Enginuity: Finding the recipe for success – Faculty of Engineering

Enginuity: Finding the recipe for success

Illustration of grad Jia Tian.
Jia Tian. Illustration by Kimberlyn Porter.
By Matthew Dodge

Leaning over a bakery prep table to put the finishing touches on an ornate cake is not the first place you’d expect to find a trained electrical engineer, but that is precisely where Jia Tian wants to be. The owner and operator of MySweeTooth Bakery and Momoco Donuts in Hamilton, Ontario, traded in electrical systems for multi-tiered desserts to pursue a career path that was not always as smooth as her black sesame cream icing. 

Born in China, Tian came to Canada for McMaster University’s Electrical Engineering program at 19 years old. After graduating in 2007, she found herself uncertain about her career trajectory.  

“I was questioning what the best path for me would be,” she says. “Will I be getting the satisfaction of working a job that considers all of my skills and hobbies? Will I be passionate about my job?”

Determined to find that passion in her professional life, Tian did not initially realize that baking would be the key ingredient. In fact, before arriving in Canada, she had practically zero baking experience. “In China, baking was not as popular as in Canada,” she explains.

Jia Tian handing out donuts at a McMaster Engineering Random Acts of Kindness Event in February 2024.

The moment Tian realized baking could be part of her future is as sweet as the treats she makes for her customers. “The first cake that I made was for my husband,” Tian says, smiling at the memory of her chiffon cake with homemade whipped cream. “Everything was melting a bit, but he was so happy.”

Tian met her husband Peter at McMaster, where he majored in economics. His joyful reaction to her baking and the delicious cake made her realize that baking is an effective way to demonstrate love and care. This moment led to a career reinvention.

Over the next few years, Tian honed her craft, applying the same focus and effort that went into her engineering degree. My SweeTooth Bakery launched as an online business in 2013 and quickly earned a loyal customer base for her Asian-fusion creations.

This success allowed Tian and her husband to grow the business and open a brick-and-mortar bakery in January 2020, with no way of knowing the difficulties they were about to face.

The fact that the bakery survived the pandemic and continues to thrive is a real testament to the hard work of the couple. Tian quickly credits some of the success to the fact that she did her homework before opening the location.

I think strong planning skills are the result of an engineering mindset. I had a strategic plan for our shops, and that’s part of the reason why we’re still here after COVID.

Jia Tian

A transferable skill from Tian’s engineering training that she has relied on as a baker and business owner is problem-solving. “When you start from scratch, nobody is there to show you what’s the right way to do it,” she says. “You have to figure it out and ask yourself, what is the most logical way to make this work?”

Designing the physical layout of the shop proved to be the perfect challenge for an electrical engineer. The bakery location had been transformed from a residential space to a commercial one. Many building codes had to be followed to the letter, along with ensuring that the building’s electrical system was up to the challenge of powering a fully functioning bakery.

“With my background, I was able to study the Ontario building code,” Tian says of the complex process. “When we were applying for a permit and the examiner questioned me about an aspect of the design, I was able to demonstrate that it complied with all requirements. We received our permit, and I was so proud of myself for being able to make that happen.”

It wasn’t just regulatory know-how and problem-solving tenacity that allowed My SweeTooth Bakery to survive the pandemic. Tian credits this to two key factors. First, is fast adaptation to technology.

During the pandemic, Tian developed an e-commerce website for her business. She has continuously refined their online shopping platforms to improve the customer experience and boost sales.

The second, and most important factor, is integrity.

“You need to do things with integrity. From choosing ingredients to using the right techniques, you need to hold yourself to a high standard,” she says. “I know that when I make a decision, our business, our staff and our customers will be impacted. I want to make sure that the impact of my decisions are positive. Had I not been trained to be an engineer, I probably wouldn’t think too much about the significance of this quality.”

Jia Tian holding one of her mochi donuts back on McMaster’s campus.

Now that the bakery is more established, Tian has time to devise new recipes. This is a perfect way to combine the processes mindset honed through her engineering background with her artistic sensibilities. “Baking is 100% science,” she says. “The trick is to know the rules, and then play around them.”

For Tian, this means combining different flavours from her Asian cultural background to help her baked goods stand out. Her menu consists of baked classics along with gourmet Asian fusion cakes, milk tea and premium loose-leaf teas.

Being able to share these cultural creations remains one of the strongest motivations for Tian to continue her baking journey. “I’m a proud Asian woman and having a shop that is open to the public is a channel for me to showcase our culture to the community.”

Tian hopes that the success of her shops, and the unconventional journey she followed to achieve her goals, can be a source of inspiration for other international students. 

The original path you had in mind may not always be what’s right for you. Finding your authentic self and following your passion can result in something wonderful.

Jia Tian

MySweeTooth Bakery and Momoco Donuts are located in Hamilton, Ontario. Visit the Instagram pages of both businesses to see a selection of delicious baked goods and plan your visit.

Are you a good fit for an Enginuity story? Get in touch with our Alumni Office at engalum@mcmaster.ca.