Emily and Annabel Lui are the sisters behind the delicious new age bakery, Cutter & Squidge, and the creators of the ‘biskie’, a gooey and crunchy combination of biscuit, cookie and cake made with all natural ingredients. As these ladies are constantly pushing the taste boundaries with their amazing flavours, who better to interview as part of our Re-Invention Issue?
Talk us through the Cutter & Squidge story and how you went from home kitchen to your own Soho pop-up and a Valentine’s Day collaboration with Harrods.
E: My sister, Annabel, had always wanted to be a chef (although my dad, a chef himself, had always said no). One weekend about 3 years ago, Annabel brought home a cupcake. We had always baked cakes for our friends but thought the cupcake was a saturated market so we started brainstorming a new concept. I love cake and Annabel loves biscuits and cookies so it made sense to come up with something that we would both love: something crispy, something chewy and something tactile. We loved the idea of something you would be able to hold and eat almost like a burger.
We started researching what would become the ‘biskie’. We had a very set ethos – we would only use natural ingredients and we wanted our biskies to taste of what we said they would!
During the product development stage, we were both still working full time and baking at the weekends (Annabel was working in Corporate Finance and I am a partner at a law firm in the West End). After 10 months, we started trading at the fine food markets in Chelsea and One New Change, and after about 2 months we got approached by Selfridges. I think it was a lot to do with the fact we were doing something that was unique. It was then that Annabel made a decision to take a sabbatical year from her firm… and never went back!
It was around then that we set up our full spec production kitchen in Fulham which allowed us to supply Selfridges and Harrods wholesale. We subsequently moved from supplying Selfridges wholesale to running pop up concessions in the food hall. Our most recent pop up was in Old Street station with Cambridge Satchel.
What became clear was that we needed the full Cutter & Squidge experience. We were lucky enough to get a spot in Soho as a pop-up. When we opened in March this year, we didn’t know what to expect but the response has been phenomenal and we will be here until August.
Cutter & Squidge is such a great name – tell us a bit about the brand and your logo.
E: The brand reflects our nicknames – Annabel is Cutter and I’m Squidge, and also the process of cutting something and squidging it together.
Our artist friend hand drew our logo! From far, the logo looks like a circle with lots colours, but when you get close you see it’s made up of lots of ingredients and things that mean something to us. For example the monkey represents monkey nuts which we use in our marathon runner biskie and also the fact that we’re completely nuts in setting something up from scratch!
We love that Cutter & Squidge are constantly experimenting with new flavours. What is your creative process for coming up with new tastes and concepts?
E: We love to eat! We’re Chinese but we were brought up in the UK so we try to bring a bit of that oriental flavour into our baking. For example we use green tea in our green tea, raspberry and chocolate dream cake. We also take inspiration from flavours that we like and try to add a twist. For example our Chocolate Orange Cake tastes like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange but better!
We have a whole bunch of biskie flavours that we created at the beginning but haven’t had a chance to bring out yet because our basic flavours are so popular – people complain if they aren’t there. We now do Fun Flavour Friday where we add in one extra cake and biskie flavour just to test it out. We do a lot of 80s flavours too because I love the 80s (banana split dream cake!). Everything is unusual but familiar.
What are you plans for Cutter & Squidge in the future?
E: Hopefully we will have a permanent shop in Soho which will be our flagship store where customers can have the whole Cutter & Squidge experience (including a twist on the usual afternoon tea!).
Eventually we would love to have a chain nationally. We have a lot of customers in the North, Scotland and Cornwall who have found us on notonthehighstreet and through Instagram. We have also had people wanting to open Cutter & Squidge shops in other countries like Japan, Singapore and some of the Arab countries. So hopefully we will go international too!
How have you found the start-up world as female entrepreneurs?
E: We have been quite lucky. Because of our experience and Annabel’s background and mine, there haven’t been any issues. We are quite strong characters in ourselves. We know what we want and we’re realistic – we’ve done our research and prepared.
A: Our dad is pretty much our mentor. He will answer any questions. When I went from finance to baking all he said was “welcome to the real world”!
E: The lucky thing is because he is an entrepreneur himself he has run a number of businesses. So it didn’t phase him or our mum at all.
A: He just said stop moaning and do something about it. So we were working 12 to 13 months before we started trading or even approached anybody. We made sure we did all the ground work.
What has been your biggest challenge? And your biggest win?
A: Getting people to accept a new type of product. We didn’t anticipate how hard it was going to be to get people to try the biskie – even though it’s something familiar, it’s still something new.
Our greatest achievement on the flipside is launching a product into the market and have people accept it. We don’t need to put out samples anymore. A lot of people have seen it on social media and they want to try it.
As sisters and co-founders of Cutter & Squidge, how have you found combining work with family?
E: We live together as well! The creative process for the business is constant. As soon as we wake up in the morning we’ll be messaging each other. Because we are used to being so close all the time, it’s not suffocating.
A: We know a lot of businesses that were started by friends around the same time. It is a lot harder. Especially as your life evolves, you might not grow together and you may have different views.
Dad is semi-retired now and he gets stuck in too. He built the whole Soho pop up! He’s a carpenter and a mentor. We call him Head of logistics and infrastructure. He sorts the vans out and any structural things we need. So it’s a real family business.
What advice would you give others who are thinking of starting their own business or trying something new?
A: Be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your entire life. Even if you’ve worked in M&A, as a lawyer, as a doctor, all the hours God gives – it will never prepare you. The only time you stop is when you’re asleep.
E: I would also say be prepared do your research – work out who you are, what you are and what you want to achieve.
A: Try and keep good people. Loyalty is the biggest thing – if they don’t believe in you and your business they won’t stay. Look after your staff and don’t take them for granted. We have a staff party every couple of months – we make sure all the staff feel like part of the family. Emily and I call Daddy “Daddy” and most of the staff call him Daddy too!
And some quick fire questions:
If you could only bring one food item with you to a desert island, what would it be?
E: Dream Cake!
Best song to sing when you’re baking?
A: Taylor Swift “Shake it off” – but we change it to “Baker’s gonna bake bake bake…”
Mary Berry, Jon Bon Jovi, Cara Delevingne and Spiderman are coming over for dinner, what’s on the menu?
E: Apart from biskies and cake, we would serve a mixture between English and Chinese food. Maybe some dumplings or chicken peanut cucumber salad for starters.
A: The main would be beef hor fun or roast duck
E: Or duck a l’orange!
A: And salted caramel fondant for dessert.
And finally, Brad Pitt or biskie?
A and E: Biskie, of course because there are all sorts of flavours of biskie!