Appearing calm, smiling quietly, but speaking in shaking tones, 'Queen of Cakes' Maria Lee Tseng Chiu-kwan last night explained how she and co-founder Fung Lau Shun-kwun had struggled and used their own money to try to keep the chain afloat. In her first appearance since the cake empire collapsed this week, Mrs Lee said it was time for her to relax after straining to keep her 32-year business running. 'I am a very confident woman. I don't give up until the last minute, but I have to give up now,' she said. 'It's all right for me. I have always been a strong girl. I think it is the best way for me to relax a little bit, because I have been under pressure for so many years already. 'I am not a very sentimental girl. In 32 years of business, I started from nothing and now have come to nothing again. But in between I have done a lot, especially for charity,' she said. 'We have treated our staff very well and I think we've done our best for them. We gave 30 per cent of the $20 million profit as bonuses in the golden period of the company,' she said. 'In less profitable days, we still paid them two months' bonus.' While Mrs Lee spoke, Mrs Fung burst into tears by her side. The pair had done their best to save the company, Mrs Lee said, and the number of interested parties emerging this week gave her hope of salvaging the business. The two women had pumped nearly $90 million in cash and property into Maria's Bakery since the group ran into trouble in 1989, after ill-advised investments overseas and on the mainland. 'Since then we kept streamlining the company - cutting manpower and merging the two factories,' Mrs Lee said. 'We have strong ties to the company and we care for the staff; that's why we kept pumping money to it, hoping we could rescue it finally. 'But later the burden become increasingly heavy. Both of us are already old and we felt tired. So we decided to sell the company recently. Unfortunately, a deal almost done was smashed by the economic turmoil.' Staff numbers had been cut from 1,100 to 600 and the number of cake shops reduced from 60 to 20 since 1990.