Bollywood celebrities like Rajkummar Rao, Hema Malini, and others treat themselves to healthy, vegan desserts from the kitchen in the winding Bandra lanes of this one Mumbai baker in Maharashtra.
But three years ago, when Juhi Pahwa kicked off her venture, The Better Binge, she didn’t dream that her Instagram account would bring her fame.
“I always wanted to do something with food,” says the 31-year-old speaking to The Better India. “At 21, I dreamt of having my own restaurant. I worked with my father in his indenting firm before I got married and learnt work discipline from him. I also had a venture of designing clothes and setting up exhibitions,” says Juhi.
However, her husband’s grandfather, Ved Prakash Pahwa, was the brainchild behind The Better Binge. “His health wasn’t something to worry about, just a 90-year-old man with diabetes who wanted to enjoy desserts! Dada wasn’t allowed refined sugar or flour. This is where the entire concept of The Better Binge came up. So, I started experimenting with desserts with natural sugars and wheat and jowar flour instead of refined flour.”
And experiment she did with her 70 per cent dark vegan chocolate and jowar substitutes in sponge cakes. Her mango chocolate cake, for instance, is a jowar dark chocolate sponge with a vegan 70 per cent dark chocolate ganache and fresh Alphonso.
Growing the vegan market base
Juhi says she decided to call her venture The Better Binge because she uses ‘better ingredients’ and her desserts have ‘better calories’ and a ‘better taste’.
What started as a baking experiment on 15 July 2017 led to her registering her brand name on 21 November later that year. A formal launch of The Better Binge took place on International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018.
Her brush with tinsel town celebs happened organically via word-of-mouth almost immediately after her launch. “Someone sent my cakes in their PR [public relations] packages, and the rest is history. They later got in touch themselves,” says Juhi, without revealing any names.
Her first interaction with a celebrity was with a fitness trainer and author – Yasmin Karachiwala, right after the brand’s official launch in April 2018. “I was both nervous and excited. She had ordered a cake for her son’s birthday, which has now gone on to become my bestseller — The Jowar Nutty Chocolate cake,” says Juhi, adding that Yasmin’s mention of her dessert in an Instagram story is what got the ball rolling.
“The Better Binge’s desserts have been my go-to for a while now to satiate all my sweet cravings… From their Nutty Chocolate Muffins to their Peanut Butter cakes, the best thing is that all their ingredients are natural and healthy,” Yasmin said in this video.
“Yasmin has played a crucial part in my journey. She also got the celebrities she works with addicted to my Better Binges,” adds Juhi.
In a comment on one of her posts, Esha Deol wrote, “Always enjoy your yummy healthy treats (sic).”
Other celebrities featured on her account include Hema Malini, Jacqueline Fernandez, Kiara Advani and Katrina Kaif.
Asked which celebrity she enjoyed working with the most, and Juhi replies, “All of them are really good, but I guess, Patralekha and Rajkummar Rao are the best people to work with. They’re so humble and sweet. I made a cake for Rajkummar’s birthday, and he called me the next day to say thank you and tell me how he enjoyed it. That is one memory that’s going to stick with me forever!”
Tips for home chefs
“I’m very much like all homegrown brands. I just pay a lot of importance to my Instagram feed, stories and aesthetic, most of which is overlooked by other brands. Social media has played a key role in building my brand. It’s what you see and like that you place an order for instantly, and that’s what has worked in my case. I get a lot of my orders and queries on my @thebetterbinge page,” says Juhi, who currently has over 19,000 followers.
Her tea cakes are priced between Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 for 500 gms/kg. “My bigger, bolder celebration cakes start at Rs 3,500/- a kg,” she says.
Her ‘best seller’ Jowar Nutty Chocolate cake is Rs 1,500 for 500 gms, whereas her ‘millionaires cake’ goes for Rs 6,500. She also customises cakes depending on requirements.
Juhi sends out a minimum of 8-10 cakes a day, with some days her orders reaching up to 20-25 cakes, all prepared in her home kitchen in Bandra.
On curating the vegan, dairy-free menu, Juhi says, “The menu has a flavour palette to suit everyone. It has basics like carrot cakes, apple cinnamon cakes, and bold combinations like dark chocolate and peanut butter or mango chocolate. I also have a special sugar-free butterscotch cake for non-chocolate lovers. Curating the menu meant getting a mix of flavours while keeping the classics in mind. The menu is a balance of experimental and classic cakes, both equally loved.”
As many Indians consciously abstain from using animal products, the Mumbai baker says there is a huge untapped market here. “A huge section of the market right now either wants to be cruelty-free or is lactose intolerant. Also, replacing cream, dairy and yoghurt with vegan options make the fat content lower.” She adds, “The vegan market is growing and thus, keeping those options on the menu is always a great choice. You build a customer base eventually.”
So what might her dada say now that inspired by his cravings, she’s built a burgeoning vegan brand? “I’m sure he’s looking down from the heavens and smiling and blessing me as always. He was always very proud of The Better Binge and me,” she signs off.
To order from The Better Binge, message Juhi on WhatsApp on 9819154095 or chat her up on her Instagram page.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)