French Loaf, Wangs Kitchen in Chennai get a reboot

More than 140 French Loaf and Wangs Kitchen restaurants change hands

Updated - November 06, 2019 03:31 pm IST

Published - November 02, 2019 05:35 pm IST

Chennai, 01/11/2019: Sandesh Reddy, who has taken over French Loaf, during an interview with The Hindu, in Chennai on Friday. Photo : R. Ravindran/The Hindu.

Chennai, 01/11/2019: Sandesh Reddy, who has taken over French Loaf, during an interview with The Hindu, in Chennai on Friday. Photo : R. Ravindran/The Hindu.

It was an age before India baked babka , baguettes and brioche. Serial restaurateur M Mahadevan was already well known for Hot Breads, which introduced the country to the pleasures of warm rolls and coffee in 1989. In 2008, he opened another bakery, with a very different personality: elegant, relaxed and French. For many, this was their first taste of a buttery croissant, still steamy from the oven.

This is why French Loaf is special, even though the country is now spoilt for choice when it comes to European breads and speciality coffee. And this is why the first French Loaf reopening in Alwarpet, with an all new look and menu under food entrepreneur Sandesh Reddy, is significant.

With more than three decades in the hospitality business, Mahadevan is the force behind a slew of iconic brands, including Sera The Tapas Bar, Benjarong, Teppan, Ente Keralam, Writer’s Cafe, China Town and The Marina.

These were run under Oriental Cuisines, from 1994, in partnership with private equity firm Peepul Capital. Last year, the restaurateur sold his stake to Peepul Capital and started Cool Cream Milano Private Limited (CCMPL), which he now wholly owns and runs with his 23-year-old son, Tarun Mahadevan. Tarun, who heads the Indian arm of operations, explains, “CCMPL owns all the fine dining brands, while French Loaf and Wangs now belong to Oriental Cuisines.”

Adding that he grew up with French Loaf and Wangs, Tarun says he is looking forward to seeing the brands evolve under new management. “Wangs has already gone through several changes over the years. It was originally a fine dining restaurant before it became this QSR (quick service restaurant) format. It is special because it is Indian Chinese, serving great dragon chicken and fried rice.”

Chennai, 01/11/2019: Sandesh Reddy, who has taken over French Loaf, during an interview with The Hindu, in Chennai on Friday. Photo : R. Ravindran/The Hindu.

Chennai, 01/11/2019: Sandesh Reddy, who has taken over French Loaf, during an interview with The Hindu, in Chennai on Friday. Photo : R. Ravindran/The Hindu.

A new direction

Sandesh Reddy, who will be taking over operations of both French Loaf and Wangs Kitchen, started his career with a hobby dessert bar called Sinful Something run from his home after college hours in 2006.

He is best known for the Sandy’s cafés, the Old Madras Baking Company chain and a pizzeria called Ox and Tomato, which he runs with his wife Mansi. For the past month he has been working on a plan for the 141 restaurants he now oversees across the country. Of these, 93 are French Loaf outlets, while the remaining 48 are Wangs Kitchens, spread mostly between Chennai and Bengaluru.

Between greeting customers at the bright new Alwarpet French Loaf, festooned with cheery blue, Sandesh says the plan is to consolidate. This will involve closing some restaurants, though they intend to retain the staff of 750 people who work in these outlets.

“We want to put the French back in French Loaf. We are creating a Parisian-style patisserie,” he says. “Everything is made from scratch. Clean ingredients. Freshly roasted coffee from local brand Beachville: our focus is on being a bakery, not a café.” To this end, he has worked on creating breads that are soft, using a Tangzhong-inspired technique. He holds out a loaf of fluffy wheat bread to demonstrate.

The shelves are heavy with fresh cream cakes, including a tiramisu mascarpone, as well as tri-coloured, red velvet-inspired gateau and Black Forest. “In the last decade, the city has changed, consumers have higher expectations,” says Sandesh. “No longer will a cream-filled cake pass off as Black Forest. So, our version has cremeux, whipped cream with cherries and chocolate ganache.”

French Loaf’s new red velvet-inspired gateau, with colours of the French flag

French Loaf’s new red velvet-inspired gateau, with colours of the French flag

With Wangs, Sandesh plans to have just five dine-in locations in Chennai and Bengaluru. The rest will be turned into cloud kitchens. “We will run Ox and Tomato, as well as Áuthentic Secret Sauce, which will do teppanyaki and healthy Asian food, from these spaces from mid-December.”

In the meantime, the team has launched Oriental House in partnership with Swiggy, serving Pan Asian bento boxes in Palavakkam and Kilpauk. They will open Sandy’s Toasteries, serving up milkshakes, desserts and comfort food, by December 15 this year. Sandesh says Wangs’ desi-Chinese edge will be retained. “We are going back to the good old days. Indian Chinese made from scratch. No pre-made sauces. All fresh produce. And we will also make it affordable, as we can offset some overheads when we close less popular locations.”

Plans are on to launch all these brands in Bengaluru and Chennai, then Hyderabad. It helps that they already have a strong Kolkata presence, thanks to French Loaf, which has 32 outlets there.

Step one is this French Loaf launch. “We open the next set in a cluster of five. In the meantime, we are keeping the old ones running — for consumers, this blue branding is the sign that it is the new version,” states Sandesh, pointing at the signboard.

“It is a huge project,” he says, “Do we have the answers right now? Of course not. But we are hoping customers will tell us what they want, so we can respond. It is still early days...”

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