Meet Thrina Low: The Heart and Soul Behind Bakery Brera's Inspiring Journey
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
It's hard to believe it's been five years since I first stepped into Bakery Brera & Fine Foods and had the pleasure of meeting Thrina Low. This was long before the world grappled with the outbreakof COVID-19, and my mission at the time was quite simple: find a pastry supplier for the F&B company I was working with. Bakery Brera & Fine Foods was one of the establishments on my list, and it was nestled in Empress Mall at Empress Road.
I remember the day vividly. I timed my visit just right, arriving as the bakery was nearing closing time. This fortunate timing allowed me to strike up a conversation with Thrina, who, to my surprise, had some time to spare. What was meant to be a brief visit turned into a nearly hour-long chat. Thrina's warmth and her genuine interest in hearing my stories made a profound impression on me. We found common ground and shared our own life experiences during our conversation. And, of course, I couldn't leave without picking up some of the delectable pastries to share with my colleagues.
That chance meeting marked the beginning of a meaningful connection. Over the years, I've come to deeply appreciate Thrina's strong work ethic, deeply rooted in her Christian values and her unwavering commitment to following God's path in her unique way. Even during the hustle and bustle of bakery life, she always makes time for enriching conversations.
Thrina's story deserves the Spotlight, embodying the beautiful blend of faith, work, and an unwavering dedication to helping the community.
You have a background in engineering and human resources; what inspired you to open Bakery Brera & Fine Foods, and what sets Bakery Brera apart from other bakeries in Singapore?
I'm not your typical bakery owner in Singapore. My career has taken me from eight years as an engineer to another decade as a Human Resources professional. But eight years ago, I embarked on a different journey by starting Bakery Brera & Fine Foods. This decision came at a point in my life when the corporate world had become challenging for my husband and it was after we returned from an overseas postingand I felt a deep need to do something more meaningful as I considered retirement.
During this transformative period, as much as I was reluctant to start my own business, I felt a strong calling in my heart. It was as if I had a deep sense of purpose to open a bakery that not only offered the delicious treats my family cherished but also served as a platform for helping others. Immediately I thought of using this bakery as a mission field to make a positive impact on our community.
The inspiration behind this mission was the significance of bread as a symbol of sustenance and the importance of fostering community and relationship with God.
My mission is clear:to serve the community with high-quality and health-conscious baked goods and to make a positive difference. I aim to do this through every possible means and opportunity that comes our way, embracing and living out our core values while striving to be a beacon of goodness in our community.
As someone who values community outreach or "Kampung Spirit," how does Bakery Brera actively engage with and give back to the local community?
Our Bakery Brera community has become familiar with my faith and the positivity that our artisanal boutique bakery conveys on social media. I firmly believe in "loving God and loving neighbor," and this is reflected in our online presence. Amidst images of our delicious creamy Basque burnt cheesecake, buttery croissant, and caramelized kouign amann, you'll also find earnest posts encouraging our Bakery Brera community to engage in initiatives such as the "Welcome in My Backyard" campaign. We sponsor croissants for migrant workers who've contributed to the nation, provide care packs for healthcare staff affected by Covid clusters, and collect reusable jars and containers after Chinese New Year to support the eco-forward Project bECOme.
I don't see our almost 35K Instagram followers merely as customers; they're a community I want to nurture with more than just baked goods. I aim to foster a "kampung spirit," a sense of close-knit community, which I believe even urban Singaporeans possess. I truly feel that God has entrusted me with these precious 34,500 followers, and it's a responsibility I take seriously. My goal is to take care of them faithfully, offer them uplifting content, and provide opportunities for them to make a positive impact. I firmly believe that together, through community effort, we can achieve far more than we could alone.
While I may appear at ease as a digital citizen now, it wasn't always this way. Seven years ago, when we first launched Bakery Brera, I was in a completely different place.
How do Bakery Brera and Café Brera's commitment to inclusivity, which includes hiring staff, including seniors, with special needs and mental illnesses, enhance the distinctive ambiance of the establishment and contribute to its success? Furthermore, can you elaborate on the strategies and initiatives employed to prioritize the well-being and mental health of your staff, and create a nurturing and supportive workplace environment?
Our commitment to inclusivity and employing staff with special needs, including seniors and individuals with mental illnesses, is a core foundation that defines the success and unique atmosphere at Bakery Brera and Café Brera. We firmly believe in providing opportunities for all, ensuring that everyone can be part of our community, contribute their unique talents, and find fulfillment in meaningful work. This approach not only enriches our team but also fosters an environment of acceptance, support, and a sense of belonging.
Of the 45 people on our payroll, 40% are seniors. Working with seniors requires patience, as their work hours can't be as long, and sometimes instructions must be repeated. However, being an older woman at 58, I understand their challenges and respect their needs. I believe in allowing them to be themselves, to enjoy their work, and to chat. We simply need to learn to listen and slow down with them.
Some of our older employees may have limitations and specific preferences. I embrace these differences and cater to their needs, utilizing their strengths to complement the weaknesses of other workers. Even our cafe's opening hours are designed with our elderly employees in mind; we close at five to ensure they have time to rest. I cherish their wealth of experience and skills and love that they can share their wisdom and the things they enjoy.
Prioritizing the well-being and mental health of our staff is of paramount importance. We've implemented several measures to create a supportive and mindful work environment. Regular check-ins ensure that each team member feels valued and supported while offering a safe space for expressing concerns and flexible work hours.
