Childhood sweethearts study abroad after marriage and return to India to build Rs 5.5 crore turnover chocolatey venture
Vol 11 | Issue 51
Childhood sweethearts Sanjana and Parthesh Patel became life partners and later business partners when they co-founded La Folie, a patisserie, in Mumbai, in 2014 in a small space with just four employees.
Today, they have 35 employees, a chocolate factory – besides the patisserie - and a turnover of Rs 5.5 crore in FY 2019-20. A second café they started in 2017 which became hugely popular was shut down at the start of the COVID pandemic.
|Sanjana Patel, co-founder, La Folie (Photos: Special Arrangement)|
“After feedback from customers we opened a second café where people could sit and enjoy their food,” says Sanjana Patel. The fare included an ‘all day breakfast menu’ which grew in popularity.
But when the sales dropped during the pandemic, Sanjana and Parthesh decided to shut the outlet with plans of re-opening in a post-COVID scenario.
Like most millennials, the two had woven dreams of living together, and exploring the world. Sanjana was only 22 when she tied the knot with Parthesh in 2006. The couple shifted to London soon after their marriage.
Unlike most lovers who wait to settle down in their career before planning their nuptials, Sanjana and Parthesh charted their educational and professional careers post marriage.
Sanjana completed her culinary courses in the UK and France, and worked in top hotels in France under renowned chefs, while Parthesh studied management at Imperial College, London, and mechanical engineering (honours) from University of Liverpool.
When Sanjana decided to go to France, to pursue her masters, the two embraced a long distance marriage.
They worked hard to create a niche in their fields and came back to India in 2014 to kickstart La Folie, which soon turned into a favourite haunt for food lovers in Mumbai.
|Sanjana worked under renowned French chefs during her stint in Paris|
At La Folie, Sanjana brings her wealth of learning and knowledge to their kitchen in Mumbai where they make their delicious bonbons, croissants, cookies, truffles and modernist renditions of French desserts.
Sanjana is an out-and-out Mumbai girl. She was born and brought up in Mumbai and studied in the finest schools in the city, Maneckji Cooper School, and JB Petit High School for Girls. She went to St Hilda’s School, Ooty, to finish her Class 12 in a boarding school.
Her father Sushil Arora co-owned Arora Fashions, a company dealing in sale of export garments, with his brother.
Sanjana explains how she and Parthesh meticulously planned their life. “We had known each other since school and had discussed that we wanted to get married and live abroad and see the world,” she says.
“After our marriage (in 2006) we left for the UK to pursue our higher studies. However, I shifted to France in 2008 to do my masters from Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi in Paris.”
Later, Sanjana worked as an apprentice with renowned chef Pierre Herme and in some top Michelin Star restaurants.
“I worked with very talented people like Jean- Charles Rochoux, Patrick Roger, and Olivier Bajard,” Sanjana recalls her stint in Paris, where she learned to make varieties of French pastries and dishes.
“I then worked at Hotel Plaza Athenee, under Chef Christophe Michalak and Chef Alain Ducasse. After working for nearly seven years and finding my feet (in French cuisine), I decided to return to India to join my husband, who had already shifted in 2012 when he got a good opportunity.
“When I came back in 2014, both of us had a clear plan on starting our business.”
The idea was to open a patisserie where they would sell croissant, eclairs, cakes, macarons. “Basically all kinds of French pastries, as my expertise lay there and it became our obvious choice,” recounts Sanjana.
|Sanjana with co-founder and husband Parthesh Patel|
With an investment of Rs 25 lakh, they started La Folie – under the aegis of PBS Gourmet Pvt Ltd they had formed - with a back kitchen at Kala Ghoda, Mumbai’s happening place where a young crowd hangs out in the midst of cafes, and art galleries.
“We started with four staff, two chefs and two more for customer service. And of course I and Parthesh were always there,” Sanjana remembers the initial days of their business. Soon the place became popular with people visiting the patisserie often. Her cakes became the talk of the town.
“We took a lot of time to educate people about our products and the efforts really paid off,” she says.
“In the third year, we started a chocolate making factory. We source the cocoa bean from four continents and create new flavours for Indian customers. La Folie chocolate bars that we make are now available at 40 outlets,” she says.
Sanjana reveals that she picked up her baking skills from her maternal grandma (nani) as a young girl.
“She was a home baker and had her own side business. She lived in Ahmedabad and I remember baking with her from the age of eight,” she says.
“I was very interested in home science projects, and was cooking and baking on my own. When in Class 11 and 12 I took part in Christmas and Diwali exhibitions selling muffins and cakes. It ensured that I always had surplus pocket money.”
Sanjana loves reading, and spends her weekends at clubs playing badminton or swimming.
She also has a state of the art studio, The Classroom, at La Folie Lab, where she teaches cooking. Sanjana is hopeful of closing FY 2020-21 with a higher turnover of Rs 6.5 crore notwithstanding the COVID disruption.