FEATURE: Deaf Pastry Chef Builds Successful Business


Diligently working to hone his craft, with unremitting support from his family, a young Taiwanese man was able to overcome his hearing impairment to become a successful pastry chef who now owns a bakery and cafe.

On a recent winter day before dawn, a bakery hidden in an alley in Sinjhuang District (新莊), New Taipei City (新北市), was already buzzing with activity.

Cheng Yi-chia (鄭易佳), the young pastry chef, cannot hear the low hum of the large oven or the clamor of utensils and bowls being sorted and washed in the sink because he has been deaf since he was very young. However, this allows him to focus fully on his baking.

Cheng has worked hard for his success. Not yet 30, Cheng owns a bakery and a cafe, which offers coffee and fresh pastries.

A few years ago, before he even had a storefront for his bakery in Sinjhuang, Cheng’s bakery products became known through telephone sales and online orders.

In his silent world, the young chef concentrates on coming up with innovative new cakes and pastries adorned with artful designs, along with handmade cookies and savory bread rolls.

There are two important people behind his success: his father and mother, who have given their son their full support to achieve his dream.

His mother, Cheng Yue-chiao (鄭月嬌), has excellent interpersonal and communication skills, so she is mainly responsible for contacting clients and filling orders for delivery. His father, Cheng Ming-hsiang (鄭明祥), who used to operate a steelworks factory, is in charge of the machines, equipment purchases and delivery of goods. All three are fully devoted to their roles to manage this family business.

Especially during the current economic downturn, independent bakeries are being squeezed out by large franchise operators and supermarkets, which enjoy a virtual monopoly through low pricing and mass production and vertical integration of sales and marketing.

Despite such challenges, the Cheng family’s small, start-up bakery was able to see its sales expand each year.

Theirs has been an unusual story.

“Twenty years ago, I found that my son Yi-chia could not hear,” Cheng Yue-chiao said. “Even though it was a shock, and it brought despair, I had to face the reality. I was determined to have my son receive a regular education. This way, he could pick up a useful trade.”

After graduating from junior-high school, at his family’s insistence, Cheng Yi-chia entered Kai-Ping Culinary School in Taipei, where he underwent rigorous training.

After graduating, he picked up more professional training by studying nutritional science and restaurant management at National Taiwan Normal University.

“Heaven closed a door on him, but then opened up a window,” Cheng Yue-chiao said.

The young man discovered his talent for artistic presentation. Making cartoon pictures for cake decorations is easy for him. Designer art pastries with human and animal figures on top are his specialties.

To help his son get started in the bakery business, his father decided to close his steelworks factory and invested NT$500,000 to outfit the new bakery.

In the beginning, they did not know much about the ins and outs of the bakery business, and even faced difficulties affording the necessary equipment and procuring orders for baking ingredients.

At the time, Cheng Yi-chia was still at university, and he often took his home-made cookies to school for his classmates for taste-testing and to learn about potential markets for his creations.

In an attempt to attract a larger customer base, his mother set up a vending stand to sell the baked goods near government office buildings.

She proudly said that even though it was tough initially, her son insisted from the start on using only high-quality ingredients.

The young chef never stopped learning, but continued to hone his craft. Even today, when Cheng Yi-chia passes by another bakery, he will often stop to have a good look and compare its products.

In Cheng Yi-chia’s own pastry shop, cupcakes with butter frosting decorations are lined up in tempting colors and shapes. Of the more than 10 types of cupcakes, none have the same design.

Cheng Yi-chia said he believes his cupcakes inspire a unique happiness in each of his customers.

Even though he strictly uses only the highest-quality ingredients, his baked goods are often half the price of those sold at other shops.

This is because of his belief that “delicious food should be affordable for everyone.”

Cheng Yi-chia said he has two more dreams he hopes to fulfill in the future.

“I want to open up a bread shop, to sell bread at affordable prices,” he said. “I also want to hire more employees who are hearing impaired.”

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