Haute cuisine, like high speed internet, was not accessible to all until recently. With the advent of media, however, the craze to make and taste fancy food has spread rather fast. From holes in the wall to your neighbourhood baker, everyone is now experimenting with gourmet and luxury cuisine. Sensing a strong demand for quality baking equipment from both individuals and businesses, 26-year-old Vrinda Jatia took the entrepreneurial leap and launched Cakesmiths in 2014.
As a child, Singapore-born Vrinda had spent much of her time baking with her mother, but never in her wildest dreams did she think she was going to be a food entrepreneur. After completing her degree in business management from Babson College in Greater Boston, she began her career on a completely different path, looking to gain experience in the various businesses run by her family. She started her career with Pudumjee Hygiene, a tissue company, on Company Valuation and Restructuring where she solely headed and managed a project. She then moved to Thacker and Company Ltd., where she assisted on various business development processes.
Vrinda has always been a food enthusiast, and a sweet tooth coupled with her interest in baking prompted her to enrol in several recreational programmes while at Babson. When she got back to Mumbai and started working, Vrinda found it difficult to procure the products she had become used to working with. Delving deeper, she found India’s baking industry to be completely unorganised. Another thing she found was a massive opportunity.
“It was an aha! moment and I decided to start up just then. I wanted to convert a mere interest into a passion-driven outlet.”
Cakesmiths is a bootstrapped e-commerce enterprise that sources, stocks, and sells high-quality baking supplies from merchants and manufacturers across the globe to baking enthusiasts in India. Though a one-stop shop for the best in baking supplies, it is not simply a purveyor of baking goods, stress Vrinda and her team.
“We are concerned with the content of baking, sensitising the enthusiastic, small-scale professional and even amateur Indian baker, to the artfulness of the craft. Baking is an art — right from inspiration and idea generation to picking the right ingredients and flavours, to preparation and technique, to final presentation. At Cakesmiths, we want to accompany our chefs every step of the way.”
Despite coming from a business family and receiving the best education, nothing prepares one for the practical challenges of starting your own novel business venture.
Cakesmiths faced major importing challenges at the start. As the company was dealing in products that were new to the government, obtaining permissions was extremely difficult. The 'imported' food colourings and other supplies were available in the Indian market on a cash purchase at the time so that made the company encounter a few major challenges:
Some products the company was bringing to the Indian market were already available, although hard to find. Complying with FSSAI regulations would only cause the prices of Cakesmith’s products to escalate. Even if they did manage to fix the pricing gap, the government regulations for imported food were not conducive and hence it was hard to crack.
At some point it actually turned out to be good business sense to leave our products at the dock rather than bring them into the country,
But the team of 11 persevered and within two years of being in the business, the company has been able to crack the ingredient supply issue and will be launching the solution very soon.
In addition to stocking products for the e-commerce store, the brand also acts as a retailer for other brands. The company also recently launched ‘Wisk’, a pastry school where students can enrol for programmes and join courses of their choosing.
Upon interaction with customers it dawned on us that there was a huge opportunity for education as they were extremely eager to purchase these products but they were also both bewildered and curious about some of the equipment.
But how is Wisk different from any other hospitality institute?
“At Wisk, we cater to an audience that wants to learn the art of bakery/pastry unlike students in a hospitality institute where interests are varied among various subjects. When we ideated for Wisk, we could have taken the easier route and decided to open up a full-time school with courses like those that the hospitality schools institutes provide or we could have been completely recreational like other studios for short recreational classes but we decided on semi-professional for the Indian market so most passionate bakers and entrepreneurs could use the flexibility, curriculum, and the price point to their advantage.”
Even with Wisk, Vrinda did face some initial challenges. The team custom built everything as they needed the place to look seamless and not intimidate people with a plethora of professional appliances. Another challenge was making customers understand that they sold education and not edible cakes.
The business of baking
Getting to operate in a niche market was one of the foremost reasons that led Vrinda to starting up in the haute cuisine space. As one of the older players in the space, Vrinda and her team are trying to be at the forefront of things and trying to build something of an international standard. As an industry veteran, she also has a few interesting observations about the industry as a whole.
“Since the last two years there has been a positive change in the kind of products being churned out. This will only get better as we are growing at a rapid rate. However, the industry will also stagnate after a point as majority of the vendors lack the ability to innovate and buyers are always looking to see something new.”
Vrinda is currently looking to expand Cakesmiths and Wisk to other cities in India and create awareness around the haute cuisine space. As she goes about doing that, she still approaches business with the same childlike excitement which made her start up in the first place.
“I have always been inclined to. I remember setting up a small business in Singapore as a first grader in school to sell flowers to my peers for a dollar each. And since then, I have always been passionate about whatever I have done. Even today, my team and I follow one business mantra: If we do something we do it well or we don't do it at all.”