C-town’s favourite baker and owner of Bakes By Bella, Melissa Dharmadasa’s beginnings aren’t as typical as one might expect. What started out as a love for delicious baked goodies turned into a business venture that has only grown with time, and she’s not stopping there!
I graduated in Biomedical Sciences and when I moved back to Sri Lanka, I started working at GlaxoSmithKlin (GSK). The culture over there wasn’t something I was used to. Then months down the line, I tried advertising, radio and TV. Photography was what I originally wanted to do, but my so-Sri Lankan parents didn’t approve of it. Baking has always been there—I’ve done it ever since I was a child, so I started to bake for birthdays even though my intention was not to make a career out of it. When I uploaded the pictures of my bakes onto my Instagram, people thought it was a gig and I started receiving orders. I was unemployed back then, so I took up the little opportunity that came my way, and here I am at our third Bakes By Bella store.
Apart from the fact that people like what we serve here, they’re drawn to my personality as well. I’m naturally a friendly person, so the customers keep coming back. We put a lot of effort into the little details of the place to make anyone who walks in here to feel like home; a well-known adage is ‘you eat with your eyes first’ and that has worked for us. While my intention to create a fairytale at Bakes By Bella has always remained, so are the opposite forces who can’t stand any success. People indefinitely have things to say to me and find ways to bring me down, but I slay past it by standing up for myself and putting them in their place. Sadly, in our culture, a woman is the quickest to attack another one and it hurts to know and experience that. Ironically, I’m someone who loves empowering other women—if you look around my café, you’ll find a majority of them working there. With everything happening along with work, I think the first thing I’ll do when I win the lottery is take a solo vacation!
Real talk though, with my fair share of mistakes, I’m glad for where I am right now. Those lessons have made a difference in the way I do things for our brand new store on Col TG Jayawardena Mawatha, Kollupitiya. Now, I can take a look at the materials from the suppliers and tell the difference between what I requested and what they try to sell to me. That experience isn’t something I can find in books and I’m grateful for it. What’s more, this business has never been about only money. Throughout our journey, we’ve found and nurtured friendships with genuine people that are hard to come by. Right now, Bakes By Bella is a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME), and looking towards the future, this means that within the next 5 years, we’re hoping to expand overseas. However, there will be only one standalone store in this country.
My message to all the girls with plans to shatter the glass ceiling is to be determined. When I started Bakes By Bella, my mom was worried that after studying hard abroad I’d ended up baking cakes in Sri Lanka. I asked for a year and within that time she saw how serious I was about it. The point is when you set your mind towards something, stick to it, and have the discipline to make it happen regardless of what anybody says.
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.