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How the Bengaluru Iyengar bakeries are fighting boulangeries for a slice of the pie

The traditional bakeries are changing with the times.   | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

The heady aroma of dilpasand announces the presence of the bakery well before I actually see it. Sri Surya Bakery, near the now-shuttered Kapali theatre in Bengaluru’s Majestic area, is plain and simple, save for some mirrors on the wall.

It serves the perennially popular bisi breadu (freshly baked hot bread), buns, and other carb-laden delicacies: flaky vegetable puff, crispy rusk, crumbly spicy nippattu (fried gram flour), sticky sweet honey cake oozing with jam, tea buns stuffed with aloo palya (potato curry). And of course the iconic dilpasand, a puff filled with sweetened coconut and tutti frutti.

An octogenarian with a ‘namam’ on his forehead walks in to buy bread. “I have been buying bread for breakfast from here for years,” he smiles. A migrant worker and shop staff communicate in broken Hindi and a packet of benne (butter) biscuits is sold.

Manning the cash counter this Sunday evening is 28-year-old Aditya, an accountant at Ernst & Young. He is the fourth generation in his family to work at an ‘Iyengar bakery’. His great-grandfather H.S. Thirumalachar is said to have started Bengaluru’s very first Iyengar bakery, B. B. Bakery in 1898.

All about business

Following this, a spate of Iyengar bakeries cropped up in the city and across Karnataka. Many of these bakeries were run by ‘Ashtagrama’ Iyengars, small-time entrepreneurs who came from a cluster of eight villages in Hassan district. The Ashtagrama Iyengars soon earned the moniker ‘Bread Iyengars’.

Aditya and his cousins are learning all about the business from the older generation. But “the golden period for Iyengar bakeries was till 2005,” he says. That year was when fancy boulangeries entered the scene, and tastes changed and business waned. Aditya has suggested using mobile vans to carry their products across the city. But his uncles need a nudge to look at other business models, he laughs.

And indeed, Iyengar bakeries across the city are responding to changing tastes, rejigging menus, logging on to social media and looking at new ways to reach their customers.

B.B. Bakery, which has now shifted from Chickpet to Kengeri in the city’s suburbs where rents are lower, quite recently got a logo and even its own Facebook page.

And persuaded by his three daughters, owner H.T. Srinivas, 59, has introduced egg puffs on the menu.

“I had to repeatedly tell my father that it is okay to sell egg puffs as that is what customers want,” says Pavithra Vijay, Srinivas’ second daughter, who appears keen to take the business forward despite her father’s reluctance to have a woman enter a male-dominated field.

“We have regular discussions and arguments but I feel he is slowly warming up to the idea of me taking over,” she laughs. Pavithra wants to tie up with food ordering and delivery services like Swiggy, she tells me.

At the other end of the city, at Austin Town, I meet Lakshmeesha Iyengar, 32, whose father runs the Iyengar’s Bakery here. Lakshmeesha and his brother started an e-commerce website in 2013 listing some 150 products.

Lakshmeesha refuses to divulge the number of orders the website generates but admits their marketing strategy is not what they originally wanted it to be. “An average of five to 10 enquiries come a day, which may or may not translate into orders,” he says. But the enquiries translate into visits to the bakery. Christmas and festivals don’t mean new fare but more quantities of the ‘regular’ products. “The fancy stuff we leave to others who do it better,” he says.

Some things have stayed the same while others have changed: Koushik who co-owns Sri Surya Bakery recalls the days when customers would come in the afternoon for hot bread straight from the oven. Today, he says, all they ask is: “Is it fresh?” His father would serve bread with chutney; “Today they eat it with jam. It is important to know which way the wind blows,” Koushik says. “Otherwise we can’t survive.”

The freelance writer believes that everything has a story waiting to be told.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 11:47:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/how-the-100-year-old-iyengar-bakeries-of-bengaluru-are-fighting-fancy-boulangeries-for-a-slice-of-the-pie/article22382896.ece

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