Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, the co-founder of Theobroma India, spends 95% of her time obsessing about taste in her 25,000 sq. ft kitchen in Mumbai. She is conspicuously absent from social media and public appearances that provide opportunities to establish an exalted “celebrity chef” status. A rarity in 2020, when some of the most popular chefs and bakers have leveraged Instagram to dole out food advice and post selfies with celebrities.
Harchandrai, however, spends time with her toddler when she is not turning flour, butter, chocolate and sugar into the mythical Theobroma brownies. “A job I will happily do for as long as I can,” she says in an interview with Lounge.
Theobroma completes 15 years this year and to mark the anniversary, Harchandrai has penned a book, Baking A Dream, with her sister, Tina Messman Wykes.
It is not a recipe book, as you might expect. Instead, she writes the story of Theobroma by diving into food memories, churning out lessons from her mentors in culinary college and acknowledging her mistakes. The chapter titled We Are Sorry details incidents of poor service. The book is sprinkled generously with anecdotes about the team, raising funds and facing financial challenges, from money pilfering by staff and customers to demonetization. There are unforeseen and somewhat bizarre expenses too, such as paying a local goon to run a kitchen.
Harchandrai confesses openly that she is not a numbers person. But she demonstrates practical understanding of running a large-scale business and finding the right private equity (PE) partner to ride the tide.
“For the outside world it may feel like with PE money, a business can just build shop after shop, but that’s not what growing a company is about,” she points out. “Quality is paramount” is a phrase that appears frequently in the book and even though the writers admit to their “spectacular failures”, Harchandrai and her family abide by this as a business philosophy.
A chapter on how they chanced upon the mint-green Paris-meet-Colaba design aesthetic is an intriguing read. There are legal counsellors, inventory sources and detailed accounts of bringing on board a chief operating officer. While some have become the pillars of Theobroma, others are the essential cogs in the wheel—the authors tie up everything with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Theobroma started with a capital investment of about ₹1.2 crore for a cosy café in Mumbai in 2004, self-funded by the Messman family of four—the two daughters and parents. “Currently, we clock in ₹120 crore of revenue from 50 stores in Mumbai, Pune and the National Capital Region. In the next four years, we plan to grow our revenue to ₹500 crore from 150 stores and expand to Hyderabad and Bengaluru,” says Rishi Gour, CEO, Theobroma India.
And yet Harchandrai repeatedly says in the book and interview—“We are a small business.” True to her unpretentious nature and love for baking, she wears almost no make-up and a shiny whisk pendant dangles from her neck. She is vocal about her distaste for compound chocolate. So, what is real chocolate? It tastes like chocolate and not like plastic. There’s cocoa butter, not trans fat, and a good amount of cocoa solids. meticulous techniques such as tempering and conching are used to make them.
“Leave a small piece of this wonderful chocolate on your tongue, allow it to slowly melt to your body temperature and let the taste linger,” she says.