Easily the best invite to receive is to one of Hala Audi Beydoun’s three daughters’ birthdays. Because it was in making magnificent cakes for these special days that Hala found her calling and the inspiration for Cocoa and Co.
“In the year 2000, after having two daughters and while still teaching,” remembers Hala, “I began experimenting with baking for my girls’ birthdays. I would organize big parties and make everything myself, from birthday cakes to food and other desserts. Bit by bit, my friends started ordering their kids’ birthday cakes from me and pretty soon I had a full-fledged business running from the kitchen of my home.”
Baking a business
Having honed her craft for such a discerning audience (if a child doesn’t like something, they’ll let you know!), Hala is now the proud owner of a highly successful business, with a commercial kitchen and three shops in Lebanon’s biggest malls. Hala’s creations are now highly sought after and renowned for their beautiful and intricate designs. “My love for creativity and fine tastes lead me to start this business, as I couldn’t find anything in the market that satisfied these criteria. My husband supported me and pushed me to find my artistic touch to master the art of baking.”
After graduating from the American University of Beirut with a bachelor’s degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences, Hala dabbled in marketing and advertising for a while, landing a short job at Coca Cola. After getting married, Hala started teaching English as a second language which lasted for 10 years.
Then came the realisation that her baking skills, with some hard work and a lot of late nights, were good enough to build a business on. “It started as a hobby,” says Hala, “but soon enough it became an obsession, a real passion and pretty soon the house became too small for the orders we were getting so we had to move into a “real” kitchen and “legalize” the business. We registered the name Cocoa and Co. in the year 2006.”
Through the hard times
Like any business, Cocoa and Co. has taken time and a great deal of effort to become a reality, but on top of some common business ups and downs, Hala and her family have also endured some very serious personal issues, and baking was one of the many elements that helped Hala and her family through the darker times. “I got sick in 2002,” says Hala, “right after I delivered my third daughter. I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and had to undergo chemotherapy treatment for 6 months. That made me weak and vulnerable but going back home to my daughters and client orders helped me get better faster. But then, five years later, I had a relapse and had to travel to London for a bone marrow transplant. I stayed there for 7 months, during which my youngest daughter was diagnosed with ALL and had to join us in London for treatment as well. It was a very difficult time for us as a family, but luckily we pulled through and I was looking forward to going back home and opening my central kitchen” and going on with the business which was still running, albeit slowly, with the help of a good friend and our housemaid.”
Spreading the knowledge
Hala’s amazing passion and work ethic was recognised in 2015 when she won two awards for being a female entrepreneur, and she is passionate about helping others find success in their chosen fields too. “I am a member of the Lebanese League for Women in Business, which empowers women and supports new business owners. I am also a member of WE-initiative which also supports and empowers women. I am also currently enrolled in the Vital Voices course which is a program that helps women grow their businesses.”
Hala and her team also use Facebook and Instagram to spread the good word of baking far and wide. “Being able to post pictures and information about my company and products in one click is just amazing,” she says. “It improves our brand awareness as well as the footfall to our shops. By posting positive, happy pictures of our products we spread love and happiness to all the corners of the globe.”
Spreading happiness is one of Hala and Cocoa and Co.’s main goals, along with building a sustainable and successful business, and if that doesn’t leave a nice taste in your mouth, nothing will. “Creating the prettiest and most delish cakes and desserts using the best ingredients available for my girls’ birthdays is the main incentive. I love the combination of taste and flavors and colors and design and the passion it takes to make these edible art pieces. It helps me express myself in the desserts I design and produce. It also brings happiness to others. I love seeing people’s reactions when they cut one of my cakes or taste my brownies. It’s like I’m baking happiness!”
Learn more about Hala Audi Beydoun and Cocoa and Co.