For Hyoju Park and Rong Yao Soh, there seems to be no challenge too big to conquer. The couple survived a long-distance stint in their relationship, moved their lives from the UK to Australia, and lived through Melbourne’s many Covid lockdowns while working in some of the city’s top restaurants. Now they’re co-owners of Madeleine de Proust, a quaint Lygon Street patisserie specialising in titular dainty French sponge cakes.

“It was tricky to convince Hyoju to start a new business,” Soh tells Broadsheet. “There are so many uncertainties that come with taking a risk and trying something new, but we got through it by supporting each other. We’ve learnt so many things together.”

The couple met at culinary school in London, bonding over a mutual love of fine dining and the shared, sometimes lonely, experience of being far away from home – South Korea for Park, Malaysia for Soh. During a busy couple of years studying and working in Michelin-starred restaurants, the pair found themselves spending more time with each other – first as friends, and then more.

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“He was always so headstrong, with a lot of big goals,” Park says, describing what first attracted her to Soh. “He’s a perfectionist and always wants to be better, which makes me want to be better. Underneath all of that, he’s got a really warm heart.”

Soh’s answer to the same question is simple. “She’s like sunshine to me,” he says. “She’s always so positive and tries really hard to make people feel relaxed and happy. And she makes really delicious desserts.”

Once the culinary course was done, Park and Soh were tasked with finding a place they could both move to when their time as students in London came to an end. After considering a number of cities across the globe, they landed on Melbourne.

“People in Melbourne really appreciate food,” Soh explains. “Given our background in fine food, we felt like the hospitality culture in Melbourne really suited us.”

Following a brief period working in Seoul’s two-Michelin-starred Mingles, Park landed a position at Melbourne icon Attica. A year later – all the while doing their relationship over long distance – Soh joined her, securing a job at Matilda in early 2020. “Then lockdowns started a week after I got my job, and I unfortunately lost it,” Soh says.

“I was busier than ever, though,” Park adds. “It was a really stressful time, and I don’t think I would have gotten through it without him. He would cook all my favourite comfort foods and give me hand massages at the end of the day.”

The idea to open Madeleine de Proust started as one of those lofty goals of Soh’s – the kind that attracted Park to him in the first place. While the pair both enjoyed their culinary work, Soh found himself wondering how sustainable their careers were, and how much opportunity it offered them to progress.

“We knew we always wanted to do something with pastry, but we didn’t want it to be just another pastry shop,” Park says. “Madeleines were the first thing I ever baked, so they’re incredibly nostalgic for me.”

After countless hours – and dollars – spent poring over branding, recipe testing, building an online presence and finding stockists in the initial stages of their business, the pair found a charming spot on Lygon Street and launched a bricks-and-mortar bakery late last year.

“The shop has been designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia, but also be quite futuristic,” Soh explains. “The same way that the flavours are all very familiar and important to us, but have been manifested in the madeleines using modern techniques.”

As for how the couple spends their time when they’re not at the shop? Apart from indulging in the cooking and baking of others by visiting Melbourne’s best restaurants and dessert shops, spending time outside and in nature has proven to be a welcome relief to the often-stressful experience of running a small business.

“We like to go to the beach together, and go for scooter rides,” Park says. “I like gardening and flower arranging, and I occasionally do painting and pottery. Sometimes when you do too much cooking you get tired of it and don’t enjoy it as much, so we’re always trying to clear our minds and make sure work stays fun.”

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.

Read more in our Creative Couples series.