How This MasterChef Singapore Runner-Up Started Sourbombe Bakery From Home & Now Has Multiple Outlets

Sourbombe Bakery founder – Genevieve Lee

Just ask any battle-hardened entrepreneur – starting a business from the ground up is never easy. It wasn’t any different for Genevieve “Gen” Lee, 26, but after placing 2nd in MasterChef Singapore’s first season in 2018, what came next was only logical.

She started off by selling her baked goods from home during the pandemic, but she was well on her way to making her mark in the industry. The association with the MasterChef brand bears much weight, so surely her offerings must be superb, right? 4 years on and 3 outlets plus 1 central kitchen later, consider the question to be rhetorical; the home-grown chef’s Sourbombe Bakery is indeed the bomb.

Having non-F&B-related aspirations as a kid

Many celebrity chefs’ foray into food often begins at a strikingly young age. Anthony Bourdain fell in love with the craft after tasting his first oyster on a family vacation, while Jamie Oliver’s tale began in the restaurant owned by his parents.

Not for Gen though. As a kid, she envisioned herself instead donning the sterile gloves of a dentist – despite her dad being the head honcho of Lee Fun Nam Kee, a famed chicken rice stall in Toa Payoh.

Trips to her family dentist cemented that idea in her head. To a young Gen, being a dentist entailed a high-paying job, the prestige of being addressed as a doctor, and being able to go on vacations on the regular. “I specifically told my parents I wanted to be a dentist, just to get a “Dr.” behind my name, and at the same time, earn a lot of money,” Gen recounted.

Thus, Gen started by enrolling into a Biomedical Science course during her time in polytechnic. However, becoming a doctor’s no mean feat, and she soon found herself furrowing her brows more often than she’d like whenever it was time to hit the books.

Gen with her dad.
Image credit: @gen_lxn via Instagram

“I realised I was so unhappy, and my only escape was to go into the kitchen,” lamented Gen.

Make no mistake, she utterly enjoyed standing behind the stove, but only as a pastime. She was only against the idea of setting forth into the F&B industry, as she “knew the ups and downs, and the roller coaster of a ride it could be” from her dad.

Image credit: @gen_lxn via Instagram

As a child, she eagerly awaited Sundays, which were her dad’s only day off within the week, where her entire family would spend some quality time in the form of cookouts. “NTUC Finest had like the nice things, you know? And Cold Storage, too,” said Gen. “So we’d go there, and he’d splurge on very rare and unique ingredients for our cookouts.”

The bunch would have a jolly time in the kitchen, cooking up a storm inspired by dishes they’d seen on the Food Network. “It was so fun, it was a very experimental time,” added Gen. “It was always food, food is our everything. When I’m sad I cook, when I’m happy I cook, when I’m angry I’ll also cook, it’s an outlet.”

Back to her tumultuous time in poly, she had an epiphany while she was running a little cafe in school. Alas, the allure of satiating taste buds proved to be too strong. In her own words – “if you’re gonna find a job, you should do something you like, and this is something I loved to do.”

Competing in MasterChef Singapore’s 1st season at just 19 years old

In a cliched twist, it seemed like Gen was set to follow the footsteps of her father, to begin a food empire of her own. However, she first made a promise to herself, that she would make a name for herself in the culinary sphere before going all in. The greats before her have done it and become widely successful – think a particular Gordon Ramsay – and so her mind was set.

Image credit: @gen_lxn via Instagram

Turns out, signing up for the world’s most renowned competitive cooking reality programme’s one way to do it. In 2018, MasterChef Singapore was gearing up for its inaugural season, and Gen, who was just 19 years of age, pounced at the opportunity to show her mettle on the national stage.

Fortune favours the bold, and Gen soon found herself slapping on the iconic MasterChef apron, embroiled in culinary challenges that pitted her against the best in the Little Red Dot.

Image credit: @gen_lxn via Instagram

“They didn’t think I would go far actually,” Gen remarked when asked why did the producers select her to participate in the show. “They were like, let’s have a young contestant, and then my parents were in F&B, so there was a storyline as well.”

Gen’s takeaways from her time on the show were aplenty. For one, she jested that it’s “a very good weight loss programme”. She remembered shedding several kilos as she spent long hours filming, coupled with the stress from thinking about tomorrow’s set of trials and tribulations.

Image credit: @gen_lxn via Instagram

“Every day that you’re still in the show, it’s another day of trauma,” she joked, in between chuckles. “But good trauma, super fun. I wanna be put in that pressure, because it’s a time where I can invent a lot of things.” And invent Gen did, because she almost went on to win the whole thing, only being edged out ever so slightly in the grand finale of the show.

