeh ondeh cake

Fateha Abdullah (Fafa) was just 21 when she started a bakery of her own at North Bridge Road in 2015.

On top of retail sales, the bakery also supplied cakes to cafes and doubled up as a baking studio where Fafa conducted lessons.

As a teenager, Fafa learned making traditional Malay kuih from her late grandmother, but did not enjoy it as she found the process too troublesome.

But those lessons formed the foundation of her baking business.

“I transformed Malay kuih and desserts like ondeh-ondeh and serawa durian into cakes, and started the bakery when I was 21 years old.”

For a short while, the business prospered. However, two years later, the bakery shut down.

This is the story of Measuring Happiness.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal

Fafa told The Halal Eater that venturing out on her own from a home-based business to a physical shop was one of the toughest periods of her life.

It was only 2 years prior when she started baking (and selling) from home.

Even though she had formal culinary education from At-Sunrice, the young entrepreneur still relied on her family to help her run the business.

Her bakery’s quick rise to fame got customers calling her the “Ondeh-Ondeh Lady”, named after her ondeh-ondeh cake, which remained as her best-selling cake to this day.

Ondeh ondeh cake, a Measuring Happiness bestseller
Ondeh ondeh cake, a Measuring Happiness bestseller / Photo: Fateha Abdullah

At the peak of her business, Fafa was supplying her sought-after cakes to multiple cafes and also conducted baking classes in-store.

However, the bakery’s popularity fizzled out as quickly as it started with a series of unfortunate events, starting with cafes abruptly stopping orders.

The business took a hit in revenue, causing Fafa to let go her staff, most of whom were her own family members.

The exorbitant cost of rent only exacerbated the problem.

Unable to recover from her losses, Fafa eventually closed Measuring Happiness’ doors for the last time in 2019 when the 2-year lease ended.

Fafa went on to work in a polyclinic full-time, and only baked part-time.

In December 2019, Fafa’s life took another turn for the worse.

While at work, she suddenly collapsed. After a medical check-up, her doctor informed her that she had a panic attack and diagnosed her with depression and anxiety.

A few factors such as an unhappy childhood, marital problems and work stress may have caused her to spiral into depression.

According to Fafa, her inability to bake as frequently as she did before could also have contributed to her breakdown.

She never had a full-time job before, and baking was all she ever knew how to do, so she felt handicapped when she was not able to bake.

When asked about her marriage, Fafa said that she is separated from her husband whom she married in 2016.

Fateha Abdullah with slices of her popular cakes
The Ondeh-Ondeh Lady / Photo: Fateha Abdullah

Despite these challenges, Fafa decided to get back into baking and even participated in a Twilight event in January this year where she sold 200 slices of cakes in three days.

This boosted her confidence to continue, so when a friend approached her to share the lease for a baking studio, she agreed.

Today, Measuring Happiness is operating out of a central kitchen cum baking studio at ICON@Changi.

The comeback of Measuring Happiness

Just as Fafa was getting back up on her feet, the government announced tighter circuit breaker measures on April 21.

According to these tightened rules, standalone outlets that sell only confectionery or desserts have to close.

Like most affected food and beverage business owners, Fafa was initially worried about the loss of income.

Eventually, she treated that period as a good break from the hustle and bustle of daily work and focused instead on trying out new recipes.

Out of the many experimental bakes that she did during that time, she was most proud of the cinnamon rolls which has now become a permanent offering in her menu.

Cinnamon Rolls by Measuring Happiness
Cinnamon rolls / Photo: Measuring Happiness/Fateha Abdullah

During Ramadan in May, the cancellation of the Ramadan bazaar and all other events meant that customers had to search for alternatives online.

Fafa capitalised on the unprecedented incident early and promoted bake sales heavily on her Instagram when she noticed that many people were searching for food to give friends and family in the fasting month.

According to Fafa, that month leading up to Hari Raya was her busiest month in a long time.

“On weekdays, we typically bake for up to 40 locations. Weekends are busier, up to 100 locations,” Fafa recalls.

“But for Hari Raya, that number goes up to 245 locations.”

That translated to “a lot, a lot, a lot of cakes” so much so that Fafa had to rent a fridge to store the cakes.

The surge in orders also allowed Fafa to give back to friends and family who got retrenched due to the pandemic; she hired them to deliver the orders to her customers.

Future plans for the business

With her cake business doing well, you would think that Fafa would double down on baking more cakes.

But Fafa replied on the contrary. She is currently shifting her focus to another aspect of the business: baking classes.

On days when she is not using the studio, Fafa rents the space to other bakers for them to conduct baking classes.

In particular, Fafa seeks out women who are going through difficult times much like she had in the past.

Allowing them to use her studio to conduct classes is Fafa’s way of helping out single mothers or divorcees in similar situations.

“To be honest, I’m very happy when the women who have rented the space told me that my studio has helped them improve their income,” Fafa shares.

“Most of them are just starting out their home-based businesses, so this is a great opportunity for them to also earn income by teaching others.”

Fateha Abdullah, owner of Measuring Happiness

At the same time, Fafa is also currently teaching baking classes weekly at Kulture Bakes.

She encourages her students to use the recipes she has shared and start their own businesses.

For Fafa, it is very rewarding for her when her students launch their own businesses after attending her classes.

Now, at 25, Fafa feels like she has come full circle; from starting a home-based business, opening a retail shop and failed, overcoming depression, to now re-establishing her business and helping others along the way.

Cinnamon Rolls by Measuring Happiness_Thehalaleater
Cinnamon Rolls / Photo: Fateha Abdullah

Yet, the businesswoman is not intending to take a break any time soon. In fact, she longs for the busy period in Phase 1 where she could only “sleep for one hour in between bakes”.

In the short term, Fafa mentioned that Measuring Happiness’ cakes will be available on Bungkus.SG, a halal food delivery platform very soon.

Otherwise, you can also order directly from @measuringhappinesssg.

This story is brought to you in collaboration with Measuring Happiness.

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