Focusing on Antonia Achache, one of the partners behind Suzette as she takes us through the journey to set up Mumbai’s first crêperie and the uber-successful Kitchen Garden.
How It Started
What started out as a dinner table conversation in 2011 between friends, who were finding their place in an adopted city, became a reality on a scale that was unimaginable to the trio of friends as well. Antonia Achache, her husband Jeremie Sabbagh and their friend Pierre Labail had been dreaming of a crêpe truck, selling crêpes on the go to colleges, schools and offices in Mumbai while reminiscing about the lack of all-day cafes that served good coffee and good food. “We started brainstorming and decided that we would have a quaint French café set up. We flew to Brittany and got trained on how to make crêpes. In a few weeks, we had a name, a company set up, we were trained…it just went so fast. We invested 10 lakhs each and did everything ourselves. We hired the first team of four people—two in the kitchen, two waiters. There was no one to do the dishes, so we were taking orders, making crêpes, doing dishes, closing, opening….” says Antonia who also reveals that on the first day of Suzette (Nariman Point) they ran out of crêpe batter within an hour and had to make a batch from scratch!
Why It Worked
What impressed visitors, was the authentic French flavours—there was no fusion chicken tikka crêpe here. The reasoning was pretty straight forward—Antonia and Jerémie, the head chefs, only wanted to serve what they knew best so no spices, no Indian touch, just simple recipes learnt from their mothers and passed on from French chefs. “The only compromise on spice was a bottle of Tabasco on the tables” she laughs. The initial menu was a select few crêpe, salads and juices, recipes they had perfected. When the time came to expand the menu, the first hurdle proved to be finding good quality bread. The solution? Antonia and Jeremie flew to France to train at Paris Bakery and Pastry School to produce the perfect breads. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the entrepreneurs as she reveals, “it was scary and exciting at the same time. We just jumped in with very little money so thinking back, if we had a business plan, everyone would have told us not to do it.”
Expanding The Business
The success of the first restaurant and the growing popularity of crêpes pushed them to open a second outpost of Suzette in Bandra. This also spelt the end of Antonia’s job at the NGO Pratham’s Right to Education Cell and running the restaurants, updating the menus and the interiors of each space became her focus. So how did she go from indulgent crêpes (Suzette) to Kitchen Garden’s healthy salads and green juice? As Antonia puts it “all the stars aligned.” The demand for green juices and kale salad—which Antonia had to Google—the success of their healthy corporate lunch program, the availability of the space next to Suzette (Bandra) and the fact that the farm which supplied the organic ingredients to Suzette had expanded their space to be able to supply restaurants in Mumbai all played a role in the genesis of Kitchen Garden. The one thing that ties the brands together is the food philosophy “It’s all homemade, all made from scratch, no processed food, nothing industrial, organic fresh and traditional recipes and the food we would serve to our friends at home.”
Adapting & Growing
With Suzette and Kitchen Garden in three locations across the city and more in the pipelines, the core team has now moved from doing everything to more defined roles. As head chefs, Antonia and Jeremie look into everything food-related from menus, ingredients to training the chefs, while Pierre is in charge of day-to-day operations of all the restaurants. But what really excites Antonia is launching new spaces and brands, which has also lead to her being a partner at Born, a children’s wear boutique with a very French influence—trés chic. “The beginning days were the most exciting and that’s why we keep creating new brands because we want to relive those beginning days. They are the most exciting, where everything is new, everything is a discovery,” she says pointing out at the space right next to Kitchen Garden (Bandra) where construction is in progress to launch Suzette Bakery, the third brand by the trio. This is the place to go to when you want to cheat with the real butter and cream—think a limited menu of French pastries like Millefeuille, Paris Brest, croissants and naturally, coffee. And don’t think that’s all Antonia’s focusing on now, she has designs ready for the new Kitchen Garden in Colaba which will also serve wine and beer, a plan for their own delivery platform and an idea for a subscription-based meal plan.
About Antonia Achache:
A political science graduate who worked at Pratham to advance children’s educational rights in Maharashtra, Antonia shifted careers to launch Mumbai’s first creperie along with her partners. As Head Chef, Suzette, Kitchen Garden and Suzette Bakery, she is responsible for the menu and has trained at the Paris Bakery and Pastry School. She firmly believes in balanced eating— have the salad but occasionally indulge in a chocolate tart as well!
She has been on the management team of Vinati Organics Limited since 2006 and balances the technical/manufacturing execution with her marketing abilities combined with new age aggression.