This 26-year-old went from being a full-time recruiter to selling chocolate-coated strawberries for a living
With a passion for chocolate covered strawberries and a piping bag in hand, Maribelle puts her unique spin on the classic fruit.
Stuck at home during the lockdown period in 2020, Maribelle Seah discovered the world of chocolate-covered strawberries while scrolling through her Pinterest feed. She found herself simply enamoured by them.
Since then, the 26-year-old made it her personal mission to offer such strawberries in Singapore.
Inspired to recreate the strawberries she saw on Pinterest, Maribelle started her passion project – a home-based boutique strawberry chocolatier called Berrybar.
Berrybar offers fresh strawberries coated in a variety of chocolates – milk, white and dark. The chocolate-covered delicacies are decorated according to set themes in the menu or personalised themes requested by customers.
A box of six strawberries retails for $45, while a box of 18 goes for $80.
Initially a full-time recruiter, she had no knowledge about baking when she first started experimenting with the chocolate-covered treats. Luckily, Maribelle had the support of her avid baker mother to tide her through the first few months of learning everything from scratch.
She recalls that her mother had helped her to “kickstart the journey by opening up her inventory” of various kinds of chocolates and other toppings for Maribelle to play around with.
At that point, however, she was still juggling a demanding full-time job alongside her newfound passion. While it was tough to choose between the two, she eventually decided to commit to Berrybar full-time in 2020.
“I was 24 when I started Berrybar. No kids, no mortgage, no loans. It was more of a case of now or never.”
Following the leap of faith were many hours of trial and error, and dedication towards learning the craft.
“I really invested a lot of time trying to perfect my skills. I have no baking background and didn’t even know how to use a piping bag. So my mum helped me out a lot in that sense.”
Maribelle also invested much time into trying out different designs and permutations of the chocolate-covered treats.
Previously, in the research and development phase, it would take her almost a month to come up with new designs. She would draw inspiration from online resources, including European and American sources as chocolate-covered strawberries are more commonplace there.
However, now, the time she takes to come up with a new design has been reduced to an average of between 30 and 60 minutes.
Meticulous efforts also go into curating each and every box that Maribelle makes.
From handpicking the strawberries appropriate for the box according to size and shape all the way down to piping the designs onto each berry according to the theme of the box, each element that makes up a box is measured down to a science.
Even when it comes to designing for popular holidays such as Christmas, Maribelle ensures that designs stay up to date.
Instead of reusing previous designs she has made for the holiday season, she likes to keep it fresh by coming up with different and unique ways to use the classic elements such as reindeers and trees.
Apart from creating fresh designs, translating them onto the strawberry itself poses another challenge.
Since strawberries provide a much smaller canvas, Maribelle has to decide which elements of the design are key and then simplify the design enough for it to fit onto the strawberry.
She often pipes the designs onto the strawberry itself in order to get a sensing of the look and feel of how the design’s colours and lines look on the strawberry, before refining from there.
Despite it being a tedious process, she is committed to perfecting her designs.
“I am a perfectionist, so I want to get it right. If (the design) doesn’t look good, I’ll start all over again.”
With Berrybar initially starting out as a home-based business, it was mainly Maribelle who whipped up orders alone with the occasional help of her mum. Orders were taken in small batches so that each order could be customised according to the customer’s wish.
She further explains, “I love celebrating, so Berrybar was something that I started wanting to create gifts for other people.”
Currently, Berrybar consists of a team of two, Maribelle and a hired staff. Despite being a small team, they often take up to 30 orders per day.
With sheer hard work, commitment and riding the waves of the initial difficulties, Maribelle managed to expand Berrybar from a home business to a physical shopfront within a year.
The shift came as a move to accommodate the growing number of orders, as the equipment was overcrowding Maribelle’s workspace at home.
Little did she know that the period of moving into the physical shop truly proved to be one of the biggest challenges she’s had to overcome during her journey of establishing Berrybar.
“Just as we were moving from home based to having a storefront, my mum actually had a life-threatening medical emergency. So, it affected me not just from a business viewpoint, but personally as well. She wasn’t just my mum, she was my teammate as well.”
Sitting in the hospital with her mother at 4am, she recounts sending out messages to the affected customers and bracing herself for their responses.
“I was so worried that I was going to get nasty messages because they were sending gifts for their friends.”
Instead, she was met with nothing but warmth and genuine support for her circumstances as most of her regular customers had dropped her messages of encouragement just to check in with her at the time.
That incident truly made Maribelle realise the impact Berrybar had on its customers, and that remains a motivation for her to keep going despite all the challenges she faced.
“After a long day, it just takes one message from a customer to say ‘Hey, my friend really liked the box.’ and that makes it all worth it.”