I bite into a cashew cookie that melts in my mouth, brimming with specks of cashew meal. Next, I try a traditional almond cookie. One, two, and in three minutes, I guzzle five cookies. I motion to the bakers that I like the cashew kind very much, but they shake their heads and point at the chocolate chip cookie instead. Everything I eat here is made by a group of deaf bakers. I am at the Silent Teddies Bakery, the only bakery in KL entirely staffed by the deaf.
The founder of the bakery, Cindy Leong is one of the pioneers to expand sign language in Malaysia. “I’ve worked with the deaf for 36 years,” she says, adding that having a deaf sister prompted a passion for the community. In fact, the Society of Interpreters for the Deaf or SID (of which Cindy is a member) called for the rights of TV news for deaf Malaysians, leading the way to interpreters appearing in primetime news. “I used to interpret the news on RTM,” Cindy recalls.
But all Cindy wanted to do was educate deaf children using sign language, and with the help of two Catholic brothers, she set up a couple of tables and chairs in the wilds of Lorong Ampang about 17 years ago. The number of students expanded from two to fifty in no time, and the space (the Community Service Centre for the Deaf) now provides free education for deaf students in KL. However, upon graduation, 17-year-old students sometimes find it difficult to secure jobs in the corporate world, leading to Cindy’s idea of a bakery.
“We wanted to do vocational training, and we got the first sponsorship in 2010,” Cindy says. They approached the Latin American Ladies Association of Malaysia for baking equipment, and soon, sponsorships and donations were flooding in. “I was so happy that ambassadors from different countries came to visit”, she says. “But our MPs haven’t touched our grounds yet,” she adds.
Simple loaves of soft bread were the first items baked here. Their first ‘client’ was the Maha Vihara Buddhist temple in Brickfields, who distributed loaves of bread every Sunday for the poor. “We still sell them 150 loaves every week,” Cindy says. Cookies came next, but not without plenty of testing rounds and inevitably, wastage. “I tell you, we have to achieve so many SOPs. We can make just one batch from a recipe, but we’re making it a hundred times,” Cindy says. “To produce that amount is not easy.” What more, the bakery is fitted with only a single three-tiered oven and minimal utensils.
Profits from sales are given out as wage to the bakers, about RM900 monthly for each. Their big break came in the form of an airline: AirAsia. “The head of the AirAsia cafe approached me and said she wanted to talk and she immediately gave me a project,” Cindy explains. The bakery now supplies cookies for sale onboard every AirAsia aircraft. Every cookie packet (RM5 for six cookies) is sealed in plastic and emblazoned with details of the bakery.
The head baker is Khew Yun Loi, a shy gentleman who manages the orders and trains the bakers. With the help of Cindy’s interpretation, I ask him if the orders get overwhelming, what with the additional AirAsia supply. The bakers have only one oven and they now bake and package 5,200 packets of cookies a week. Yun Loi says that tiredness is a way of life, but he doesn’t whine. “It’s not an easy job, I tell you. They work very hard. They do the cleaning too,” Cindy chips in. Yun Loi doesn’t see himself quitting the bakery, adding that he loves it there. He also adds that he would like to make cakes regularly, with tiramisu being his favourite.
Cindy stresses that help is always welcome. “We still need the support. I have people coming in complimenting the bakery and think we’re alright, but we still need help,” Cindy says. “Everything here is sponsored. We don’t have any capital.” Cindy has abstained from applying for government grants for the past five years, as self-sufficiency is important to her. Applying for a grant is also a lengthy process with no guarantee. The bakery is also in need of a van to transport orders and to ferry the school kids on trips. Cindy’s personal car is the current mode of transport.
Chinese New Year season is busy for the team, and of course, pineapple tarts top the orders. Silent Teddies currently accepts cake and cookie orders with four-day advance notices. So if you’re looking to stock up on goodies for the new year season, why not take a break from the usual supermarket produce? By ordering from this silent bakery, you may just be contributing towards a new oven or van for a group of young, dedicated bakers.
Photos by Adrian Yap
Find out more here
Silent Teddies Bakery, 41A Lorong Ampang, KL 50250 (03 2031 4599). Opening hours Mon-Fri, 8am-4.30pm; Sat, 8am-1pm. A small container of cookies starts from RM20, pineapple tarts are priced at RM25 per container.
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