Sweet Random Surprises
When BABA Bakers opened its first outlet in Lahore, they had to figure out a way to forge a personal connection with their customers. Because building a personal connection is as much a part of their recipes as sugar. In Gujranwala, where they have been doing business since 1991, it has been easy. “In smaller cities, people know each other by name and the community spirit is still intact,” says Zain when he speaks about the bakery his father built way back in the 90s.
But, he adds, “Big cities are different. And we asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to keep the tradition of BABA Bakers alive?’” The plan they came up with was to select various houses at random and surprise them with gifts of sweets. “That was just to say, ‘we are here and we care.’”
Young and amiable, Hassaan Bilal, or Zain as he is commonly known, is the second-generation owner of BABA Bakers. After doing MBA, he decided to look after the family business and help it grow. And thus in December, 2014, the family opened the first outlet in Lahore at the busy M.M Alam road. Known mostly for their chocolate pateesa and cashew barfi, BABA Bakers now offers breads, doughnuts, cakes, other traditional sweets, and freshly baked pizzas.
The product line may have expanded but the core philosophy behind the business is still intact. Zain makes it a point to visit the bakery often, greet the customers personally, and get to know them. “We owe our success to building deep roots in the community, and we want to keep it that way,” he believes.
The sales staff and the shop manger are also well grounded in the bakery’s idea of building a community around their shop: “We believe eating is about hospitality, about happiness. And we make an effort to keep this place cheery and welcoming,” says Adeel Ahmed, the manager of BABA Bakers.
Thanks to the hard work put in by Zain’s Father, Bilal Siddique, BABA Bakers have a loyal customer base in Lahore as well. These customers know the bakery from Gujranwala and used to visit the city just to buy the special kaju barfi and chocolate pateesa.
“I like their sweets but their doughnuts are my personal favorite. I used to travel all the way to Gujranwala to get them. The Lahore outlet has made it so much easier for me,” says one Lahore based customer.
Bilal Siddique, an entrepreneur to the core, dabbled in various businesses before he settled on the idea of offering traditional sweets. He came up with a name and a logo to develop a brand that would imbue the business with the spirit of traditional norms and culture.
The name and the logo evoke distinct images. BABA is a traditionally used term of respect for a father figure and elderly. The logo represents the first word that children read while learning Urdu: (bay alif ba bay alif ba) Ba Ba.
Other than introducing customary sweets of the country, Bilal Siddique also changed the way sweets were packed back then. When he started his shop, sweets were normally offered in shoebox like cartons wrapped in newspapers. He believed the proof of the quality should be reflected in the packing, and thus gave a whole new look to the way sweets were offered. He was also the first one from Gujranwala to advertise his sweet shop on PTV (Pakistan Television). The commercial ran on Eid and created quite a stir in the community.
For many years it was a small sweet shop catering to a well knit community. Over the years he also introduced other bakery items and created a full-fledged bakery in 2006.
Now Bilal Sahib’s health keeps him from playing a very active role, but his enthusiasm for sweets hasn’t waned. He is still very much part of the business plans and looks forward to seeing his business expand and grow.
A secret recipe? Zain has an answer: “Yes, there is a family recipe. But basically it all boils down to using pure ingredients and keeping our offering sweet but not too sweet.”
There is a plan to open more outlets in different parts of the city. However, BABA Bakers don’t want to expand too fast. And for fear of losing their trademark personal touch, they are not willing to explore the possibilities of franchising. At present, they want to keep the business small and, of course, sweet.
Candoo the retail bird liked the story and composed a small ditty for BABA Bakers:
BA BA Bakers
Have you any sweets?
Yes mam, Yes mam, you just have to tweet
Barfi, pastry and doughnuts too
Tasty and healthy, just for you