In Gujarat's Ahmedabad, people prefer eating at Jashuben Shah Old Pizza rather than Domino's or Pizza Hut. But did you know that the iconic eatery was started by two enterprising women who invented a special 8-layered oven of their own?
Gujaratis share a strong relationship with food, and this to me is neither a stereotype nor an exaggeration. As a Maharashtrian, eating meals at my gujju best friend’s house was always a delight. The community has a wonderful knack for experimenting with popular dishes, and it’s almost as if they hack the food to make it their own.
One such dish is their own version of pizza. My friend’s baa (grandmother), a frail and ever-smiling lady, would replace the traditional pizza base with bhakri, which is a round and crispy flatbread usually made from jowar or bajra. Her cooking style was entirely desi — she would lace spread tomato puree on the bhakri and add cheese, onions, peppers and chaat on top. Then she’d place the dish on a pan to cook for 15 minutes, and out would come a thin, crispy and delicious pizza.
For the longest time, I believed this was the right and healthy way to eat pizza, until I learnt about the existence of the original Italian version. So imagine my excitement and the instant sense of nostalgia when I came across the story of Jashuben’s Pizza, an Ahmedabad-based venture, in 2013.
Then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi commended the entrepreneurial spirit of Jashuben and Anderben, who pioneered the bhakri pizza in the early 90s.
A unique pizza oven
Together, these women not only invented the desi version of pizza, but also came up with an innovative oven to bake them using LPG gas. The business began after Jashuben lent a couple of thousand rupees to Anderben so the latter could start her own business. Forty years later, the Jashuben Shah Old Pizza at Law Garden Road is still sold at a modest price of Rs 80, has tasted the same through the years, and remains a favourite across generations of food lovers.
Taking me through the journey of their business is Rajendra Singh, Anderben’s son-in-law. “Jashuben passed away a few years ago. Anderben and my father-in-law, Joraver, handed over the business to me,” says the 37-year-old.
A graduate in hotel management, Rajendra took over the reins of business around 2004-2005, after he got married. “My in-laws needed a new hand, so I decided to support them. The pizza was just getting popular around the time I joined. Today, every customer visiting Jashuben Pizza knows its story,” he says.
In the early 90s, Anderben and Joraver began working as cooks with Jashuben. Anderben expressed her desire to own a business to the latter. “Jashuben agreed to provide all the financial support needed for the business. Pizza was a new concept in 1994, and Anderben wanted to try selling it as street food,” Rajendra says.
However, pizza ovens were not commonly available in those days, and buying expensive commercial equipment was unfeasible. “The duo designed and conceptualised an oven that would work on a cooking gas cylinder. The oven was as tall as a cupboard, and had eight layers. The pizza would be placed on the first layer, and gradually moved upwards layers every few minutes, reaching the eighth layer in 15 minutes. The oven could bake 25 pizzas at a time,” he says, adding that the same oven is in use for making pizzas even today.
A box full of memories
“The pizza dough and tomato puree are kneaded and prepared at home. A layer of the sauce is spread on the base, and onions and capsicum are placed on top. The dish is then topped with a generous layer of grated local cheese, covering all the ingredients underneath,” Rajendra explains.
And no, this dish has no toppings of exotic vegetables such as jalapeños, baby corn, mushrooms, paneer or olives. Regardless, it sells like hotcakes.
“The recipe has not changed even a little in the past 20 years. The menu offers seven varieties — Italian, Jain, cheese baked, plain cheese, margherita, double cheese and pineapple cheese pizza. The five-inch pizza costs between Rs 80 and 100,” he adds.
Apart from the Law Garden outlet, there are two others on Commerce Six Roads and Pralhad Nagar. Rajendra says that about 300 pizzas are sold every day in each outlet, with the earning around Rs 30,000 a day.
Arjav Dave, an Ahmedabad-based IT entrepreneur, says he has many fond memories of Jashuben’s Pizza, where he spent his time hanging out with friends and devouring the thin-crust pizza. “It’s freshly-baked, and the best part is its thin crust. There are a few eateries along the lane, but Jashuben’s Pizza is the most famous one,” he says.
Arjav says his uncle often travels all the way from Gandhinagar just to have a bite of the pizza.
Rajendra says about 60% of the customers have been visiting for years, while the remaining are youngsters who flock here regularly. “A grandfather, father, son and daughters from the same family have been visiting for years. The customers are particular about the quality of food, and the slightest change in taste or flavour is immediately noted by them. Such is the connection they share with this place.We have to be very careful about maintaining the taste,” he adds.
Today, pizza is as famous as a dish can get, but this was not always the case. Anderben struggled to make the business profitable for six long years. “Pizzas did not enjoy popularity or the status of being a common food item, the way it is today. Moreover, there was no digital marketing or social media to promote the business. It took time for people to get used to the taste, and when they liked it, the word spread,” he says.Since Law Garden had developed into a food hub for the youth, the eatery was able to gain the much-needed boost in business.
Jashuben’s Pizza became so popular that many other food outlets began trying to sell the same. “Many people offer it under different names. But no one could match our quality and unique taste,” Rajendra says.
Rajendra says he wants to introduce new varieties of food items and snacks in the future. “The legacy of Jashuben’s traditional pizza will continue, but new products are going to be introduced in coming weeks,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu