Swati Arun (23) recalls a childhood full of happy memories, spent with her parents and sister in Delhi. Long weekends and holidays were always special, when the family would get together baking marble and banana walnut cakes, the genius behind which was Swati’s mother.
“My dad used to make so much fun of me, because as much as I adored cooking and baking, I was terrible at it,” Swati laughs. “I can’t even count how many times I have burnt something, left a dish undercooked, or just made a massive mess in the kitchen. Whenever I’d bake, he’d jokingly ask, ‘Oh, am I going to fall sick? Will my stomach go bad? Will my teeth break?’”
In 2020, Swati was in Paris with her dad, who was working in the French capital. “His birthday is in February, so I baked a cake for him,” she recalls in conversation with The Better India. “That was the first cake of mine that turned out really well, and he had nothing bad to say about it. It was such a sweet moment.”
Constant laughter, banter, and love — that is how Swati remembers her relationship with her father Arun, who passed away in March last year.
Arun was on his way to work when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. “I was in Paris for a stent surgery he’d undergone just a few days before it happened. The stent malfunctioned, and just four days after his surgery, he suffered a cardiac arrest. He was under treatment for about 17 days before he eventually passed away,” she says.
The incident happened a mere 10 days before the world locked down at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can’t put into words how I feel, but you can’t really replace the hurt in your heart when something like this happens. Loss is a very personal and subjective thing. Even my sister and I, who went through the same tragedy, experienced and dealt with our father’s loss differently. So you just have to hang in there and do what you feel is right,” she says.
Swati, her mother, and her sister had all flown in to be with Arun, and the sudden shut down left them stranded in a foreign land with no way out.
‘Our way of showing our love’
“We were stuck in Paris for about three months, and we were scared,” she says. “We were terrified of stepping out due to COVID, and also, we’d just lost someone so close to us. There was a lot of uncertainty.”
She adds, “One day, we ran out of bread at home. Unwilling to step out, I decided to bake some at home. That was probably the first time I ever baked bread.”
Three months later, Swati and her family returned to India. Still reeling from the tragedy and wanting to keep herself and her mother occupied, she turned to YouTube and the internet, and slowly began teaching herself how to bake.
That’s how Arun’s Bakery was born. “My father grew up in Old Delhi, and he loved food,” Swati says. “So it was always a big part of our lives as well. The bakery was our way of showing our love.”
On their return to India, Arun’s Bakery was formally launched in August last year, and Swati dipped into her savings to start it. “I started with about Rs 10,000, and I think a week into running the bakery, we broke even. That’s just the kind of love we received from our friends and family,” she says. “Our network has been mostly organic, barring a few ads on Instagram. Most of it has been through word of mouth.”
Both Swati and her mother, Vandana, have full time jobs, so they began with a limited menu. Presently, they sell breads and cakes, cookies and muffins, although Swati says that they’re constantly working on new dishes to cook up.
The dishes are priced between Rs 250 and Rs 600, and Arun’s delivers across NCR.
“All our ingredients are organic,” she says. “For example, I grow basil at home and use it to make pesto. Our maida (flour) is also organic. We want to keep everything fresh, and make the dish on order-basis, on the day of delivery. Our idea is to provide high-quality food and make sure that the ingredients we use are something that we would eat ourselves.”
The dishes include a good old twist of olive on garlic bread, pesto bread made with homegrown ingredients, a stuffed bread with seasonal vegetables, bechamel and caramelised onions, alongside a fluffy banana and walnut cake that’s mildly spiced, muffins made with espresso and chocolate chips, and a sweet-savoury tooti frooti bun, among others.
Vandana bakes the cookies and cakes, while Swati bakes the bread. The latter, who recently quit her marketing job, now dedicates all her hours to Arun’s Bakery, while Vandana shuffles between her job as a director of a French company and the bakery.
Channeling grief into positivity
Vandana and Swati decided to donate their profits to help the less fortunate in need of medical care. Explaining the reason behind this, Swati says, “We realised that my father was fortunate enough to afford the best treatment. We didn’t have to pay too much for his treatment because of the social security people get in France — a privilege most didn’t have back home. That was one of the driving forces of the bakery.”
Since August 2020, Arun’s Bakery has raised a revenue of Rs 5 lakh, and used it to fund the stent surgery of a man in Gurugram’s Paras Hospital. They are set to sponsor their next one soon, Swati says, adding that a cardiologist at Paras reaches out to them when someone is in need of financial assistance, and the mother-daughter duo offer help accordingly. “The hospital meets us halfway, they reduce the prices of the medicine and surgery, and we cover the rest.”
Their efforts received well-deserved recognition in November when Nykaa approached them for orders to celebrate the company’s IPO listing. The company placed an order for about 180 cupcakes to be delivered across 30 locations.
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“It was amazing that a brand as huge as Nykaa put their trust in a home bakery like ours,” Swati says. “They could have gone to any other big brand, but they were willing to collaborate with and give home bakers a chance. It was also wonderful to see how they support women-led and small businesses.”
Swati admits that it took her a good while and some mistakes to get a better understanding of running a business. She also says that running a women-led business can get tricky when vendors don’t take you seriously, especially when you’re that young. “They take a different kind of tone that they wouldn’t with a man,” she notes.
She adds, “Work-life balance was also initially skewed, because I used to bake from 7 am to 10 am, get to work, and then bake again from 8 pm till around 11 pm. My life had become just about work. When you’re running your own business and managing everything — from logistics to procuring raw materials, acquisition, business development and packaging, there’s no hard stop. So I’ve slowly acquired some time management skills as well.”
Of what she counts as her most triumphant moment in the last year, Swati says, “Running the bakery in itself has been a positive outlet for both my mother and I. It really helped take away our negative thoughts and channel them back into creating something positive. It gave us a way to find our way back from a situation that was so tragic. Other than that, one of the best things that came out of Arun’s was when we stepped up to feed thousands of people during the second wave.”
During India’s second wave of COVID-19, Arun’s Bakery shut down briefly, and Swati and Vandana began a free tiffin service for families suffering from the virus. “We fed about 500 families, and partnered with Dunzo to provide free deliveries of meals. We were making kilos of sabzi, dal, chawal, salad, raita and roti every day and handing the meals out to people in need, completely free of charge. It has been about being able to give back the love we have received. It was much needed at a time when we were so low.”
For orders or more information, you can DM Arun’s Bakery on Instagram. You can also message Swati on her WhatsApp (number available on profile) to be part of their online group to remain updated about new items, offers, and more.
Edited by Yoshita Rao