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Chocolatier tastes sweet success

Garment export to confectionary making is quite a career switch, but the results have been sweet for Sanjiv Obhrai, says Paramita Ghosh.

delhi Updated: Dec 24, 2007 23:24 IST

Garment export to confectionary making is quite a career switch, but the results have been sweet. Seven years ago, Sanjiv Obhrai, a first-generation entrepreneur, tried his hand at a new business: chocolate. “It’s an old story — all kids dream of having a chocolate factory. My daughters did too, and a few other things pointed me in that direction,” says Obhrai, the avuncular proprietor of Chocolate Boutique, now the second-most famous landmark (after Kali Mandir) of Chittaranjan Park.

What was the trigger? A customer’s friends — who were confectioners in Spain — had come to India for a holiday. He was taking them around when the idea of a collaboration began to take shape. “We went around tasting chocolate and found that there were no chocolate shops in Delhi except at the five-star hotels. The commercial brands available were sub-standard. Chocolates were meant for kids to stuff their mouths with and make them shut up,” he says with a laugh.

The shop at a corner plot at Market no. 4 is a gay little place where Obhrai’s friendly assistants dig their hands into the glass shelves to bring out the goodies you choose and pack them in gold and silver boxes, and add a stick-on bow at its corners. “These things are not just to please, it’s about presentation” says Obhrai. There are affectionate memories that helped build the initial buzz about the place. “If it’s your lucky day, the shop will be manned by Obhrai’s father-in-law Harish Talwar who sits with a whole platter of chocolates for customers, to test-taste a new flavour for free,” says Sujoy Banerjee, an old customer and chocolate-addict. For a family-run business, the boutique’s immense success has come riding on quality. Says Obhrai, “Ours is home-made chocolate, not commercial. My daughters are my first tasters. We still sell each piece of chocolate for Rs 6 like we did initially.” The orders, from Virgin Atlantic, Cartier, Frazer & Haws, Samsung, Pricewaterhouse and Airtel for example — to make chocolates for their dealers, distributors and staff — have all come courtesy reputation.

“My customers have been my brand ambassadors. All the publicity has been word-of-mouth,” says Obhrai. Louis Vuitton wanted his chocolates “but without the brand’. So that deal was passed over. Obhrai has ambitions for chocolate. He would like to run a chocolate parlour and sponsor a wrestling match with the wrestlers wrestling in pools of chocolate! “The days of orthodox sweets are over. Who eats ladoos and soufflés? Who takes flowers as gifts? It’s chocolates now, and that too customised chocolates. I have customers who come to me saying they want theirs 85 percent bitter. Or that they want it sugar-free. Or with less fat.” And they get it too.