The secret sauce to the success of Theobroma – Interview with Kainaz Messman 


The year is 2003, Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, was living her dream life working for a top hospitality brand in the country as their pastry chef. She was extremely happy with her job, working out of different cities every six months, exploring culinary heritage – a lot was going right for the 24-year-old Kainaz.  

But just then, she hurt her back with a bulging disc, and the doctors told her she couldn’t be a chef anymore and that she would have to consider alternate career options. 

What seemed like a setback back then turned out to be a turning point in her life. A year later while she was recuperating, her family floated the idea of starting something of her own. In October 2004, Theobroma started as a small neighborhood cafe on Colaba Causeway, Mumbai.  

Today, almost two decades later, Kainaz, runs a countrywide chain of patisseries, known as Theobroma, with 85+ outlets spread across top metro cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, NCR, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Pune. 

You would be amazed to know that Theobroma did revenue of INR 121 crore in FY21 when the country was hit by the pandemic. And, it intends to double it in 2022. 

What was this journey like – you might wonder? 

Hit the play button to learn about Kainaz’s journey as an entrepreneur and more. 

In Conversation with Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, co-founder of Theobroma. 

This episode on F&B talks with Kainaz Messman Harchandrai about her and the story of Theobroma, challenges – personal and professional, starting a bakery business in India, maintaining consistent product quality, designing the packaging, and a lot more. 

Understanding the market and defining the concept

While defining your product it is crucial to understand the existing market needs. What may work in a metropolitan, could fall flat in a tier-two city.          

According to Kainaz, one of their keys to success is defining a unique concept and product. Theobroma started in the times when an authentic baking experience meant you would have to visit a five-star hotel. Only a privileged few could afford it, and that too occasionally. The family saw this gap and thought of bringing the erstwhile privilege to the high street and making it affordable. 

“The idea was to start a small neighborhood…that could be accessible to more people, and more people could enjoy it”, says Kainaz. A clear understanding of the market needs and solving them with the right product helps fuel the early traction. Theobroma nailed it and how.  

Early challenges of being a food entrepreneur

“Every stage of our journey has been difficult. Our problems merely changed as we moved through each phase of our business”, shares Kainaz. Being a business owner brings with it a lot of responsibilities and accountability. You are responsible for the success of your business and the people that support you on this journey. And when you are a young entrepreneur, it could be overwhelming because everything is resting on your shoulders. 

You need to learn how to be a good leader to the people you work with and treat and train them. There are also lessons to learn on how to hire better and maintain a work-life balance. Kainaz developed a positive outlook toward these challenges and instead sees them as an opportunity to learn and grow. 

“When we started, we knew how to make cakes but were unprepared for the retail business. I had to learn quickly and on the job. Early on, I learned that the buck stops at me; and whatever the problem, it was my responsibility to set things right.”, she says. 

And it shows. Over the years, Theobroma has built a great team of professionals that helps them grow and do better every day. In her recently published book – Baking a dream, Kainaz reveals all this more through the stories, anecdotes, and characters behind creating what Theobroma is today.

How to keep customers coming back

Cooking has a basic rule – keep things simple and Kainaz plays by it. “We make simple things and we make them well,” she says. It’s been almost two decades since Theobroma has been in the food industry and they have created strong patronage. One reason is their attention towards customer retention using their menu. The Theobroma menu includes items that are simple, yet made with craft and love. The focus on using high-quality ingredients is another reason they have been able to curate ‘food of gods’, quite literally.

The brand also keeps launching gifting ranges specially curated for the festive season. The strategy has worked well for them to keep the customers engaged with something new regularly. There are so many festivals in the country, and the brand loves to express the joy they create through food.

The role of packaging their success

Kainaz confesses that she didn’t know much about the role of packaging during the initial years of Theobroma. However, over the last 15 years of being in the business, food packaging has become a significant part of their product. Their packaging has helped them establish a unique identity. Ad-world veteran and a good friend, Elsie Nanji, led Theobroma to the creation of this identity.

Today, their products are often used as gifts. So, a lot of effort and resources are spent to ensure they get the imagery right. Be it their food packaging and interior spaces, you can see the same imagery of a comforting fantasy world of pastries and cakes, with gingham doilies, floral prints, and beautiful artwork. 

Achieving the great product quality and taste at scale

“A consistent product quality, trying to achieve it, and improve it has been our strength and purpose in life,” says Kainaz. She goes by the rule to keep things simple and set the priorities straight. Whenever Theobroma launches in a new city, the priority is to set up a central kitchen facility. Thereafter, comes the location of the outlet and other things.

Having a central kitchen allows them to manufacture the product at a single facility and then distribute it to multiple locations within the city. It makes it easier for them to maintain quality standards and consistent taste. Besides, everyone in the company gives high weightage to quality and taste – right from the CEO to the chefs in the kitchen. 

It required decades of hard work and staying focused to achieve this success for Theobroma and her. Kainaz. Theobroma was started with the ambition of baking good cakes and spreading happiness through food. Despite the growth and success, the same value still drives the company. 

As for advice to the aspiring bakers and food entrepreneurs she says, “Be prepared to work very hard.” What may seem like an overnight success, has decades or years of effort, craft, and research behind it. It is important to put in all the required effort while enjoying what you do. 

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Prachi is the Marketing Manager at Restroworks. In her current capacity, she establishes connections with key stakeholders in the F&B industry and serves as the host of The Restaurant Times talk show, "F&B Talks," tailored for the restaurant sector. With hands-on experience in international sales and marketing, Prachi has led initiatives in the LATAM and USA regions, contributing to the platform's global outreach.


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