ButterBae is known for its flavoured butters, particularly its luscious Kombu variation. A true-blue food enthusiast, founder Samantha Tan talks about steering her fledgling business through the pandemic, food inspirations and what keeps her going.
Options: Tell us the story behind ButterBae.
Samantha Tan: Like many people, the first lockdown rekindled my inner chef and I began experimenting with all sorts of comfort food, from bread to cakes, to keep busy. One day, it struck me that there was an emergence of talented home bakers, offering glorious staples such as sourdough bread. It meant there would be complementary demand for artisanal accompaniments. I chose to focus on butter versus dips, as I wanted a certain lifespan for my products.
Butter is an irresistible staple for me and I use it in many different ways. Good-quality butter makes all the difference! I remember dining at Jaan in Singapore and the memory of how smooth the butter was. It had the scent of maple without the sweetness; or the luxurious cultured butter at Claude Bosi’s Bibendum. Both times, butter paved the way to a memorable dining experience.
For ButterBae, I began with our simple, humble Original Kombu Butter, made using just the goodness of kelp and its natural umami content and smooth luscious butter. From there, we have grown our menu to what it is today.
What have been some of the main highlights and challenges you have experienced in setting up your own business?
I would say being among the first movers when I started in early August last year. Our very first jars went out on Aug 9. Friends and peers supported us from the very beginning and it grew slowly through word of mouth. We began only on a pre-order basis, as I wanted to minimise food waste and ensure all jars were made as close to collection date as possible. We do not use preservatives and we recommend finishing our butters within 1½ months.
And it was just this year that we found a suitable logistics provider to transport our goods, as the butter always needs to be chilled. So, I am glad we can now officially serve more cities and states throughout the peninsula, including Ipoh, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Klang, Melaka and Johor. It also means a lot to be able to survive and thrive in our home base of Penang, which, as everyone knows, is a foodie island, where quality, flavour and good value are musts.
It has been hard since the pandemic struck. How do you stay calm and focused and what advice can you share with other entrepreneurs in these tough times?
Focus on the good. When the going gets tough, I always remind myself of my clients’ kind, comforting words and I also remind myself to find joy in whatever I do. Know that every struggle, every challenge improves you! I like to run my worries away — it clears my mind and helps me soldier on another day. If I need to, I speak to a friend or family member. To other entrepreneurs, I can’t stress enough the importance of supporting each other. I practise this genuinely among my peers, as I believe working together with like-minded people brings us all collectively to greater heights. A friendly eco-system brings joy and a sense of community.
What inspires ButterBae’s offerings?
Our flavours are inspired by our personal food journeys. We are on an eternal quest to find flavours that are exciting yet acceptable. We want ButterBae products to be pantry staples, and not a fad or passing trend. The vegan community is growing, so they have inspired our small range of vegan-friendly kombu spreads. Our Signature Golden Sugee Cake, meanwhile, is a tribute to my late papa. We added our own twist to the traditional treat and, of late, we have been painting vibrant grazing platterscapes upon request.
Our menu is listed on our Instagram account, @butterbae.co. We are a home-based operation and we strive to keep the business as lean as possible during these uncertain times. ButterBae is still very much a one-woman show with some help, now and then, from my mum and my kind husband.
How do you like to enjoy your products?
I love our butters on crackers or on a medium-rare piece of steak. It’s also good on grilled seafood or for making Hollandaise sauce.
What are you reading and listening to right now?
I haven’t gone book shopping for a while now, so I am currently reading a book a friend passed to me. It’s called Us by David Nichols. My Spotify list is filled with lounge beats, which I listen to while churning butter or working on our newly launched grazing platters. At night, my playlist is the sound of my husband snoring!
Where are some of your favourite food destinations?
Bangkok, Japan and London! Bangkok for its abundance of notable and affordable culinary experiences. The local Thai fare excites my tastebuds. Japan because I grew up eating a lot of Japanese food. It was my dad’s favourite and has since become one of mine. I love how Japanese cuisine always focuses on using the freshest ingredients, which has taught me how to appreciate food in its simplest, purest forms. And, lastly, London. I always wish I could visit it more often. There is no language barrier and my last visit there was filled with very memorable dining experiences, namely Core by Clare Smyth and Bibendum.
Where are you looking forward to exploring once the borders reopen?
Bangkok or Japan, of course, and Taiwan. Once all this is over, these countries are probably the best places to visit without having to break one’s piggy bank.
This article first appeared on Aug 2, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.