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Sweet talk with the face behind Brown Sugar: Diarra Wickremasinghe

By Mahika Panditha

I remember when I turned 19, I wanted a doughnut tower instead of a birthday cake. I was very specific in what I wanted and would not change my mind. I came across “Brown Sugar” on Instagram, and I cannot even begin to explain to you the happiness I felt upon receiving the tower – perfect, precise, and absolutely delicious. It was even better than I had envisioned.

The gem behind this amazing business is 21-year-old Diarra Wickremasinghe. She is just about finishing her bachelor’s degree at Edith Cowan University, whilst also working on the growth of her business. I can testify to the fact that she is beyond talented in what she does and her passion is “creating desserts that bring light and love to those who experience it in every bite”. She hopes to own a restaurant of her own one day.

Aside from Brown Sugar, Diarra’s guilty pleasure is having the whole day to herself and just eat. Same girl, same. We had the chance to speak with Diarra earlier this week about all things Brown Sugar, and here is what she had to say.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Diarra and I am 21 years old. I see myself as someone who finds inspiration in everything that comes my way. I have a way of taking elements of what I see and experience, from people and places, and incorporating that into everything I do. I believe creating desserts is my purpose; to see people light up by enjoying something I made warms my heart. I feel fortunate to be able to live my dream. To have a hobby that turned into a business is definitely a blessing!

How did Brown Sugar start?

It all started when I was 12 years old.  An ambitious Bishopian’s need to buy her mother, Desiree, a phone is the real start to my journey. I sold cookies to my friends and actually managed to make enough to get my mum a (very basic) phone in time for her birthday. This sparked my passion for turning something I liked doing into a business. I used to bake on and off just for fun up until 2015, when I decided to actually sell the things I made.

What inspired the name?

My oldest sister Nikki! It was a conference call five years ago with my sisters that inspired the name. It’s a little fuzzy but I remember my older sister suggesting “Brown Sugar” and all of us laughing a little; then realised that it stuck with us and sounded pretty good. Also, it helped that D’Angelo’s song “Brown Sugar” could be used in all my marketing material at the time, haha!

What is your favourite dish to make and why?

Ice cream tacos! My brother-in-law Stefan actually inspired this one. In a nutshell, it is a waffle cone in the shape of a taco, lathered in chocolate, that envelopes a generous amount of ice cream and add-ons like Nutella, chocolate chunks, or cookie bits. I love making these, because at the time, I was the first to sell them in Sri Lanka. Also, because they are super great to indulge in on a hot day – which is every day in this tropical island! I used to sell these purely at stalls and events but I am hoping to start selling them on my online platforms next year.

How about the hardest dish to make?

This is a tie between doughnuts and deconstructed tarts. In the case of deconstructed tarts, my customers would want them to be in specific shapes and/or letters. This is very challenging as the short crust dough that I make is delicate and can be destroyed if over kneaded. Doughnuts on the other hand is a long process that involves me starting out each morning at 5 a.m. The boxes and bouquets, along with handwritten notes are assembled the night before, but the dough, the key element to nailing this delicacy, needs to be perfect.  My rule is that the doughnuts have to be consumed on the day of purchase. If you think about it, a whole lot of work goes into the process of forming, kneading, rising, and frying the dough, all for someone to devour it within 24 hours!

In your journey thus far, what challenges have you overcome and how?

Changing trends have definitely been a challenge. If you know me personally, you know that my taste in a lot of things is pretty much static. From how I am hooked onto a specific type of music or a form of fashion or style, this tendency of mine to be stuck on one way of doing something is evident in how I was stuck on one platform for Brown Sugar. Instagram is how I started out and I was always intimidated to expand into other platforms. But! I’ve overcome this and am on TikTok and Facebook now. Another big challenge is to be able to separate yourself from your brand. To sometimes realise that my brand is a part of me and not all of me is a little tough, but it’s so important for people to realise it.

Other than Brown Sugar, how do you spend your time?

I spend a lot of time playing ukulele. I used to perform quite a bit but now only take on very intimate gigs. My family is extremely musical so there isn’t a weekend where a karaoke session isn’t in place. My dad Damith is practically the king of karaoke amongst his friends and mine! I have a newfound love for food photography – dessert photography to be precise – and that was inspired by my sister Deshani, who is a photographer based in Melbourne going by the name “Wild Hardt”. She has really influenced my recent aesthetic and in fact got me my first camera, and thanks to the recent lockdown, I was able to put it to better use. 

I also spend a lot of time planning out new ventures. Pet the Pooch is one of the new ones that I will be starting soon that is dedicated to my love for creating treats for my puppy Luca. In addition to this, I have been baking bread and making my own pasta and noodles too; that may be a potential business for me as well. As of late, I’ve been marketing my Holiday Christmas Box, which not only consists of sweet treats, but also candles and foot soaks – all made by me. I’ve been experimenting and researching various aspects of candle making along with bath and body product development. I even make my own braided candle wicks and everything, just for this special Christmas Box.

Where would you see yourself and Brown Sugar in about five years’ time?

I see myself working hard, but that’s a given haha! I also hope to see myself somewhat established in the industry, with a lot of experience. I want to travel and that has always been something I’ve wanted to do, and so I’m hoping that I am able to support this financially.

I see Brown Sugar being an actual store within that time frame. I have visions of it turning into more than what it’s perceived to be. Something fun, quirky, and modern; a dessert shop by day and restaurant at night. I also see myself taking initiatives and expanding into other lines of business as well; pet treats and fashion.

PHOTOS Wild Hardt, Diarra Wickremasinghe