When Kainaz Messman opened a small bakery and patisserie in Mumbai called Theobroma (literally meaning “food of the gods” and referring to the cocoa bean), she unwittingly created a Mecca of sorts in the world of patisserie pilgrimage. The decadent brownies and desserts became sought after gifts and or favours from anyone who was returning from Mumbai. Now with the announcement of the brand’s first venture outside the city, an outlet in Noida and another in Gurgaon, we speak to Messman about her journey. Excerpts:
What led you to start a patisserie?
My family is obsessed with food. Our lives revolve around what we make and what we eat. I grew up in a sweet smelling house. My mum supplied cakes and desserts from home. Theobroma is still an extension of that. I was 16 when I went to France as a Rotary Youth exchange student and fell in love with simple, classic, unpretentious patisserie. Upon my return, I proceeded to study French literature but already knew I was going to become a chef. I went to IHM Mumbai and then to OCLD (Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development) Delhi. I became a pastry chef at the Oberoi Udailvilas until a back injury abruptly ended my career there. Out of job, I was soon dreaming about our own cake shop. We opened our doors in October 2004.
Were you expecting the overwhelming response the first patisserie received?
When we started, we did not know what to expect. We didn’t know if we would recover the costs of starting our business or fill the four small tables we had ordered. We were making the things we liked to eat and hoped to do well. I knew how to bake but not much else. I was unprepared for the retail market and the demands and challenges that lay ahead. We couldn’t have predicted or dared to hope for the success that Theobroma would become.
What led to the expansion in NCR (National Capital Region) now?
We are a small family business. We take our time and we move in baby steps. We have been growing within Mumbai and were only concentrated on this market. We come with a good product and a genuine desire to serve. We have been couriering our products all over India for a few years. Delhi has, by far, been our biggest market. So it became the natural place for us to open first as we expanded out of Mumbai.
Since you started Theobroma, have you seen any major shifts in consumer tastes?
Mumbai has gastronomically evolved over a decade. The customer today is far more knowledgeable, better travelled, has a more developed palette and is willing to experiment with new products and flavours.
How do you deal with Theobroma imitations in the market?
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We take it in our stride. What we cannot control, we try not to worry about. Our name, our products, colours, our packaging have all been copied to some degree. Often, our staff is poached. However, there is no sustainability in this kind of effort. We concentrate on our offering and it encourages us to keep innovating and improving.