Craving a classic meat pie in Shanghai, or the perfect flat white in the Philippines? In this series, the Asia Media Centre speaks to Kiwis who are running successful food and beverage businesses in Asia.
You might say Dean Brettschneider has a finger in many pies.
The prolific baking personality and cookbook author is best known back home as a judge on the shows New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker and The Great Kiwi Bake Off. But from his Singapore base, Brettschneider — who describes himself as a “global baker” — has built a successful business empire.
After making a name for himself first in New Zealand and then in Europe, the North Canterbury native was lured to China in 2002 by a job offer from BakeMark, an international supplier of bakery ingredients who were looking to expand into Asia.
“They said, you must know Asia pretty well because it’s close to New Zealand – would you like a job in Shanghai? And I’m going, ok, but I don’t actually know much about China.”
Brettschneider was the company’s technical manager for the Asia-Pacific region from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he set up an artisan bakery on the side called Baker & Spice.
From day one, Brettschneider’s “new world” baking style — kneading together influences from all over the globe — was a big hit in cosmopolitan Shanghai. But when it was time for Brettschneider to leave China, he made the hard call to end his involvement with the bakery.
“Basically my ownership got watered down when the local partners saw how much money was being made – it’s a typical China story. In New Zealand, I could have challenged everything in court. But in Asia, your business principles and philosophies are often challenged by the dynamics of the culture you’re dealing with. I chose to look at the bigger picture of relationships.”
He ended up moving to Copenhagen, where he worked as a freelance consultant for one of Europe's largest bakery production companies. It was the ultimate globetrotting lifestyle – he was travelling back and forth to New Zealand every four to six weeks to work on various projects here.
During that time, a friend in Singapore invited him to stop over for a few days.
“He said, come over to Singapore on your way to New Zealand and we’ll have a beer and go on a bike ride. So we did that, and after the bike ride I said, where can we get a good coffee and eggs benedict? It turned out that seven years ago, there wasn’t really anywhere like that in Singapore.”
Later that evening, he was out for dinner with friends when inspiration struck.
“I basically said, ‘do you and your friend want to start a bakery?’ And these two guys looked at each other. I said, ‘this looks like a pretty cool neighbourhood, why don’t we do it here?’”
In 2012, Brettschneider opened a bakery in the leafy Singapore suburb of Bukit Timah called Baker & Cook – what he describes as the “mark II” of Baker & Spice.
He now has 17 businesses in Singapore in total – 10 Baker & Cook outlets, five Plank Sourdough Pizza shops, a burger joint called Mo & Jo Sourdough Burgers, as well as a Brettschneider-branded baking and cooking school.
He also has three outlets in the Philippines, three in Saudi Arabia, and a joint venture in Malaysia.
Brettschneider says Asia has been the essential ingredient to the development of his brand.
“Asia is the only place where there’s demand to grow a business like this. Eighty per cent of my customers are locals. I love New Zealand, but it’s just not a big enough market – you can’t build 17 businesses in seven years.”
The icing on the cake came when he was scrolling through Facebook and saw a multi-million dollar property advertised in one of the Singapore neighbourhoods where he has an outlet.
“They’d listed the key selling points, and the second point was that the property was a five-minute walk from Baker & Cook.”
- Asia Media Centre