26-year-old Cindana Manickavel, the founder of Sugar Monkeys, never thought she would become a professional baker one day. Cindana played professional tennis for a couple of years. She even took part in many ITF and WTA tournaments. But repeated injuries shortened her career as a professional tennis player. She was only 18 when she had to discontinue playing the sport. Later on, she coached kids mini tennis and studied Public Relations at Stella Maris College. With all these qualifications Cindana could have easily settled with a handsome paying job. Destiny, however, had some other plans for her and she went on to become a successful entrepreneur!
There are many Home Bakers in Chennai whose creative cake artworks would fascinate you. And, creative and talented persons like Cindana Manickavel are taking edible arts to new heights. Sugar Monkeys, the baking venture of Cindana, started its journey in October 2013. Right from the beginning, the business became a success.
Today, in this interview session of conflatingVisions, we have Cindana Manickavel with us to share her inspiring story!
Hi Cindana, welcome to this interview session of conflatingVisions. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello, I am Cindana Manickavel from Sugar Monkeys. I am a 26 years old baker from Chennai. I hold a Masters degree in Public Relations from Stella Maris College. Until the age of 18, I used to play professional tennis. I played the ITF/WTA tournaments. I also coached kids mini tennis for a year before I got into baking as a profession.
How old were you when you first baked something? How was the outcome?
I was 14 years old when I first baked a cake. I baked a vanilla cake in a pressure cooker at my Grandmother’s place along with my cousins. Well, I couldn’t take the entire credit for that cake as it was a team effort and we had to beat the batter with our hands. Followed by it in a few months later I baked a chocolate cake in the microwave with my Aunt’s help. This cake was a super hit among my friends and family. I guess that’s when I fell in love with baking.
Cindana, what motivated you to take the big step of becoming a professional baker?
As I mentioned earlier, while I was coaching mini tennis post college I had a lot of free time in the mornings. I picked up recipes from Pinterest and experimented my hands on baking again. My family and friends were the happy lab rats to try my creations.
In 2013’s Diwali, I got an order from a friend to make 40 Diwali hampers with my signature dessert jars. I must say that order changed my entire career. I stuck labels with my contact number on the jars and sent them out for delivery, little did I know 35 people called back asking for more jars. So my very first order started with 40 jars and I ended up making 150 jars. That’s when I got the confidence to take the big step.
The name Sugar Monkeys is quite unique and funny. Is there any story behind the naming process?
Hahaha yes indeed. During my early days of baking, I would wait for my Mom to finish cooking and take her afternoon nap for me to sneak into the kitchen and start baking. Being a beginner, I would mess up the entire place before my Mom wakes up. She often used the term, “Feels like a monkey entered my kitchen….” And ever since I was a child I would always ask my Mom to get me a pet monkey, I always loved them. So when I had to think of a name for my brand I was sure I wanted monkeys in it. Sugar being the core ingredient I came up with Sugar Monkeys. Little did I know the name would be a super hit and people always complimented the name.
How big is your present team?
I work with my Mother Kundhavi Manickavel (Mommy Monkey) who takes care of the commercial production. I also have creative head Cassandra (Fondant Monkey) who takes care of fondant figurines. And I have 2 helpers Shenbagam and Anandhi.
Cindana, how do you go about innovating on the cake baking recipes?
When I get a day off I use the time to research and try new baking recipes. For instance, before Diwali this year, we came up with a few fusion Indian desserts. We made Cake Laddus and Pan Chocolates.
What are the signature products of Sugar Monkeys? Which one is your personal favourite?
Sugar Monkeys’ signature product without any doubt is red velvet cakes. But my personal favourite is the carrot walnut cake.
Please narrate some of your success stories.
Getting featured in two national papers The Hindu and The Indian Express within 1 year of my baking business was a great achievement for me. Being a PR student, I know it’s not easy to get there. Henceforth, I have also started supplying to commercial outlets like movie theaters and coffee shops. Last year I took up a corporate order where I had to deliver 3000 desserts in a truck.
Cindana, you must have travelled to many places till date. Have they influenced your baking style in any way?
To be honest yes I have travelled to different countries when I played professional tennis but I never really had the liberty to eat sugar or try decadent desserts back then due to my tennis career. We followed a strict diet and hence no I did not get inspired travelling.
What are the challenges in a baker’s life? How do you deal with them?
The only challenge a home baker faces is being compared to a commercial bakery. People don’t understand the huge difference between the two. They compare cost and quantity but never the quality difference.
I take out time and explain the differences and make them understand the reason as to why they approached a home baker and not a commercial bakery.
What are your future plans for Sugar Monkeys?
I would love to start a small café in the future. Something cute and cosy.
Please share some baking tips.
Always be precise with your measurements when it comes to baking.
Do not keep opening the oven to check if the cake is done midway.
Add a little coffee powder to your chocolate cake batter it brings out the flavour of chocolate. Similarly, add a dash of salt to your cupcakes.
And, one last question of this session, if you have had one wish…
If I had one wish I would wish for good health and happiness.