This article is part of our series ‘The Reinvention’ about women who adapted to the ‘new normal’ during the COVID lockdown and took a new direction in their career during this challenging period.
Born and raised in Surat, Gujarat, Salonika Bansal was always fond of baking and cooking. “Even as a kid the major weekend excitement used to be baking a cake or cooking a dish featured in a magazine or a cookbook. I spent many an evening watching cookery shows or reading cookbooks,” says the 29-year-old former journalist, who went on to make her childhood passion her full-time career and now makes heavenly pastries that are as much a treat for the eyes as for the tongue.
Though neither of Salonika’s parents were too fond of cooking – her father operates dyeing and printing mills and her mother is a nutrition expert – their respective interests in business and health rubbed off on Salonika. While growing up, she would bake for friends and family, each time striving to make her creations look and taste better than before.
After completing her degree in journalism and mass communication from Amity University in Delhi, she began interning in different media-related fields. “I realised that journalism did not drive me with the same enthusiasm as baking did. That’s when I decided to make the shift to being a full-time chef,” she says.
She got a diploma in patisserie from Le Cordon Bleu, London, and in pastry arts from International Centre for Culinary Arts, Dubai. For two years, she worked as a pastry commis chef at Laduree in UK, and then moved back to India. During the lockdown this year, she finally launched her own venture Casper Hospitality, which runs two cloud kitchens, Curry & Co. and Crimsyn Patisserie.
Based in Shahpur Jat, Delhi, Salonika has two other pastry chefs on her team. The brand has been designed to be sharp, minimalistic and meaningful, and their packaging is simple and elegant. “I was working on the menu for Crimsyn Patisserie before lockdown. However, things changed during the pandemic and I decided to operate from a cloud kitchen where I could work upon my recipes, research market trends and deliver flavours that are simple yet very refined in taste and texture,” she narrates.
But launching a new venture while a pandemic rages worldwide is no easy task. “I faced challenges in terms of getting the kitchen infrastructure done on time due to labour shortage. There was also the difficulty in sourcing equipment and ingredients. We faced a new challenge every day during the first month of launch in terms of basics like housekeeping, delivery timelines and dispatch services,” she admits, adding, “but with the support of my team and after a few trials and errors we were able to overcome them.”
The little bakery initially started by taking orders from friends and family. A bootstrapped venture, they relied only on organic marketing and word-of-mouth recommendations. “I am a firm believer that if people like your product, they will always come back and become your ambassadors,” says Salonika. Through food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato, they soon began reaching out to many more customers, most below the age of 50.
Using well-graded ingredients with an emphasis on technique, the patisserie offers brownies, travel cakes, gateaux, petite gateaux (French pastries) and chocolates. “Our bestsellers are the Cherry Hazelnut Cheesecake, Fruit Cake and Caramel,” informs Salonika. Product prices range from Rs 200 to 350 per piece for brownies and pastries, while the chocolate boxes are priced between Rs 550 for a box of six to Rs 1050 for a box of 12.
Her venture has helped Salonika evolve from a pastry chef to an entrepreneur. “It’s been a phenomenal learning curve. From learning how to deal and communicate with my team, different agencies, vendors, and customers to making the production cycle cost-efficient, reducing food wastage, adopting the right strategies – I learn something new every day,” smiles Salonika, who is also involved in animal welfare and charity.
She adds, “The past few months have made me so much more patient, tolerant and most importantly I have become an observer. I constantly ask myself questions and spend my time analyzing, reading, and researching. Nothing in life comes easy but if you love what you do, you face the difficulties with ease. Just like in life, in business too nothing good comes out of rushing. You need to give things the time they require.”