Not-so-fun fact, the stress from competing in MasterChef Singapore caused Gen to be haunted by her recipes even in her dreams. She actually conceived one of the dishes she whipped up in the finale in her sleep.

The red wine fig mochi dessert Gen dreamt about, and made a reality in the grand finale of MasterChef Singapore Season 1.
Image adapted from: MasterChef World via YouTube

“It was the mochi chiffon cake,” Gen recollected. “In my dream it always went “wine, fig, cake, mochi” Then the moment the finale came, I decided to try to recreate my dream.”

The origins of Sourbombe Bakery as a humble home business

One MasterChef Singapore runner-up title later, Gen finally hit her stride, and it seemed like there was no stopping her meteoric rise. But, the timing couldn’t be any worse. Despite fulfilling her initial promise of putting herself out there before starting a business, the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world in 2020, so setting up a venture then would have to entail meticulous planning.

The pandemic gave rise to many self-proclaimed home bakers looking to earn some extra green on the side as everyone was confined indoors. Of course, Gen also toyed with the idea of selling her delectable home-made goodies, but it was when she was making a couple of cooking videos for fun that she struck gold.

“From filming a lot of cooking videos, I had a lot of food left over as well,” said Gen. So I started giving out food, driving like some delivery guy to all my friends’ places to let them try.” Out of all of the food she gave out, it was her Sourbombes, which are bomb-shaped, sourdough doughnuts stuffed with pastry cream, that garnered the most fanfare amongst her friends.

The feedback on Gen’s Sourbombes was so positive that one of her friends, who would later become her business partner, told her “your product is too good, I’ve never seen this on the market before – you want to do business or not?” Gen thought there wasn’t any harm giving it a shot, so she set up a website for Sourbombe Bakery, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When Sourbombe Bakery was still a home business, Gen was baking around 700 doughnuts a day, and they would still sell out within minutes upon restock. 

“We did it, and in the first week we sold out for the month,” Gen said, with a glint in her eyes. “In the next month, we sold out in 1 minute.” It was clear that the masses were enraptured by her Sourbombes. Gen recounted that it was akin to trying to set a high score, to see if they could sell out faster than the previous months whenever they restocked their website.

The shift from an online store to a brick-and-mortar bakery

The successful home-based gig ran for about a year, and in July 2021, Gen unveiled her very first physical Sourbombe Bakery at 9 Penang Road, in Dhoby Ghaut. Running an online business is undeniably different compared to running a brick-and-mortar store, and Gen shared her experience on how she manages hers, which she affectionately refers to as her “4 babies”.

You heard right; in the span of 3 years, she has opened 3 more outlets in Jewel Changi, Wisma Atria and most recently, One Holland Village.

Gen at her 9 Penang Lane branch.
Image credit: @gen_lxn via Instagram

“With F&B, people are very fickle-minded,” said Gen. “The fact is, the market is so saturated. To stand out, it’s really hard, and to sustain? That’s even harder.” That’s why she advises home bakers to dip their toes into the industry first before committing, because “they need to understand that this is a very risky business.”

Sourbombe Bakery’s Jewel Changi branch, which is its 2nd outlet.

She also reminds those looking to dabble in F&B that the focus will no longer solely be on what comes out of the kitchen, as there’ll be other factors you have to look out for. “It’s not just about the food anymore, it’s about everything else,” Gen states. “It’s about customer service, it’s about marketing, it’s about accounting, it’s about HR, and staff is so hard to manage.”

In Gen’s case, she also had to deal with the repercussions of her success in MasterChef Singapore. It is indeed oxymoronic; because of her breakthrough with MasterChef, critics and the layman alike scrutinise her craft to a great degree. “Eh, this one made by MasterChef one ah, nice or not?” was a common sentiment shared across her detractors.

But, she still manages to make the best out of these criticisms. “I still want to listen to the negative comments, mainly because I think they’re on to something.” she mused. For instance, she has had a case of customers commenting that they were not able to taste the pistachio in her Pistachio Bombes.

She then went back to the drawing board, making tweaks to her recipe to bring out the hints of pistachio through layering different textures. “We got very positive feedback, and people were actually saying they like this better now,” Gen gleamed.

By the way, if you’re thinking of picking up a box for yourself, the bakery’s mainstays include their Basque Burnt Cheesecake and Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Bombes. A flavour that’s recently gaining traction is their Strawberry Milk Bombe, which features a burst of luscious cream infused with fresh strawberries.

