Armed with a bowl, a spoon and a whisk, a young Emirati decided to carve a career for herself by choosing her hobby over her vocation.
Shamma Al Ali, 25, one of the youngest entrepreneurs in Ras Al Khaimah, never thought that her mixing, blending and baking skills would be the ones to lead her into the business world.
She started baking as a hobby at the age of nine but never considered it as a career option until a few years ago.
Ms Al Ali graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the UAE University in 2018 and hoped to find a suitable job.
“I thought that once I would receive my degree in mechanical engineering, I could immediately find a job with a good salary. But that was not easy and somehow [became] impossible,” she said.
“I thought over and over again about my future and what I really wanted to achieve. I’d lost hope in finding a job and starting a career in mechanical engineering.
“I always wanted to be productive and an active member of society, but it never occurred to me that my baking skills would shape my future and become my source of living.
"My family and friends nudged me to start a bakery so I decided to replace my toolbox and mechanical skills with my baking tools and techniques."
Ms Al Ali improved her skills by reading cooking and baking books, online blogs and watching videos.
“I was obsessed with baking. My first baking attempt happened 16 years ago when I was 9. I remember it was a tray of chocolate cookies,” she said.
“It was a total failure and a real disaster but that did not stop me from trying.”
Six years later, Ms Al Ali not only baked perfect cookies and cakes but created her own recipes.
“Whisking flour, eggs, milk and butter while adding my own ingredients and flavours into the mix is what I enjoy the most. It is where I find my true happiness,” she said.
“I used to spend all my pocket money on buying baking tools and ingredients.
“And each time my parents or brothers think of buying me a gift, they choose to pick something related to baking because they all know what makes me happy.”
In 2018, Ms Al Ali approached Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development for financial support.
Her initial plans were to open a small kitchen and a takeaway bakery but that changed after she secured funding.
“The plan changed from opening a small kitchen to a bakery shop with the help and guidance from Khalifa Fund business consultants,” she said.
“I worked hard on creating a business plan which took almost a year. In 2019, I received the approval from Khalifa Fund to go ahead and start my project.
“It was not that easy to find the right place and decide on the interior designs and choose the right kitchen appliances and that took another year.
“I wanted the shop to be a place where people find perfection and I had to reflect that through the design, furniture, baked goods and shop name. So, I decided to call it Utopia.”
Utopia bakery opened in February, around the same time when the first cases of coronavirus were reported in the UAE.
“A few weeks after the opening, we had to close as a precautionary measure due to the spread of the virus,” Ms Al Ali said.
“It was a disappointment, but we managed to overcome the challenges with the support of the local authorities and owner of the place who waived three months rent during the outbreak.
“We were allowed to offer takeaways to customers during April and May and we started welcoming people back to the shop in June,” she said.
Ms Al Ali’s bakery is on Flamingo beach in Ras Al Khaimah, where freshly baked cakes, desserts, cookies and brownies along with hot beverages are served to customers.
“I started bread baking trials and managed to prepare brioche, focaccia and sourdough bread. We will soon put fresh bread and bakery-style breakfast on the menu,” she said.
“I always intend to add my own touch, try different ingredients such as saffron or change the overall layout of the cake to offer a new experience to my customers and sometimes introduce a new version of a traditional dessert.”