There’s something magical about a bakery. The heavenly aromas of cooking oil, flour and spices that would soon turn into a fluffy concoction, thanks to magical yeast; and finally, a fresh batch of baked goods hot from the oven.
Times have changed; the city now offers more options in terms of bread than ever before - with malls stacking up Italian, French, German and other versions. Yet, for many Mumbaikars, it’s still the neighbourhood bakery they rush to for their daily bread, birthday and festive cakes.
Most began as small home establishments. Vienna Bakery, located off the Pipeline Road in Vakala, Santacruz (E), sold buns and breads when PK Appoo began business. After three generations, the bakery has evolved into a local hotspot of cakes, confectionary and other baked items. Likewise, Theobroma, the popular bakery and café run by Kainaz Messman started as a home confectionary shop, before it opened its first café in 2004.
Gaylord Bakeshop, a Churchgate landmark, opened its shutters in 1956, and was one of the first restaurants to establish itself as a bakeshop, and introduced the concept of show-baking back in 1992 by its owner Peshori Lal Lamba.
The concept was a huge success, since the customers could see and smell the heavenly aroma of fresh baked goods coming right out of the oven. The same show-baking concept, fuelled by the bakery’s vision of becoming a complete bakeshop, continues to be a major driving force in sales.
“Today, if a customer walks into our bakeshop, looking to purchase a sandwich loaf, nine out of 10 times he will impulsively pick up some croissants, puffs, doughnuts, muffins, etc. We take pride in being a complete bakeshop,” says Noel D’Souza, VP of Gaylord Bakeshop.
Messman, head chef at Theobroma, says that innovation and originality is one of the key elements of their business philosophy: “We do not retail for other manufacturers. Everything we sell, we manufacture ourselves (barring soft drinks and ice cream) in an attempt to maintain and control quality.” Theobroma, runs five cafes across Colaba, Bandra, Hiranandani-Powai, Peddar Road and Lokhandwala (Andheri).
The know-it-all customer
“Today, people are more aware of what they eat. They are well-travelled, are aware of what’s available globally, and expect the same here. So, to stay in business, we constantly add new items,” says Emil Carvalho of American Express Bakery. The bakery started by his grandfather, Joseph Carvalho in 1922-23, is one of the city’s oldest; They run two outlets, at Clare Road in Byculla, and at Bandra’s Hill Road.
Move with times
Carvalho maintains that plenty has changed since they started the bakery, but keeping up with this change around them hasn’t been easy. “Legislations have become stricter, processing standards have changed, and so has the quality standards. Besides, anything that requires dealing with government establishments is a major problem.
For example, in the UK, after food inspectors visit for inspection, one is given some time to introduce their recommendations; in India, there’s no such option. This apart, food costs have hit the roof. Yet, despite all these hurdles, one has to keep food items reasonably priced, which is difficult.” He wishes for more support towards small and medium-scale businesses in India.
Besides, with competition having increased, and a greater stress on quality, staying updated with new technologies is a necessity. D’Souza explains, “In the past, one could hire a baker who could multi-task, but today, we have personnel with special skills in baking, confectionery and desserts. We started with one mixer and an oven, of indigenous made, today we have a range of dough kneaders, planetary mixers, doughsheeters, ovens and display cabinets,” he says.
However, what has changed the most, and for the good, is the increased focus on staff training. “Newer trends pop up all the time, and keeping our ear to the ground, attending the top bakery trade fairs has helped us to be aware of innovation. This contributes immensely to the excitement in the industry,” says D’Souza. Messman says that he fears stagnation the most.
“The face of food is always changing and we have to have a finger on the pulse of the taste trends and demands of our increasingly discerning customers.” As head chef, he keeps track of developments abroad. “I go to France to train regularly, and recently, went to learn the products I already make; to perfect my techniques, besides we invest in processes and controls so that our operations run smoothly,” he adds.
While Theobroma relies on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with their patrons in the city and elsewhere, little seems to have changed at Vienna Bakery. “Since we began, it’s word of mouth. that’s worked. People in and around Vakola tell their friends and acquaintances,” shares Tara Raj, who runs the bakery along with her sisters and mother. “We cater mostly to Catholics, but lately, our egg-less cakes have been attracting vegetarian and non-Catholic customers too.”