“She was as delightful as her croissants” once sang Joe Dassin – the late iconic French singer-songwriter – in his song “Le Petit Pain au Chocolat”. Another iconic singer, Patrick Bruel, sang about his romantic memories in “Au Café des Délices”. Indeed, café and bakery culture has always been an important part of the French lifestyle, making daily life for the French – whether at home or abroad – incomplete without a healthy dose of Viennoisserie or pastries. Laurent Samandari, when he co-founded the family business French Bakery Pvt. Ltd (the parent company of L’Opéra)was certainly infused with this spirit. The sheer fact that the name “French Bakery Pvt. Ltd was available for registering a new company reinforced him in his conviction that he was on the right track.
In this vein and observing the dearth of veritable French bakery options back in 2008, Laurent – with the support of family members and a number of institutions including the French Embassy – ventured to recreate the delicacies of French culinary culture in Delhi. “The Indian palate is stubborn and will not appreciate French patisserie products!’ some naysayers warned; “Delhi isn’t ready for such a niche brand” others cautioned. But the French have an expression: “Seuls les poissons mortsnagent avec le courant” (Only dead fish swim with the current). And the Samandari family are anything but dead fish. Fast-forward to 10 years later, with 18 points of sale throughout Delhi NCR and Dehradun along with a wide range of critical acclaim and awards from Delhiites and institutions alike, success seems like the name of the game.
In both French and Indian culture, food plays a quintessential role in bringing pleasure, affording great social experiences, and fostering bonds between individuals. Thus, the synergy for L’Opéra in India became almost immediately apparent. Furthermore, one could say that the “French touch” is a combination of both an eye for beauty and attention to detail. This is certainly the case when it comes to bakery and pastry products, such as the classic Croissant, in many ways an apt symbol of French culinary excellence, which took Delhi by storm when L’Opéra started producing the authentic ones 10 years ago. Still, one of L’Opéra’s flagship products, enjoyed by hundreds of customers every day.
Perceiving and reacting to societal trends is obviously an essential part of any business, and at these bakeries, the upsurge in sophisticated expectations during the past few years did not go unnoticed. For example, the Macaron – a “jewel” of French patisserie never ceases to impress with its iconic sophistication and flavour – has seen its popularity rise exponentially, especially when it comes to gifting. Chocolate (especially when it’s prepared the right way) is a highly prized ingredient for Indians. As the Indian palate continues to become more refined and wide-ranging, we see lots of personalized options coming into the segment.
However, customers not only expect the best quality products, but a culinary experience that reflects that level of sophistication. Today, people look to spend a great time with friends and family to chat and relax. While hot drinks and refined pastries remain part of the offering, the experience is enhanced by light meals – such as homemade sandwiches, Croque Monsieurs, and delicate, savoury French puff-pastry – and a comfortable, luminous and clean setting.
Of course, in order to consolidate success, one must provide a variety of different offerings, and furnish new experiences to a fast-evolving, increasingly perceptive and demanding clientele. Moreover, one can notice that customers are increasingly conscious and inquisitive about what goes in their food and whether it is ethically sourced.Far from posing an insurmountable challenge for the bakery chains, this is perceived as an opportunity to engage with customers about these crucial issues, in an age where the proliferation of social media as a tool for communication allows for (or even sometimes requires) a more transparent exchange of ideas between those offering services and those who consume them.
After 8 years of having provided culinary excellence, growing from 1 to 14 points of sale – with additional 5 coming soon, increasing the product offering from a dozen to a several hundred, innovating the types of services offered (including the widening range of chocolates and the increased availability of delivery services) and introducing new settings and concepts like Salon de Thé, L’Opéra is now ready to move on to a new stage in its evolution, namely a pan-Indian expansion. Nobody can be certain about future trends, but if the past is any indication, these are challenging – and therefore thrilling – times indeed.