Karachi Bakery: a tutti-frutti brush with trouble

‘This is strange. We’ve never had problems with the name before,’ say the owners

Updated - March 03, 2019 01:11 am IST

Published - March 01, 2019 02:42 pm IST

Karachi Bakery in Hyderabad, February 26

Karachi Bakery in Hyderabad, February 26

A warm finger of aroma reaches out and pulls me into a bakery in Hyderabad’s upscale Banjara Hills. I am at one of the two dozen outlets that the famous Karachi Bakery has across the city. For visitors flying out from the shiny Hyderabad Airport, carrying back the yellow box with the pink and blue logo and the quirky tagline ‘Hyderabad world famous’ is de rigueur. To a Hyderabadi, the buttery, crumbly square biscuits with bits of fruit tastes especially like home.

Then, a few days ago, trouble began to brew. A few lumpen elements reached the bakery's Bengaluru outlet, demanding that the word ‘Karachi’ be removed. In Hyderabad, a crowd descended and insisted that the name be changed. “It should read Indian Karachi Bakery,” declared Srinivas, who identified himself as a worker from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Lekhraj Ramnani, one of the owners, was unfazed. He offered them sweets from the bakery. They responded with smiles, raised a few slogans, posed for photographs, and left.

How Karachi Bakery became a part of Hyderabad’s identity is the stuff of lore. It was established by Lekhraj’s father Khanchand Jeomal Ramnani, who migrated from Karachi to Rajasthan to Hyderabad just one year before Partition. “As a young man, he first started a coal depot in Hyderabad called Karachi Coal, and later started the bakery. And it took off,” says Manoj Ramnani, Khanchand’s grandson.

Manoj Ramnani, grandson of founder Khanchand Ramnani

Manoj Ramnani, grandson of founder Khanchand Ramnani

In a bylane near the outlet in Moazzam Jahi Market is the central bakery from where the goodies are made and dispatched across the city and the country. Ramnani is sitting inside his office when we meet. Dozens of varieties of bread, biscuits and cakes are being baked, packed and inventoried. Lekhraj Ramani appears a bit surprised. “It's strange,” he says. “We’ve never had problems with the name before.” Karachi Bakery was the name his father gave the company when it was started in 1953. “He had just come from Karachi, it was close to his heart. The Karachi he referred to was the one before Partition.”

It was sharp business sense that changed the fortunes of Karachi Bakery in the 60s. At a time when most bakeries in Hyderabad sold bread, naan, shermal and Osmani biscuits, Khanchand Ramnani launched his famous special fruit biscuit. Decades later, the tutti-frutti cookies are still a rage and can be bought online as well as off the shelf in most malls across the country. Then, when customers wanted eggless bakery products, they launched that too, says Ramnani.

“When I started we had just one shutter. Now the whole floor belongs to us. We used to sell loose biscuits for ₹2 per kilo. Now, the same biscuits cost ₹240 per kilo,” says M.A. Gaffar, one of the oldest employees here. “It was 1968, the height of the agitation for a separate Telangana, when I got this job. I grabbed it,” says Gaffar, who remembers Khanchand as a hard-working, hands-on man who knew every aspect of baking.

The trait, it seems, is being carried forward by the family. Manoj talks about their newest creation, a millet and almond cookie. “It is tailor-made for health-conscious people. I didn’t study catering or baking. Whatever I know I learnt from my grandfather and my family.”

Plugging into the health rage was the next smart move: From oatmeal atta to multi-grain, Karachi Bakery has it all. Any other secret? “Quality,” says Lekhraj. “Once you slip, it is hard to climb back up.”

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