The aroma of cinnamon and freshly baked bread seeps out of the doors of the over a century-old American Express Bakery (AEB) in Bandra, beckoning passers-by as the city prepares to welcome the Christmas season. Since its origins in 1908, when its founder Francisco Carvalho began the first outlet of the bakery chain on Grant Road, American Express Bakery has seen several ups and downs. Around 1935, a few more outlets were opened in Colaba, Cumballa Hills, Santacruz and Bandra, and, in 1939, in Byculla. Old advertisements adorning the walls of the bakery also testify that the bakery once also ran other businesses including biscuits manufacturing, catering and imports.
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However, with the onset of the Second World War in 1945, shortfall of ingredients led to the closure of some of the branches. Further, the death of the three sons of Carvalho between the years 1947 and ‘54 dealt another blow to the business. It was then that Bertha Carvalho took up the mantle to bring the business back to its glory days.
“The bakery business was largely male-dominated. Yet my grandmother took control of the business and managed to run it successfully,” says Emil Carvalho, the fourth-generation proprietor of the bakery.
Today the bakery, which has branches only in Bandra and Byculla, focuses only on bakery products and is managed by Emil with his brother Yvan. American Express Bakery has garnered trust over the years not only from its tasty products, but the support it provided during tough times when opening the store would have been impossible.
During the 1992 riots, as curfew brought the city to a halt, the bakery managed to open everyday for an hour to allow citizens to queue up before it to buy bread. Later in 2005 also, when heavy rains submerged the city the staff managed to reach the bakery to continue production. Even in 2008 during the terrorist siege of the Taj, the bakery supplied bread to the nearby Salvation Army on bicycle.
With passing generations and the consequent change of hands over the years, the menu and the products have also faced subtle changes. “We have made suitable changes to the menu to make it more relevant with the time. Similarly, we have altered our recipes also to be relevant. Yet our processes still remain the same. We still make our breads and cakes just the way we used to back then,” explains Emil.
Apart from the food products, the logo and the labels of the brand have also changed to accommodate brighter colours. Recently the Bandra outlet also saw a facelift with a coat of fresh paint and some shifting of furniture. A wall art of a cheerful baker now welcomes you to the patisserie.
Surprisingly, for their long legacy and ideal locations, everything on their shelf is very nominally charged. Emil explains it is because of their advantage of real estate. “I do not factor Mumbai rentals in the costing. Everyone wants good food at affordable prices and so I do not charge them for the location. It is one of our biggest advantages,” he says.
The recent demonetisation move has affected AEB’s business drastically as it doesn’t accept cards for payment. The owners now fear a fall even in Christmas sales, one of their busiest periods, due to difficulty in getting change.
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