Food

Breads from the days of yore

American Express Bakery in Mumbai has been serving up a slew of fresh breads for over a century now

Breads from the days of yore

Seventy eight-year-old Ross Carvalho, seated at his table inside AEB House, a building with a wrought-iron facade in Byculla, Mumbai, is busy going through his papers. This septuagenarian may not be involved in the daily operations of the famed 108-year-old American Express Bakery, but still takes an active interest in its functioning.

American Express Bakery, as it is popularly known, has the main bakery and outlet in Byculla, and a store on Hill Road, Bandra. Every day, regulars throng both stores for fresh breads, cakes, biscuits and other bakery items.

Emil Carvalho and his younger brother Yvan, who took over the reins in the 1990s, when their father Ross took a back seat, have been successfully carrying forward the legacy started by their great grandfather Francesco Carvalho, a man who was passionate about food, in particular baking.

Culinary journey

From Grant Road in 1908 to Falkland Road for a brief period and then finally to its current location in Byculla in 1938, Francesco Carvalho shifted American Express Bakery as it grew bigger and required more space.

His sons, Joseph, Nolasco and Sebastian, stepped in to help, as the business grew from Byculla to outlets in Colaba, Cumbala Hill, Santacruz and Bandra. Till 1944, they also supplied cured meats, bread, and butter to the American ships docked at Bombay Docks and it was their speedy delivery that they were known for. Such was the quality of their bread that institutions such as the Bandra Gym and the Royal Bombay Yacht Club relied on them for their supplies.

Bertha Carvalho, Joseph’s wife, found herself handling the business all by herself from the mid-50s, when her husband and his two brothers expired within a short span of each other. A great cook herself, she looked into the recipes as well as the day-to-day operations. By then, only the Byculla, Cumbala Hill, Santacruz and Bandra outlets were remaining, as Colaba had been closed down during the War due to rationing. She successfully held on till her son Ross took over in 1966.

With the entire family being gourmands, product innovation is something they are all involved in, including Yohann and Erika, the other two siblings of Emil and Yvan, even though they are not actively a part of the business.

Moving ahead with the times is a mantra Emil has always followed. He, along with his brother, ensured that fresh cream and whole wheat replaced the earlier used ingredients in the mid-90s.

Time to reinvent

While from 1954 the bakery produced only breads, in the last few years, in keeping with the current market demands, they have introduced crostini, lavash, wine macarons, plum cakes, granola biscuits, multigrain breads and even desserts.

Always ahead of their times, they played around with sourdough bread and “offered it way back in the early 90s much before the trend caught on”.

The recipes followed are mostly handed down generations and are altered only if needed to enhance a product. “Dad is creative and still loves to experiment. The apple chutney with cream cheese sandwich is his suggestion. He has discerning taste buds which none of us can match,” reveals Emil with a smile.

Quality is something Ross has always been fastidious about and has inculcated in his two sons. “Our breads and bakery products do not use any additives, pre-mixes or preservatives and we always sell products that we personally enjoy eating at home,” quips Emil. He adds, “That perhaps is the key to our success, as our loyal customers vouch for our quality and spread the word.”

Breads from the days of yore

The homely but spacious bakery has wood fired ovens and diesel fired ovens standing cheek by jowl, which Ross had introduced in the late 1980s when the need for automation was felt.

People are their biggest asset and the Carvalhos welcome staff from all over India even with an unskilled background. “They should be willing to learn and can be trained on the job. Such is the work environment we provide that we have workers from UP who are with us since three generations,” declares Emil with pride.

By 2002, both Cumbala Hill and Santacruz stores were closed down, owing to lease issues. While Emil and Yvan have their roles clearly demarcated and today manage Byculla and Bandra only, they have the regular supply of bread and bakery items to several restaurants and institutions that keeps them busy.

New beginnings

Recognising the need for reinventing themselves, American Express Bakery redesigned their logo, created an interactive web page and altered the layout of the store in 2016.

“We too need to stay relevant for our customers,” admits Emil. He adds, “However, we still do not advertise and rely on word-of-mouth publicity only.”

Environment-conscious and responsible citizens, they gave up plastic and opted for brown paper bags some years ago at both their stores.

While his own son is still quite young, Emil is confident that his nieces and nephews, who are in their teens but already inclined towards the bakery as they spend time here during holidays, will take over the mantle in future.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 2:47:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/breads-from-the-days-of-yore/article19924582.ece

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