Vikas Panjabi and Chaitanya Kumar were studying in Australia when they regularly visited a restaurant serving chocolate delicacies. “It prompted us to think of an idea that will bring a complete chocolate culture in India,” Panjabi says. The duo later started India’s first chocolate café in their hometown, Ahmedabad, in 2007. Today, their menu consists of 100 beverages and desserts made with chocolate.
THE CHOCOLATY WAGON
Initially, they faced several challenges as they were trying to introduce a completely new concept to the Indian market. “We brought hot chocolate pre-mixes and other powders including the white chocolate powder to India and the customers thought those were some kind of drug,” laughs Panjabi, who has launched more than 250 stores and is second largest café chain in India. At that time, they had to work hard and even pay a lot of money to get product approvals and declare them to be safe for drinking. “We had 16 flavors of hot chocolate and it was just another challenge to explain the customers what goes into what. How exactly it is different from the normal hot chocolate or a coffee,” shares the chocolate maker. Moreover, the initially designed menu was very European so people found hard to understand everything. “So we had to explain things to them” he adds, but the name “The Chocolate Room” brought back customers every time.
CURATING RIGHT IS AN ART
The café chain uses traditional Italian crockery called cuddle cups or hug mugs, which are very popular among customers. “Our crockery till date is unique, patented and trademarked and it was launched by us in India,” shares Panjabi, who is catering to around 60 to 180 customers daily depending the kind of model the customer is visiting which includes kiosk, café and a restaurant. The group also started franchising way back in 2009 as they wanted to expand quickly. “We were very clear that in one year if the brand works, we will take the franchising route to make it more visible,” adds Panjabi who believed that no company can open up 50 outlets using their own money.
The group has gone the reverse way by opening their first outlet in a tier II city. “Our first store in Delhi came after three years of our existence, before that we were focused in smaller cities and towns making people aware about the product,” he says. For them, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Gurgaon has turn out to be lucky when doing more business. The group is planning to open 600 stores by 2020 covering the whole map, wherever they are not present, focusing on those small towns, where people have not tried something like this. The group has also expanded its wings to Dubai, China, London, USA and a few other countries by opening close to 20 stores. “If we talk about the brand value, we are a 150 crore company now,” shares the proud chocolatier.