A story of Dutch (and other continental) delights
By Sunaina Sehgal
Lalita van Lamsweerde decided to offer bagels after researching the eating habits of Indians.
Lalita de Goederen van Lamsweerde first visited India in 1985 as a six-year-old. Her father, who had studied Indian classical music and dance, organised shows on Indian music in the Netherlands. She stayed for four months, while her father looked for talented musicians for shows back home.
She came back a few years later as a college student. “I took off a trimester from the university and decided to explore India on my own,” she recounts of her visit to south India.
And, years later, it was this connection with India that weighed heavily on her mind when her husband, Alexander, and she decided to relocate to another country. “We always knew we wanted to live in a new country for a few years of our life, preferably somewhere that people did not flock to. So, we homed in on India and China,” recalls Lamsweerde, who was then working as a public relations (PR) professional in Holland.
Her husband, a banker, had never been outside the European continent. So they toured the two countries to check out their options. Once back home, they settled on India and called a recruiter to find jobs in India—in real estate for Alexander and in PR for herself.
There on, things fell into place, almost magically, she says. Her husband found a job with an international real estate firm in India. And, even though she didn’t have a job, they moved to India in 2008.
But even before she landed here, Lamsweerde decided that she had had enough working for other people. “It felt like a new beginning. I was not thirty yet, we had no financial constraints, or children, and we had moved to a new country. I wanted to start my own company,” she adds.
She only knew one thing—her passion for food. “I loved cooking and eating,” says the hostess of numerous dinner parties. So, she decided her business had to do with food. She spent the better part of the first year in India re-connecting with people she knew in the hotel industry. They gave her insightful information about the food market and business laws involved.
After much thought, Lamsweerde decided to get the humble bagel to town. The ring-sized bread, hugely popular across Europe and America, was not commonly found in the city. Her research had also revealed the changing eating habits of Indians and the growing importance of bread on their tables. Convinced that the bagel would turn taste buds in its favour, Lamsweerde opened the Bagel’s Café in June 2009.
A cheery and warm two-storied place, it’s a cross between an easy-going lounge and a fine-dining restaurant. It has been received well so far, with crowds steadily pouring in to try out fresh bagels and mouth-watering Stroopwafel cookies. The interesting items on the menu make for a great cosy breakfast or a lazy brunch.
Despite numerous suggestions left by customers to add paneer, the Indian cottage cheese, to her bagels, and the temptation to throw in a few items that would resonate with the Indian crowd, Lamsweerde has refused to go down that way. “My vision is to offer pure continental flavours, to make bagels the way they have been made over the years. And that’s why they are so great,” she adds.
Though the sweet-smelling bakery might make the job of an entrepreneurial baker look easy, the road from penning the concept to conceptualising has often been a harrowing one, says Lamsweerde, whose cafe is situated in Gurgaon’s posh DLF Phase-1 shopping mall. “Had I known more about construction work and time lines that come with it, the same place would have cost me so much lesser,” says the Dutch, who built the 900-sq-feet cafe from scratch.
Her entrepreneurial success story has been picked up by the press back home, triggering a slew of curious calls from Dutch venture capitalists. The funds sure could come in handy for Lamsweerde who has plans to open six to eight more cafés in south Delhi in another two years. No mean feat for a PR professional whose entrepreneurial instinct got fired by the bustling chaos of an Indian airport.