Theobroma owner, Kainaz Messman Harchandrai started Mumbai’s most beloved bakery after braving a crippling back injury. Today, the brand has around 85 outlets across the country.
Although her family owned a catering business, Kainaz Messman Harchandrai did not realise her culinary dreams until her trip to France, the world’s centre of pâtissier. Initially, she wanted to be a lawyer. But after her trip to France, there was no stopping her.
She joined the Oberoi School of Hotel Management and became a chef. “I didn’t even think about how there were very few women in the field, and I’d be an oddball,” she says. “I didn’t take care of my back as a chef. Finally, my back gave way, and I had a bulging disc in 2003. The doctors told me I couldn’t be a chef anymore, and I’d have to find an alternate career,” shares Kainaz. This was devastating for Kainaz.
But she gave herself total rest and with her doctor’s advice, she started swimming to get better. Her family advised her to start a small neighbourhood bakery. And this is how with her family’s support Kainaz started her bakery Theobroma. Their first outlet was at Colaba, Mumbai. The seed money to the tune of Rs 1.5 crore came from her father, and with that, they bought the property and baking equipment.
“We wanted to bring items available in 5-star hotels like croissants and Christmas cakes to the streets,” she says. This bakery with a French twist was started at a time when cake meant only ‘black-forest’ for the average Indian. It was Kainaz’s sister, Tina that suggested the name Theobroma which is the scientific name of the cocoa tree. “But everyone we spoke to had very strong opinions — ‘What name is this? No one will remember it’,” she laughs, adding, “Years later, we still get called ‘De Obama’ and ‘Theo Brahma’, after the Indian deity.”
“The goods were baked in my grandmother’s kitchen across the street. We couldn’t air-condition the place as we were trying to save money. The only place we could afford to air-condition was the corridor. That became my ‘chocolate room’, where all the pastry and chocolates were made. The rest of the house was used for storage, and we used the hall for baking,” she recalls.
According to Kainaz, she was the biggest obstacle to her business. She was happy with the neighbourhood bakery and did not think of expanding. But later, they hired Cyrus Shroff as CEO in 2013, who helped standardise production and grow the business. “This helped us grow outside Mumbai. Our first operation outside Maharashtra was in Delhi in 2017,” says Kainaz. Following Cyrus, the brand’s current CEO Rishi Gour joined in February 2020. Rishi has helped grow the business from 45 outlets to 85 in less than two years.
Speaking of challenges, she adds, “A lot of women face scepticism from colleagues and attempts to physically violate them or not take them seriously. So you have to prove yourself at every step. I became the boss at a very young age at 24, and I had a lot of growing up to do.”
“Globally, in the F&B industry, there are very few women in leadership positions. That has always been an issue. That’s why we, at Theobroma, will always endeavour to create a safe working space for women. Women need to feel safe and comfortable in the workplace,” she says.
“I just want to create an environment where there’s no distinction between the work of men and women. Women should have an equal opportunity to climb the corporate ladder and maximise their potential,” she asserts.
For the financial year 2021-22, Theobroma is looking to make Rs 230 crore, and their profitability is in double digits, Kainaz claims.
Kainaz’s mother Kamal was among the first few who invented eggless brownies. Even after 17 years of its starting, Theobroma still uses a version of Kamal’s recipe. “We used my mother’s recipe for eggless brownies until about two years ago. While the basic ingredients remain the same, but my mother’s recipe was a bit too sweet for the modern palate. However, the soul of our brownies is still from my mother’s kitchen,” Kainaz says.
Credits: The Better India