Future plans for Sourbombe Bakery

Today, Gen still plays a hands-on role in running her multiple bakeries. From frying donuts to visiting each outlet every day to ensure things are running smoothly, her days are packed to say the least. Her days can start as early at 4am, as she shoulders some of the early morning shifts whenever the bakery runs into staffing issues.

Jewel Changi’s strategic location allows tourists from all over the globe to have a taste of Sourbombe treats. 

But throughout the years, Gen’s lofty ambitions for Sourbombe Bakery haven’t waned one bit. Much like any forward-thinking business owner, she’s looking to ship her Bombes overseas. “We really wanna bring like the made in Singapore, Singapore-born brand overseas,” she exclaimed. “We have brands like Song Fa, Old Chang Kee, Ya Kun, but I wanna be a part of it, so that’s the dream.”

She goes on to list the countries she would like to have Sourbombe Bakery flagship stores in, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and China, and her drive was undoubtedly infectious.

But before that, she’d also like to solidify her ground in Singapore first. When we probed about which location within the country she has set her eyes on for her next bakery, Marina Bay Sands immediately cropped up. “MBS is my next ideal location, but they’re really exclusive. It’s going to be another big hurdle to jump over.” said Gen.

Approaching ANEXT Bank for help on her Sourbombe Bakery journey

On the topic of finances, when you’re starting any business, big or small, funding a startup and raising the capital are some of the biggest hurdles any aspiring entrepreneur will have to face. Following her first brick-and-mortar store, Gen had her fair share of stressing over finances while she was setting up her 3 subsequent branches, which was why she turned to ANEXT Bank for assistance.

For those who don’t know, ANEXT Bank is a digital wholesale bank which provides accessible and secure digital financial services for small and growing businesses. Tapping into technology as well as a human-centric approach to simplify otherwise complicated and overwhelming processes and jargon, ANEXT Bank lowers the barrier to accessing financial services, supporting up-and-coming small businesses to find their feet and thrive.

This is why it’s no surprise that a whopping 69% of ANEXT Bank’s customer base are micro-businesses – typically businesses which generate less than SGD 1 million in annual turnover. The simplicity and accessibility of getting financing was also why Gen looked to ANEXT Bank in trying times to provide funding when Sourbombe Bakery was looking to expand islandwide.

“The whole loan application process was very quick,” she recalled. “The online platform was simple and intuitive to use as well, which made it an easy and seamless experience overall to obtain the loan.” After Gen became a customer of ANEXT Bank, folks over at ANEXT Bank also became fans of her Sourbombes.

On the back of a pleasant banking experience, Gen agreed to become part of the bank’s 2024 SME Friends of ANEXT, a collective of entrepreneurs and business owners eager to “disrupt industries, reimagine their businesses, and expand globally”.

The rest of the 2024 SME Friends of ANEXT.
Image credit: ANEXT Bank

SME Friends of ANEXT is designed to co-create the “digital bank of tomorrow” with forward-thinking small and growing businesses who embrace disruption and endless possibilities. From a second-generation florist to an e-commerce fashion platform and social enterprise, their stories are an inspiration to many others to dream big and not be limited by size.

If you’re in the same boat yourself, look to ANEXT Bank to get your business up and running. Be it setting up a multi-currency business account with no monthly or fall below fees for your local and overseas transfers, getting fuss-free unsecured financing with flexible repayment options, or investing with a fixed deposit account from just USD$5,000 for as short as 1 month, it can all be easily achieved.

For a more detailed read on their track record, have a look at ANEXT Bank’s latest business stats.

For a more light-hearted glimpse into how ANEXT Bank helps budding entrepreneurs, do keep an eye out for their Open For Business podcast series which is available on the ANEXT Bank website, YouTube channel, and Spotify page. Episode 1 is already live, which features Windflower Florist’s Stanley Tan, who’s also a member of the SME Friends of ANEXT. Keep a lookout for Gen’s feature in Episode 2!

From wholesome weekend family cookouts to becoming a MasterChef Singapore finalist, Gen’s culinary journey has been a storied one, but she’s nowhere near done just yet.

Only time will tell, but this writer looks forward to swapping the familiar Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts – top dogs which Gen hopes to compete with – for a box of Gen’s beloved Bombes when they eventually take over Asia and beyond.

Learn more about ANEXT Bank and their services

This post was brought to you by ANEXT Bank.
Photography by Emmanuele Loza.
Cover image adapted from: @gen_lxn via Instagram

Khoo Yong Hao

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