Our approach is anchored in a culture of patience, understanding, and inclusivity. We place great importance on celebrating each person's unique strengths, ensuring that every team member feels genuinely appreciated and respected. This, in turn, contributes to the overall success and the uniquely warm and inviting atmosphere of Bakery Brera and Café Brera at Reunion (located at National Museum Singapore). I love the opportunity to be able to connect with people and to hear their stories. We want more encounters like that. It’s about connection and linking up.
How do you incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily life, and how does this influence your approach to running your bakery and cafe?
Incorporating mindfulness practices into my daily life is crucial in shaping my approach to running the bakery and cafe. I believe in the value of recognizing the abundance of blessings that surround us, often surpassing our requests. This awareness of the richness of life reinforces our reliance on a higher source of strength, wisdom, and all our needs.
The presence of Bible verses throughout the bakery serves as a consistent reminder of the core principles that guide our business. It's a visual representation of our commitment to values that extend beyond the workplace. In this mission, I take on the role of a humble servant and steward, emphasizing our dedication to these principles. We advocate and lead by example as a leading bakery in hiring inclusively, protecting the environment by reducing waste, cutting down plastics, recycling, and up-purposing all that we can, we believe in giving everyone a fair opportunity, and we aim to mentor and disciple the young.
Our journey together as a team has been marked by a deepening of our collective spirit. There have been moments when I've engaged in heartfelt conversations with my staff, particularly during challenging times, such as when they face family illnesses. These experiences provide our team with tangible examples of grace at work in our daily operations. It's through these experiences that they witness my reliance on a higher power, acknowledging my own limitations. I make it clear that we find strength in unity, a truth that guides our journey. I believe everyone is created precious, if given time, space, and proper support, everyone can flourish.
Incorporating mindfulness practices keeps me grounded in a spirit of humility and gratitude, which directly influences the way I lead and manage the bakery and cafe. This fosters an environment of respect and support for my team, promoting a sense of community and shared purpose.
Looking back at your journey with Bakery Brera and Cafe Brera, what are you most proud of accomplishing?
As I reflect back on my journey with Bakery Brera and Café Brera, what I'm most proud of is how everything fell into place according to God’s design for my life. It's clear that our life's path is deliberate, everything happens for good. My upbringing from a family who loves serving and hosting plus my corporate experience, lasting just the right number of years, was the perfect preparation for the success of Bakery Brera. Furthermore, my time in the Philippines for biblical training was a significant step in understanding the importance of serving the community.
The humble loaf of bread, a staple food for many, serves as a beautiful symbol of God's heart. It mirrors His desire to nourish, comfort, and abundantly provide for us, as emphasized in John 10:10.
My journey with Bakery Brera and Café Brera has been marked by a purposeful impact through business. Firstly, I'm grateful for the opportunity to provide employment to people in need or those who lack job opportunities. This allows us to make a positive difference in their lives and the community.
Our influence extends beyond the confines of our business. It encompasses our staff, customers, and the broader community. We have the privilege of living out our Christian values, not only in our professional roles but also in our daily lives.
Additionally, our reach indirectly touches various charities, social causes, and individuals in need, driven by a sense of purpose. This extends our capacity to make a meaningful impact beyond our immediate surroundings.
Our business provides diverse platforms for outreach, from our physical shops to our regional and even global social media presence. I find great joy in sharing our business journey on social media, where I discuss overcoming challenges and celebrating the joy that comes from life's blessings. It's a space to delve into aspects like lifestyle, daily experiences, and the role of faith as a business owner.
Furthermore, our work environment offers opportunities for coaching and discipleship. Walking alongside our team members in their professional journey allows us to go deeper into their lives and offer targeted support in a meaningful way. This has been instrumental in fostering growth and breakthroughs, especially among the younger generation within our team.
What I'm most proud of in this journey is the synergy of faith and business, where we not only find success in our work but also make a positive impact on our employees, customers, and the community, while staying true to our Christian values and principles.
Introducing the visionary force behind Bakery Brera & Fine Foods: Thrina Low. Her journey into the world of artisanal baking began in February 2016, upon her return from a four-year job assignment in the Philippines, alongside her husband. In her prior professional life, Thrina worked as an engineer and held a prominent roles in the Human Resources field such as t AIA Singapore, Dresdner Bank (now Commerzbank AG), General Motors & Seagate
Fate played a pivotal role in this serendipitous foray into the bakery realm. Situated adjacent to their church, an opportunity to assume ownership of the bakery was presented by its previous owner. Thrina, a devoted artisanal bread enthusiast, recognized this as the perfect moment to embark on a new adventure. They understood that the journey ahead would not be without its challenges, but the prime location and a community that shared their passion for high-quality food made it an irresistible opportunity. With a team of skilled bakers on board, they set out to create an array of delectable treats, including the renowned cruffins.
For those acquainted with Bakery Brera, Thrina is not just the owner but also a community pillar known for her engaging conversations, support for young bakers through internships, charitable fundraisers, community exchange drop zones, and outreach initiatives such as care packages for healthcare and migrant workers.
This same unwavering commitment to people and genuine warmth now finds an even larger platform to flourish at Café Brera at Reunion, a collaboration with the National Museum of Singapore in serving seniors, persons with dementia and mild-cognitive-impairments