Who exactly was Hearsch?

Oct 16, 2011, 10:28 IST | Sanjiv Nair

The J Hearsch Bakery that flanks Holy Family Hospital is a Bandra landmark that even townies are known to make the pilgrimage to for a hearty meal of burgers, puffs and freshly-stirred lemonade. What no one knows is that this bakery wouldn't have been around had Britain not declared war on Germany in 1914, and had a gentleman named Hearsch had not met a Colaba lady

Melvin D'Sa is a man of few words. D'Sa is a bread man, and if you would like to meet him -- and meet him you must -- he can be found on the other side of the well-stocked counter of J Hearsch & Co. bakery. Prod him a bit, and the 60 year-old will tell you the tale of how his father, a passionate baker himself, took over the operations of the bakery in the 1960s with the blessings of the Fernandes family, who remain the lessee-cum-proprietors of Hearsch.

Melvin D'Sa serves customers thronging J Hearsch & Co, a tiny bakery
located on Bandra's busy
Hill Road. pics/ Nimesh Dave

What he will not tell you is the story behind the name of this tiny bakery tucked away in a cul-de-sac on Hill Road. Who, after all, was J Hearsch? Hearsch bakery is a remnant of a time when Bandra's hub of street couture, Hill Road, was renowned merely for its hospitals. Nearly a hundred years ago, a young and enterprising Goan girl ventured onto the very same street. Having just pulled the curtains down on her most recent venture -- Connaught Bakery on Colaba Causeway -- Sophia Liberata Fernandes was disillusioned about the future. It was here that she first heard of a German baker, who wished to lease out his bakery. Rather urgently as well, from the sound of things.

The rocky patch outside Hearsch may not technically belong to the bakery,
 but is used freely by the bakery's loyal patrons, and the neighbourhood's

A World War, and serendipity
In the wake of the First World War, relations between Germany and Britain had witnessed a significant decay. Britain's colonies, including India, were no longer safe for Germans. It was in the 1920s, under such trying circumstances that a bread man, J Hearsch, reluctantly decided to give up his labour of love, a small bakery, and head for the safer shores of Germany.  Quite by chance, he met Sophia, who was keen to start a bakery in Bandra, after shutting down her shop in Colaba. Hearsch entrusted the passionate Sophia with his life's work, and fled to Germany, and obscurity. 

Act II: Present day
Hearsch bakery is located on the busy Hill Road, and knowledge of its closest landmark, Mocha Mojo, won't do you much good. However, ask the most lethargic local for directions and he will guide you with alacrity, and some pride even. Located within the idyllic premise of a forbiddingly-gated British era bungalow, the bakery is a hidden gem of sorts. Top a juicy burger (Rs 50) off with some velvety mousse (Rs 30) and wash it down with lemonade (made fresh, on the spot and for Rs 20 only), and you are still light by only a hundred rupees.

By 7 am, the bakery is abuzz with cooks and bakers working on preparations that have made Hearsch famous. A good mixture of youngsters and veterans work round the clock in the kitchen, kneading, baking, frying and decorating all that food which graces the counters of the store. The puffs and sandwiches are the fastest moving items, with about a hundred of each prepared in a single batch.

The special mayonnaise, Hearsch's best-kept secret, is the trickiest concoction. Vary but a little from the original recipe, and the D'Sa brothers -- Melvin and Steven, who mind the counter at different times of the day -- have to suffer much criticism from patrons.

And yet, the prices are the least of Hearsch's links to a time long forgotten. The idyllic positioning of the bakery makes it a perfect romancing spot. Construction rocks next to the bakery are inadvertently positioned underneath an ageing tree and are enclosed by furry emerald patches of grass. While the area does not technically fall under the property of the bakery, D'Sa admits to witnessing a wealth of romances blossom here over the years.

Most patrons sit on the well-laid out stones that also serve as table tops for their glasses of shake. The neighbourhood cats keep a keen eye on their paper plates too, but being well-mannered, they wait patiently for patrons to throw them in the waste bins. They then proceed to rummage the bins, fighting only with the crows, who tend to get there first.  

This suburban bakery, barely a stone's throw from actor Salman Khan's house, is visited by celebrities too. But ask D'Sa about them, and he's oblivious. "I wouldn't recognise most of them even if they drop by," he says. But it's the regulars he knows well -- the middle class populace of Bandra and its neighbouring localities. "It is their patronage that keeps us alive," he says.

Hearsch may be a local fixture that attracts tourists from town and far-flung suburbs, but it isn't immune to soaring real estate rates. D'Sa speaks of trying times ahead. Keeping prices as low as they are would be impossible given the current inflation, he rues.

He envisions a future in which Hearsch can become a "complete bakery", almost like a European bistro. The legacy of the man who started it all however, will remain. A stipulation in the ownership contract deems it mandatory that no matter how the bakery evolves, the name will not change.

Other favourites
While the burger, mousse and lemonade are perennial favourites at J Hearsch & Co. you should also try:
Chicken sandwich:  Rs 40
Chicken croissant: Rs 40
Chicken lollypop:  Rs 15
Loaf of Garlic Bread: Rs 25
Chocolate brownies: Rs 30
Jelly Custard: Rs 30

90/A Hill Road, Bandra (W).
Call: 26435361

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