As I would pass through the corner of New Marine Lines, no amount of self-discipline would ever let me hold myself back from not only looking but also getting tempted to the huge outdoor display advertising covering the façade of the store Fantasie Fine Chocolates. The foundation of the store was laid much before I was born…infact much before my mom was born!! It was 65 years ago when a man by the name A. Fazelbhoy decided to do something no one would have even imagined of at that time. He decided to start off with a store for hand-crafted, artisanal chocolates in India. These were certainly not the days and not the time when Indians were matured to indulge in delicacies such as this but nonetheless he took the first step. And today, when modern retail is the buzzword, not much has changed! If you look around, except for a handful (number that you can count on your fingertips), not many exclusive chocolate brands can be seen around. Salute to Fazelbhoy for being the visionary that he was!
Ask his stunning and absolutely gorgeous grand-daughter – Zeba Kohli (she heads the mantle for Fantasie Fine Chocolates and the other businesses that Fazelbhoy gave birth to and also is in-charge of the trust he initiated) on the philosophy behind the name and she explains, “It was my grand-father’s fantasy to have world-class chocolates in India and hence the name – Fantasie Fine Chocolates!” True to its name, the artisanal chocolates are class apart! A bite into any of them and you shall literally forget the Patchi’s and Leonida’s of the world!
As a teenager, Zeba used to hang around at the store helping the staff (usually they employed the physically challenged and the under-privileged). She would be introduced to the customers who would walk-in to the store and gradually she became the face people associated with Fantasie Fine Chocolates. She leaves no stone un-turned to praise her grand-father for setting a trend for many to follow – be it in the business of artisanal chocolates or in the industry of refrigeration. “Cold storage in the country was literally not there! Nana did his every bit to pioneer things and set a trend”, says Zeba.
Today, the range that Zeba offers will leave you amazed. From chocolate Taj Mahals to Cindrella Shoe, from chocolate jewelry to chocolate puzzles for children – she has it all!! Way back in 2006, she had a chocolate fashion show! For Zeba, as she puts it so well – the business she is into is not that of chocolates but she is into something she loves doing and this just happens to be the business of chocolates. The purity of her thoughts is well evident from initiative she undertook to inculcate the values of ‘peace and non-violence’ in children from the film she made. Sharing a bit on this, she says, “I wanted children to understand the preaching of Mahatma and children love chocolates. I used the medium of chocolates to have a short film for them.” Amazing, isn’t it!
Across the world, Zeba has carved a niche for herself as the Chocolate Lady of India. Her confidence in what she does is evident from the fact that she bares it all before you. Check her website www.fantasiechocolate.com and you will be able to jot down all the recipes. She shares, “For me, I am my biggest competitor. I don’t need to feel insecure about having my recipes being replicated by anyone else.”
Ask her about the dynamics of artisanal chocolates in India, and she explains, “If I have to share the dynamics of the chocolate industry in India then I have to say that we have a long way to go! We are blessed with the most delicious of mithais hence for us chocolates actually account for just 0.01 per cent of total consumption when we talk of ‘sweets’. The mushrooming of exclusive chocolate stores is a good thing but the players need to think through all the challenges that are before us in terms of the back-end and our climate and culture. Climate because maintaining the shelf life for exquisite handmade chocolates isn’t an easy task considering our tropical weather and culture because of the constant thrust on vegetarian products and also we have a lot of shraads and following of amavasyaas where chocolate consumption is restricted.”
Currently, with 6 stores spread across Mumbai and Pune, Zeba is in no rush to expand. She firmly believes that expansion has to be gradual and sure-shot. “With discrepancies in having a strong back-end, there is no point in expanding and compromising on the brand values and brand promise,” she shares.