If there is one patisserie in Mumbai where dessert lovers from all across the city converge for delicious pies, gooey brownies, rich cakes, and fluffy croissants, it’s the Parisian-styled Theobroma nestled in the leafy Colaba neighbourhood. A bite of its rich gooey brownie akin to a warm comforting embrace—soothing and satiating—at the same time is enough to lift your mood any day, anytime. From what first started as a small patisserie in Colaba to 50 outlets across the country in the last decade, Kainaz Messman’s love and passion to serve quality baked goodies, and her entrepreneurial spirit has seen Theobroma turn into a nationwide success with the brand completing 15 years, this year.
Fiery, fearless and fabulous, Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, co-founder of Theobroma, has penned a book, Baking A Dream, co-authored with her sister Tina Messman Wykes to mark the special anniversary. Not a recipe book, Messman’s debut book beautifully captures the journey of Theobroma, her memories, challenges, learnings and what it takes to build an iconic brand. When we met Messman to speak about the book and the joy of baking ‘food for gods, she welcomed us with a firm handshake and an indulgent spread of classic Theobroma goodies that never disappoint.
As we get busy filling our plates with sandwiches and truffles, she tells us how weary she is of people who don’t like to eat. “I’m not friends with anyone who’s on a diet,” she says. Acknowledging the current obsession with paleo, Whole 30, and gluten-free diets which has given desserts a healthy makeover- from black beans making their way in our brownies to dates substituting caramel- Messman is now worried that giving desserts a healthy spin is a far cry from ‘comfort food’ that they are supposed to be. Food, according to her, should scream comfort and offer an experience that’s nostalgic and familiar. This philosophy reflects in Theobroma’s offerings –treats that satisfy our daily cravings and offer comfort.
Keeping Up with The Messmans
A few pages into Baking A Dream, and you’ll soon think of yourself as an intruder into the daily gupshup of the Messman family. After meeting with her father, Farokh; mother, Kamal; and elder sister Tina, you also get acquainted with Messman’s extended family – best friend Dilshad, grandmother Bapaijee, grandfather Mamava, and many more as you progress. Messman comes from a generation of proud Parsis who embrace home-cooking and pride on ancestral recipes. The book reveals how family meals were a lesson in culinary appreciation and elementary learning. Witnessing her mother’s cook “the most delicious roast beef” to running her very own mini-chocolate factory, Messman was drawn to the culinary world from a young age. For her entrepreneurship skills, she credits her dad’s “can do” attitude and business-taking risks. While sister Tina may have been her “bane of existence,” she’s helped with “growing Theobroma and in sharing the load.” A homegrown family brand, Messman shares, “Everyone says that working with family is hard, and they are all absolutely right. It is incredibly hard,” yet she wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Secret Sauce
After a back injury pulled her out of training with The Oberoi Hotels, 24-year-old Messman betted on Theobroma, Greek for “Food of the gods”. With the idea of launching a dessert destination, the Messman family opened their first outlet in Colaba Causeway, with the kitchen running from grandmother’s flat. 15 years since, the Parsi family now dishes out sandwiches and savouries, runs 50 outlets and supports 300+ staff members. “We became a company that made the classics, and did it well, and most importantly, we evolved into a company that listens to our guests.”
As with any entrepreneur, Kainaz too has had her fair share of worries and struggles. In the chapter titled ‘Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?’, she leads us into some of the family’s dirty secrets – of employees stealing from the company and the time when Theobroma was caught in the midst of an income tax investigation.
Ask her what keeps her going, and she exclaims, “customers who have played angels and messengers when the going got really tough.” One trick that has cemented Theobroma’s place in the hearts across the country is the fact that the 15-year-old brand sources everything locally, makes everything from scratch and maintains the same consistency and authenticity when they first launched in 2004.