The holiday baking bustle in the kitchens of Delhi’s Red Moon Bakery featured in this story in today’s Globe about the growing popularity of Christmas in India. And the curious reader may well wonder how a pair of bakers from Victoria, B.C. wound up running a bakery in the Indian capital.
The answer is not obvious. “We’re not adventurous,” says Anna Hambly, who founded the business four years ago with her husband David. “We don’t like change. I didn’t want to live in Vancouver because it’s too big a city. We don’t like risks. And I don’t like heat.”
Delhi, of course, has a population of 14 million, compared to Vancouver’s 2.2 million; the temperature sits above 40 degrees Celsius for more than half the year, and as the Hamblys can now tell you at some length, this is not an easy country to start a business.
Nevertheless, Red Moon Bakery is thriving – from an original operation in a pocket-sized kitchen with four employees, the Hamblys have moved to a big space in an industrial area, hired 20 more people, and will soon have a store in an upscale shopping area. Ms. Hambly is approached daily about franchising into other Indian cities.
The bakery sells bread and bagels to embassies and restaurants, pumpkin pie and banana bread to the ever-growing expatriate community, and Nanaimo bars to homesick Canadians. But half their market is Indian buyers – some of whom are seeking Western-style baked goods they first experienced abroad, and some of whom, in this highly aspirational consumer culture, want the prestige that comes with the distinctive Red Moon packaging and “foreign” goodies.
Baking for India initially presented some tricky challenges for the Hamblys, who met in a British Columbia bakery 26 years ago. They had never made anything eggless, which is a frequent request for the sizable vegetarian market here. And they simply weren’t very good at making the items such as stuffed pastry “puffs” that are bakery mainstays here.
“At the beginning we were trying to make everyone happy and we were making no one happy, so we scrapped that and we went fully Canadian and realized how much market there was for good authentic Western baking,” said Ms. Hambly.
Still, some of their items appeal mostly to expats. Indians complain the Nanaimo bars, for example, are too sweet. At first, Mr. Hambly found that bizarre, since beloved Indian sweets such as the jalabi and the gulab jamoun are shots of pure sugar. “I think the difference is that Indian sweet, that syrupy thing, hits you and washes away real fast, but Canadian sweet has a richness, a buttery, creamy quality that stays with you,” David Hambly said, in the weighty tones of a man who has spent a lot of time thinking about dessert. The Indian market loves Red Moon’s pound cakes, chocolate chip cookies and multigrain breads.
The Hamblys sorted out the baking soon enough, but operations and logistics are an ongoing challenge. They have a full-time employee who does nothing but go to city offices to stand in line and pursue permits and other forms of bureaucracy. In the crazed real estate market of Delhi, they have been asked to pay $4,000 a month for a shop no bigger than an elevator – and then been outbid by other tenants. And corruption is a constant problem. “Inspectors from [the city]circle around here all the time looking for a pay off,” Ms. Hambly said with a resigned sigh. As if on cue, a sour-looking team from the health department strode in.
“It’s all this that can make you just want to say, ‘I’m out of here,” added Mr. Hambly. “India is full of brilliant, hard-working people but what’s holding them back is corruption – there’s no reason for it not to be doing better than it is.”
They have made an effort to source all their ingredients from India, because foreign imports are unreliable. “I found a guy who imported lemon zest, but then his container doesn’t come and you’re in trouble – so now I’ve got three guys in the back grating lemons for an hour and a half every day,” said Mr. Hambly.
So why pour seven-long-days-a-week into a business here? The Hamblys are evangelical Christians, and Ms. Hambly said they felt “a sense of calling from God – if you want to see the exciting things I’m going to do in India, you should come.” So they came, and since they’re bakers, and that’s what they know how to do, they bake. She decided she just wouldn’t think too much about the risk, or the heat. “And it’s been great.”