IT afforded him a luxurious life but there was a yawning gap in his life till Bijay Thapa got a rise out of baking. Read his #PassionToPaycheck story
“Like most of my peers, I took the path well-trodden – studied hard, got good grades, made it to a good engineering school and made sure to get through the campus placements.” Bijay Thapa was conditioned to travel the conventional path of wannabes: an engineering degree before working towards a fat paycheck. He did everything to meet that goal. He ensured he got exposure in several fields -- operations, project management, risk and compliance, and finally sales, all in IT majors such as Spectramind, Wipro, Microsoft and then finally Autodesk -- for 10 long years.
The IT industry afforded him the usual luxuries except the one thing he craved: work satisfaction. He worked long hours and was extremely good with customer relations. These qualities got him a job in Microsoft where he handled Anti-Piracy Sales for Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. “Although the work and perks are great in IT, the long hours and persuading the customers to legitimise their Microsoft Software was challenging,” says Bijay.
These challenges made him realise that after spending 10 long years in the industry, he wasn’t looking forward to continuing in the same field throughout his life. He then quit his job at Microsoft and take a break for 16-17 months to travel extensively. “During this phase, I also made to the Top 20 in Master Chef India,” he mentions modestly. This experience opened a door to the food world and people started noticing him for his culinary arts.
After the break, he restarted his IT career in Autodesk, only to call it quits after a year and turn a baker. His last corporate stint was a result of the anxieties built through childhood for a secure job. It was during this transitional phase after wrapping his corporate career that he was diagnosed with idiopathic Bell’s Palsy, which paralysed the left side of his face. “I did not know if I was going to be able to regain movement. Doctors told me that it gets cured on its own. All I could do was to wait and continue doing physiotherapy. If by the 13th day there isn’t any movement, it generally becomes permanent. It was scary for a bit. I think around the 12th day, I was able to regain movement. This was the moment I decided to actually follow my dreams and find something that I could do in the food industry. It was still unclear what it was going to be, but I knew I did not want to wait even for one more day. I think people should listen to themselves more and follow their heart.”
Bijay began to bake. “I am an intuitive cook, but baking was completely different ball game, so I kept experimenting and learning on the job. All I knew was I wanted to make cakes that were delicious and looked beautiful. I started taking orders for cakes. A friend helped me find a name: we wanted something cheeky. Another friend helped me with a logo and here we are!” Sugar Daddy Bakes is a studio based out of Saket in south Delhi where you can enter entry only by appointment. The base price of its cake ranges between Rs. 2500-3500 per kg. The cake design is iterated with the customer till a middle ground is achieved, for a bare minimum sugar work.
Bijay made a conscious choice of not entering the restaurant sector but instead chose to utilise his creative streak and enter a space that is personalised and satisfying. He says businesses like his are necessarily bootstrapped. Fund-raising is easier for businesses that offer scalability and high returns on investment.
That he made the right career shift is evident when he casually mentions that he has worked in collaboration with several fashion designers, stylists and PR houses. Although his major customer base comes from weddings, he has also done brand launches and collection previews. “We make wedding cakes for Blue Pot Weddings by Nida Mahmood, and events for Ritu Kumar and Taniya Khanuja. In addition to this, we have worked for magazines like Better Homes and Garden and Bazaar Bride India.”
Since he’s already a maverick baker, because of his creativity and designs he gets opportunities to do ad films and food shots. He has also created props for commercial shoots. His work is not limited to baking: it extends to teaching sessions for working bakers. “Although a good many of the bakers in the country are women, I feel thrilled to be able to make a name for myself.”
He draws his inspiration from creators and makers. Their passion, eye for detail and the intricacy of their work leave him awestruck. Further he is also inspired by fashion, architecture and food, and his cakes reflect all that. The love, care and support of his loved ones are what always gives him the strength to keep going, pushing beyond the boundaries. “Rishi, my boyfriend, has stood by me through this entire journey. When we started dating, he knew that I was deeply interested in starting something of my own in the food industry. What he did not plan on was the transition being within a year of meeting me. His constant encouragement has helped me come a long way. Once I started working as a baker, my lifestyle became different. It required some adjustment and it was not easy but Rishi very well understood the stresses. As he has been an independent stylist for over a decade, it became a tad easy for me.”
He says each cake is unique and requires hard work entailing 30-40 hours. Even on gloomy days, when he is working through odd hours to complete laborious chores like making a sugar flower, he is still contented. “It’s a tough life doing everything by yourself and you will definitely not choose this for money. So the only reason you will get into such an unconventional career is because it really satisfies you.”
Although, he is in love with his current occupation, he tells people to make that unconventional career switch with caution. He doesn’t sugarcoat his message: have ample savings and a better plan to bootstrap for the essentials, especially funding for the business, and some means of income generation during lean periods.