by Iyath Adam
We sit down to have a chat with Azleena Zahir, baker and owner of Azzlicious – Instagram page and small business.
Read on to find out more about her home-based small business journey and all things related to cookies!
Lonumedhu: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how ‘Azzlicious’ came about?
Azleena I’ve always been fond of cookies and biscuits, even as a child, and baking has always been a hobby of mine. But even though I used to bake as a hobby, most of the stuff I attempted didn’t turn out very well because I didn’t really know the proper techniques. But my family always encouraged me to keep doing it. After I did my A’ Levels, I completed MNU’s FHTS Certificate 3 in Patisserie, it was only then that I realised that I could bake from scratch.
It was my love of cookies and baking which started the Azzlicious page. At first, when I started the business, I did everything by myself. It was my first kid! I would buy the ingredients, bake the cookies, deliver them, do the dishes – just everything on my own. After I married, my husband has been sharing the running of the business with me. He does the marketing, most of the deliveries, and he is the photographer of our products too.
I’m trying to make a living by doing what I love to do. And baking is what I love.
Lonumedhu: Why cookies? What drew you to that?
Azleena: Chocolate chip cookies is the first product that I ever sold. And I was always more interested in baking cookies and biscuits than cake or brownies. For parties or family gatherings, I would always take cookies and my friends and family encouraged me to sell them, because they liked it so much.
When we first started the Instagram page in 2016, cookies weren’t really sold in the Maldives like this. I used to have a Facebook page before that, but it was in 2016 that we re-branded the business and focused entirely on cookies.
Lonumedhu: What would you say is the most challenging part of running a home-based food business?
Azleena: One of the biggest challenges we face is in getting the necessary materials when we need them. As a small business, we can’t buy things in bulk as larger businesses or companies can.
Sometimes when we restock, we might not get the ingredients we need at the time from Male’ which is very common. Or we might not get the size of boxes we need. Our packing is eco-friendly, and our boxes are made to fit our cookies exactly. If we can’t get what we want, we always try to improvise by making boxes by hand.
Lonumedhu: How do you maintain the quality and consistency of your products?
Azleena: Our goal always is to get the freshest product to our customers, so we don’t take orders beyond our capacity. We always have a certain daily limit. If it’s full for the day, we always say that we are fully reserved and share our next available date. We have never sold a day-old product to our customers.
Consistency is also a very important factor for us. We never compromise on taste. To maintain the quality of our products and bring the exact flavours we have had all these, we don’t use substitute ingredients. If something is not available, we temporarily discontinue the product until we get the necessary ingredients.
And I also never take shortcuts when baking. I always take the difficult way which is what usually yields the best results. Because to me, this is more than a business. This is what I love to do, and I wake up every day with the same determination to bring the best possible product to our customers.
Lonumedhu: I think your cookie pie is something that is very different. How do you come up with such different products?
Azleena: We always have some time set aside for marketing and research, and I like to read more about other products and bakers from abroad to find inspiration to bring more products and expand our menu.
Customers have always asked for a stuffed cookie and that’s how the cookie pie came about. I didn’t want to just stuff something into a cookie, and since I hadn’t seen anyone else selling a cookie pie at the time, I gave it a try.
We do get a lot of requests to make common flavours such as red velvet cookies and whatnot, but we always want to bring something different to the table, something that doesn’t exist in the current market. For example, our recently-introduced snickerdoodles – it’s also not something that people are really selling here as well.
Lonumedhu: Do you have a favourite item to bake from your menu?
Azleena: It’s definitely the chocolate chip cookie. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s very satisfying to make and it takes me back to my childhood.
And no matter how many flavours I introduce, people still keep coming back for it!
Lonumedhu: In your opinion, what’s the secret to a really good cookie?
Azleena: I think it’s the quality of ingredients and the love and effort we put into perfecting the recipe. We always tell our customers that love is our secret ingredient, and it’s our slogan as well – ‘baked with love.’
Lonumedhu: What’s your advice to aspiring home bakers who want to start a business?
Azleena: Follow your dreams. If you think you can, then you can definitely do it. I always advise people who message me for advice to not hesitate and to go for it. When you start, always focus on developing and bringing something to the market that people will be excited to buy.
Lonumedhu: Before we wrap up, what’s next for ‘Azzlicious’? Should we expect more types of cookies from you in the future?
Azleena: We are actually in the process of testing out different types of cookies even now. We never sell anything until we have perfected the recipe and are able to produce it the same way multiple times. It takes time for us to come up with the perfect product – so once we do, definitely expect more from us in the future!
Lonumedhu: Anything else you want to add before we end the interview?
Azleena: Yes, I would like to thank the Lonumedhu team for this opportunity. We really appreciate you reaching out and giving us this platform, so thank you!
Lonumedhu: You’re very welcome, Azleena. And we wish you all the best and continued success with your business!