It was in 2004 that a small bakery at one end of Mumbai heralded the start of dessert culture in the city. Theobroma, the brainchild of Parsi sisters Tina and Kainaz Messman, made us fall in love with their family’s passion project, one gooey chocolate brownie at a time.

Tina and Kainaz Messman
Tina and Kainaz Messman

Soon the whole city had heard of it, if not tasted the famed rich chocolate delicacies only available in the Colaba bakery with a posh, western name. Since then, Theobroma has spread its wings — 50 outlets in three cities — and built a legacy. All these years later, they are still known for their quality baked goods – pies, tarts, cakes, brownies, pastries – and have cemented their place in the hearts across the country.

Theobroma brownies. Courtesy Theobroma Instagram

Proof of this is also their recently unveiled book ‘Baking a Dream: The Theobroma Story’ published by Harper Collins India. Chronicling how the slightly eccentric Parsi family grew a home catering business into a multi-million business venture, the book tracks their challenges, failures, and successes while offering tips to would-be entrepreneurs.

Baking A Dream: The Theobroma Story

We caught up with the driven and warm Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, creative director of Theobroma, to chat about how she built this iconic brand.

Your family has played a big part in building Theobroma. What was it like working with them?

Everyone says it is hard to work with family and they are absolutely right. I have battled with dad for as long as we have had Theobroma. I have my fair share of fights with mom and Tina too. We are all passionate about this business, and we all have different personalities, training, and background, and so there are bound to be clashes. We can sometimes be dysfunctional but we all always want what is best for our family and company.

Kainaz Messman
Kainaz with her mother. Image: Courtesy Theobroma Instagram

Who played the role of mentor in the early days?

My mum! My mother had a food business, so it came naturally to us as a family.

The best and worst entrepreneurship advice you’ve got?

To be honest, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer when it comes to entrepreneurship. But one piece of advice that has really worked for me is, to be honest. Honesty with your staff, guests, your product, your brand, your pricing. In a survey conducted on ‘Repeat Guest Behavior’, Theobroma did exceedingly well so I can only guess that the honesty pays off somewhere because our patrons trust us.

The worst advice would definitely be from people who think we should randomly increase prices because ‘people will pay’. I didn’t take that advice because honest pricing is very important to me and fits with the values of the brand we’ve built.

Theobroma fingerfoods and platters. Image: Courtesy Theobroma Instagram

Work-life balance – how do you manage that?

It’s an ongoing battle. There are days I don’t want to go into work because I want to spend time with my daughter. But then I try and come home early, make sure on the weekend I’m with her. I used to get plenty of ‘me time’ so I’m not complaining. I’ve always wanted to be a mum and so I’ve had the grand privilege of being that and I’m loving every moment of it really.

Your personal favourite product?

My favourite product keeps changing, but at the moment is our Strawberry Tart. We get good and flavourful strawberries for such a short time that in season — this is my most favourite thing to eat.

Theobroma Strawberry Tart. Image: Courtesy Theobroma Instagram

What would you tell aspiring entrepreneurs reading this?

Be yourself and do what you love. I recognise that I come from a place of privilege because my family really encouraged me in every way. If you do happen to have such privilege then please go for it. You owe it to yourself.

What’s next for Theobroma?

We have been preparing for growth. We are now PE funded — our investors have put their faith in our plans to grow and take our products to an even wider audience. We plan to open in Hyderabad and Bengaluru this year. We hope to double our footprint from 50 outlets today to 100 outlets within the next three years.

Smriti Notani

Writer, blogger, and podcaster, Notani dons many hats. She spends all her waking hours tracking pop culture trends and unearthing memes, all the while being dedicated to feeding her alter ego ‘Real Girl’.