Serena Rampino combined her long-held passion for baking and the skills in customer service to reinvent her career after she was left jobless due to COVID-19 earlier this year. Though her fledgling business is not yet at the break-even point, she says she feels good about what she does.
Serena Rampino was selling tours to Sydney’s famous landmarks, including the Sydney zoo, the aquarium and the Blue Mountains, to overseas visitors.
But, like thousands of others, the 29-year-old lost her job after Australia closed international borders in March due to the coronavirus breakout. As the pandemic hit the International tourism sector, she was forced to reconsider her plans.
“I love to connect with people, and I was really enjoying my job,” she told SBS Italian.
Serena left Italy when she was 23. After getting a degree in psychology, she wanted at first to pursue a career as a criminologist before she decided to give Australia a try.
“There was little chance of succeeding. My horizon in Italy was just as limited as Jim Carrey’s dome in the Truman Show,” she told SBS Italian, referring to the movie directed by Australia's Peter Weir.
Serena immediately fell in love with Sydney. And soon after with Luca, a fellow Italian who is now her husband.
As a working holiday visa holder, she built her life in NSW wearing several different working hats.
"I was employed in a two dollars shop; I sold chickens and salads in Bondi, I made bouquets in a florist, I worked in a pastry-lab and a pop-up shop for dental whitening, I sold bus tickets and much more," she recalls.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the 29-year-old Italian migrant who is now a permanent resident in Australia was made redundant. She had to fall back on JobSeeker payment while looking for a more viable career option.
Browsing through the internet, she came across a program aimed at helping people with a business idea to start their own small business.
Serena felt it was the right time to change tracks, once again. So, she enrolled in the program and completed a free six-week course in managing a small business.
“A tutor guided me step by step, taught me how to open my own activity and supported me all the way through."
Upon completion of the NEIS program, she passed an exam and became eligible for a weekly $280 for the next nine months.
This weekly payment helps new business owners transition from JobSeeker payment as the support continues while the business is still new.
"In addition to financial support, your tutor is available to answers all your practical questions. So the bureaucracy doesn’t drive you crazy" Serena says.
In about two months, she had all the required certifications and permits to start her business from a rented industrial kitchen.
Serena says she combined her passion for cooking and customers service to start Sweet Creations Boutique – cake and chocolate business in Sydney.
"Since I was a child, I have been attracted to cakes and tiramisù, but instead of the food industry, I invested time and energies in studying psychology,” she rues.
When working at a Bondi beach club, she learned how to make chocolate coated fruits and discovered what she calls the “therapeutic factor in both making and eating it". A reason – she says - to transform her initiative into a mission.
“Sweets and desserts in Sydney are sold for terrifying prices. I don't find it fair and ethical. To me, the most important thing is to make customers happy, so I will always keep the prices low."
On Father's Day, Serena Rampino rented a small stand in a shopping centre in Sydney's East Village. And everything she prepared was sold out one hour before the closing time.
"In the six years I spent in Australia, I have had experiences I would have never had in Italy. And now I wake up every day knowing what I do makes me feel good.”
“Every morning I look at myself in the mirror, and I see a happy person. It doesn’t even feel like I’m going to work,” she says.
Serena believes she has been able to turn the COVID crisis into an opportunity to change her life for the better, successfully reinventing herself as a pastry chef.
"My business is not quite yet self-sufficient, but orders are increasing. I tend to believe that when the restrictions are lifted, and people return to parties, I will be able to live off my sweet creations alone."