I am a waitress… a cleaner… whatever my business needs me to be’
As patisserie Theobroma opens its second outlet we talk to owner Kainaz Messman about the toils and joys (not to mention kilos of cocoa) involved in satisfying Mumbai’s sweet tooth
When George Bernard Shaw said "there is no love sincerer than the love of food," he could well have been quoting Kainaz Messman. The 30-year-old owner of Mumbai’s most treasured family-run patisserie, Theobroma, opened a second outlet off Linking Road in Bandra in March.
The new outlet is just off Linking Road in Bandra.
With a little whisk hanging from her neck she chatters about cheesecakes and chocolate pots, lemon tarts and meringues and it is evident that the latest addition to the Theobroma family is a true labor of love.
The test of time
The original Theobroma on Colaba Causeway is now five years old and has become a favorite with travelers. The patisserie may have an international clientele, but it never forgets its local patrons — Theobroma’s chip batti sandwich with French fries, melted cheese and anything else you like, is testimony to Mumbai’s high carb, high energy preference. Apart from the variety behind the glass counter, it is Theobroma’s earnest desire to draw the average passerby that has ensured it stands the test of time.
But does the average citizen differ in his tastes from north to south?
Messman says that Mumbai boasts a very sweet tooth, its favorite flavors being chocolate and vanilla. These tastes are the essence of many a Mumbai childhood, and make for nostalgic products.
Around 80-100 kg of brownies are sold each day in each outlet, suggesting the so-called North-South divide is not as large as is often assumed, at least when it comes to brownies. However, hip and happening Khar’s epicures are still few and far between. Whilst blueberry cheesecakes and chocolate desserts are a hit here, the hunger for more subtle flavors seems to lie in the south with the city’s old money.
Healthy in suburbia
When it comes to health, however, the Mumbai suburb is clearly ahead. With its fraternity of actors and models, Khar has metamorphosed into a haven for the glamorous. In turn, eateries like Theobroma have had to modify their menu to please the health-conscious. With salads and wholewheat products being more popular here, Theobroma in Khar has had to add a new range of healthy snacks and light appetisers to its list of options.
Who is their most famous Bollywood client then? "We can’t tell you," say Messman and her mother Kamal, "but there are many and they keep coming back!"
Over the past few years, the family has fed everyone from the zany to the refined, and from the rich to the poor. A sadhu with an orange robe, a beard, and a healthy stench walked in half-naked with a body covered in paint. A cyclist who peddled all the way from Canada to India visited at eight every morning for a daily dose of three desserts. The stories are many, and the memories special.
In a city where even the fittest have to fight to survive, it’s not difficult to imagine that Theobroma’s heart is its sweetest asset; that special emotional ingredient that makes it one of Mumbai’s best-loved dessert spots.
Love and passion
"Lots of love," the older Messman says. "When we started out we never did so with the aim of making lots of money. Kainaz and I both loved baking so we did it for the love of the profession." Adds Kainaz, "Along the way we’ve met people from all over the globe. It’s a passion that drives us. We put everything into Theobroma and it shows, I think."
After receiving the Entrepreneur of the Year award by the Indian Federation of Culinary Associates this year, the following month Kainaz Messman spoke at the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce: "Our success formula is simple, yet it is a difficult balance to get right. We offer a good product at an honest price and have a genuine desire to please. We don’t always get it right but we cannot be accused of not trying. We work endlessly to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers. We judge our own success by the positive comments that come our way and feel genuinely hurt, tired and miserable when the feedback is negative. We serve smiles on a plate and that does make our job a whole lot easier but make no mistake, we work very very very hard for those smiles.
The new branch’s selection of bread, cookies and muffins in the back corner.
"My father funded my business, he paid for every baking tray, every floor tile and every one of the plates, cups and glasses my staff have broken in these five years. He did not want the money back but it was not a free ride either. We did undertake to repay the amount invested, paying the money from profits generated towards charitable causes. There was no loan to repay if there was no profit but the success of the store has meant that we have been able to make a contribution, changing and making a few lives along the way. Parsee corporations and luminaries have been the bastions of charitable causes and have led the way in giving back to society way before corporate social responsibility became fashionable buzz words.
"I have been blessed and I am grateful. At aged 60 and 65 my parents work 12 hours a day, sometimes longer, making sure that a family face greets our customers. When I was asked to make this speech, I picked up the phone and asked my sister for help. When I woke up the following morning a first draft of this speech was already there in my inbox. Everyone thanks their family for their success but here it is genuinely deserved. As for me, I have a job with no job description. I have a job and that is to get the job done. I call myself a chef but in reality I am a waitress, I am a cleaner, I am whatever my business needs me to be."
29/30 Link Square Mall, Linking Road, Bandra West (Near KFC); tel. +91 (0) 22 26469010, 26469040; Mon-Sun 11am-11pm.
Also at Shop 24, Cusrow Baug, Colaba Causeway; tel. +91 (0) 22 65292929, 65295629; Mon-Sun 8:30am-12am.