Covid lockdown: Kayani bakery, makers of Shrewsbury biscuits, still kindles its woodfire oven
The bakery located in East Street, in Pune’s cantonment area, has been closed since March 18, following the announcement of a lockdown in Maharashtra.Updated: Apr 20, 2020 19:30 IST
The recipe for Shrewsbury biscuits — a classic English dessert purportedly named after a town in Shropshire — has been available for at least three centuries, but it was Pune’s Kayani bakery, opened in 1955, that popularised the eggless, buttery cookie in the country.
The bakery located in East Street, in Pune’s cantonment area, has been closed since March 18, following the announcement of a lockdown in Maharashtra. Since then, said third-generation owner Rustom Kayani, the bakery has lost several lakhs worth of business. But he returns every day to kindle the wood fire oven, used to make the Shrewsbury biscuits.
It’s a tradition, he said. It’s also important to keep the oven functioning.
“Our daily business of selling the biscuits and cakes would bring us anything between Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh a day. The last time the fire kindled in the ovens and the work table overflowed with dough was on March 18,” said Rustom, who is in his 50s, and first joined the bakery in 1985.
His cousin Parvez Kayani pegged the total loss at Rs 1 crore till date.
Like any Parsi-run joint, the bakery is a family-run business. It was started by Hormuz and Khodayar Irani — Rustom’s grandparents — who had migrated from Iran before Independence and settled in Pune.
The bakery makes a variety of cakes and biscuits, and some of its fast-selling items include the plain Vanilla Cake, the Wati Mawa Cake and the Brazilnut biscuit. Even the wine biscuits and cheese papdi (wafer-thin cheese crisps) are wiped off. But it’s the Shrewsbury that remains the city’s eternal favourite.
Though there are other bakeries in the city that make Shrewsbury biscuits, with egg in the recipe — as originally intended by the Complete Cook of 1658 — Kayani’s biscuits are sold out daily.
Now, Rustom said, the daily routine, which involved making at least 500kg of Shrewsbury biscuits, has come to a grinding halt. All the 45 employees in the bakery — cooks, cleaners, salespersons managing the crowds at the counter — haven’t been to work for a month. Rustom, however, goes to the kitchen every day to kindle the woodfire oven, in order to keep it in working condition.
Making Shrewsbury biscuits is a time consuming process: for a 10 kg batch of biscuits it takes 15 minutes to mix the dough, 20 minutes to mould them by hand, 25 minutes to bake in the kiln and at least 20 minutes to cool. Then, bakery employees pack the round cookies in 250-gram and 500-gram plain blue square boxes. Sometimes customers wait patiently for a batch to cool. Often, all biscuits are sold out before the day’s end.
Pervez Kayani, who has been part of the bakery operations since 1970, but helped out earlier as a school boy during winter vacations, said he felt lost during the lockdown. “We have no choice but to keep it shut and follow the orders until this virus threat subsides. We have never thought of going online and selling through franchises. We believe in serving only off the counter from our bakery: that has been our business model. People trust in us and we often have several Non Resident Indians and other global travellers buying the biscuits bulk to take it to their friends abroad,” he said.
“Kayani is part of India’s rich Parsi bakery history. They have been around since our grandfather’s generation. Kayani is special as it’s our nostalgia and its culture. The connection is beyond just food,” said Anirudhha Patil, creator of Pune Eat Outs, a social food community in the city.
The bakery has been shut twice before: once in the 1990s, when Amul faced a shortage of milk and couldn’t supply butter (an essential ingredient), and again in 2017, due to a dispute with the Pune Cantonment Board. Both times, the issue was resolved and the bakery resumed operations.
This time however, the end doesn’t seem to be in sight, with the national lockdown extended till May 3. “We were supposed to open the bakery again on April 1, but with the extended lockdown, there is nothing else we can do but wait,” Rustom said.