When Paramjeet Singh, the 50-year-old second-generation owner of Gianis entered the business some two decades ago, his father let him in on a trade secret.
“He told me, never lose touch with Delhi’s middle class, the aam aadmi. He said when the going gets tough, always go for what the middle class prefers,” Singh says while talking about the year-long economic downturn. “How handy that advice proved to be.”
Gianis, Delhi’s very own ice-cream maker, is expanding fast. Over the past month alone, it has expanded its chain of stores across the city from 13 to 25, defying a credit crunch and general gloom in the market, and leaving its competitors guessing.
In doing so, Gianis has, in its own small way, contributed its bit to keeping the country’s economic growth engine chugging at a healthy pace.
And that one advice 20 years ago from the founder, late Giani Gurcharan Singh, helped it develop a business model that is his son says, is “downturn-proof”.
But Singh didn’t want to take any chances. Armed with an overdraft from a nationalised bank, he devised a pricing policy, which allows middle class families of four to have a nice treat for less than Rs 100.
“We serve either good old recipes or new flavours served with our old goodwill — and all are dirt-cheap,” Singh lets out his secret. “We play the volumes game.” This alone won half the battle for him.
Amid the usual new-age items, like gelatos, fruit creams and smoothies on his menu, Singh has given the pride of place to decades-old money-spinners like the rabri falluda without touching the recipe.
The launch of big name American brands or the presence of multinationals in India hasn’t affected his prospects one bit. On the contrary, he has grown from strength to strength despite them.
“Ice cream always was the most inexpensive fun outing option for families. During an economic downturn, it helps to keep it that way,” he says amid a sea of customers standing on the footpath devouring Gianis delicacies at his oldest outlet in Fatehpuri in the Walled City. “You know, people have ice cream even when they are down, to lift their spirits.”
Gianis’s deep connect with Delhi’s sweet tooth goes back a long way. And it began at the Walled City, around 60 years ago.
In the early 1950s, Gyani Gurcharan Singh, a traditional sweetmeat maker in the then Layallpur (Faislabad), Pakistan, migrated to Delhi.
He took a small space in Fatehpuri and set up his old business, naming it Giani di Hatti (Giani’s shop). And his rabri falluda was an instant success.
When Paramjeet, “a simple
graduate”, joined the business, he wanted to take it to the next level but didn’t know how.
So he travelled the world.
In Italy (“the best ice-cream makers”) he along with brother Amarpreet learned the skills of making traditional gelato. And in the U.S. (“world’s biggest ice-cream market”), Singh saw how ice cream could be a mass product without compromising quality.
They wanted to combine the two.
“We bought two imported machines to introduce ice cream at our shop, which was till then selling only falluda items,” he says.
“So in ’89, we were the first to take world-class ice cream to the masses. Until then, an average Delhiite had not even eaten products made of crushed ice.”
In 1999, Gianis opened the first branch outside Walled City. Sometime later, families broke apart, dividing the right to use the “Giani” brand name.
The growing popularity was evident as local spin-offs with names like Gian’s, Gunjan, Ginias etc kept Singh’s lawyers busy. “Everyone wanted a piece of our goodwill.”
Gurpreet Singh, Paramjeet’s son, an MBA from Leeds, started the second wave of the modernisation two years ago.
“My job is to retain what my father has built and add to it if I can,” he says.
So, at new outlets in glitzy malls and elsewhere, Gianis has a new avatar. The uniformed staffs speak in English; the packaging is on a par with the best industry standards, and the decor at certain places reminds of Haagen-Dazs in New York.
The market, too, has changed.
The middle class, perhaps, has more lifestyle aspirations now than before. Paramjeet is even thinking of exporting packed rabri falluda to London and the US.
“Now is the age of sugar-free ice-creams, fat-free sweets etc. Also, with winters becoming hotter each year, we feel like having ice-creams throughout the year,” says Sukhbir Oberoi (46), a resident of Rajouri Garden, who grew up on Gianis products.
“They have adapted with the change beautifully.”
What has not changed is the Singhs’ loyalty to that one invaluable advice from the grand old man two decades back.
Standing at the maddeningly crowded spice market in Khari Baoli full of traders, stockists and suppliers, Giani di Hatti does brisk business all day. It has none of the style and ambience of the new outlets, but has quality ice creams at the cheapest rates.
“We have seen many ups and downs,” says Satish Sharma, the oldest manager of the business in the Walled City. The Singhs call him muneemji.
“But as long as Delhiites have a sweet tooth, no downturn can affect us.”