Kazem Samandari On L’opera’s Completion Of 10 Successful Years
We shall open two new outlets in Gurgaon within the next 60 days and more are being planned as we enter the second decade of L’Opéra’s existence, reveals Samandari.
In March 2011 Delhi sampled its first taste of authentic French bakery and pastry products, with the launch of L’Opera in Khan Market. Ten years on with more than two dozen outlets, the brand is known for consistently providing high quality products, impeccable service, and permanent innovation.
On the occasion of the brand’s 10th anniversary, Executive Chairman and Founder, Kazem Samandari spoke exclusively to BW Applause & Everything Experiential. Excerpts:
Congratulations on completing 10 years in the industry! Please tell us about the journey so far.
Thank you so much. These 10 years have gone by very fast. It has been a fantastic journey for my son Laurent who is the initiator of the project, for my wife and me who joined him in the early days in his endeavours, for the rather courageous early family investors who believed in the project and obviously for the staff who made all this happen. It was hard to imagine that in the first decade of the 21st century, there was no authentic French patisserie and bakery brand established in India. We took this as both a promise and a warning. A promise for the potential success of the idea and a warning that it was not going to be easy since so many had failed before us.
We would love to know some of your most memorable moments of the 10-year journey.
One of the first memorable moments of our journey came very early when one of your journalist colleagues published a piece featuring a picture of Laurent and his sister Caroline in front of the first tray of macarons produced at our facility. Almost immediately, we received an order for over 8000 macarons to be delivered along with the wedding invitations of one of the most prominent families of Delhi-NCR. This was the best way to introduce L’Opéra to the cream of Delhi’s society. Another event was the inauguration of our flagship store in Khan Market by H. E. Jérôme Bonafont, the Ambassador of France who personally cut the ribbon on March 30, 2011. Other memorable events are when we were honoured by sending our products to royalty overseas or the inauguration of our first Salon de Thé (Tea Room) format and later our first Café Restaurant.
What according to you are the qualities that have ensured L’Opéra’s continued success?
The company was built around 8 Core Values which we extended to 10 on the occasion of our 10-year anniversary. They are the inspiration, guiding principles and blueprint for the operation and development of the company. The first on the list is absolute Commitment to Excellence and Quality, which has huge consequences since it means investing long term without the promise of immediate financial returns. The other core values are Truthfulness, Honesty and Transparency; Gender Equality; Meritocracy and Equal Opportunity; Courtesy; Collaboration and Mutual Respect; Consultation; Ownership and Accountability; Spirit of Service and finally Responsible and Sustainable Growth.
How has your savoury section been received by customers?
Quite well, though we need to continue familiarising our Indian customers and patrons with French specialities. We need to go through the same process which we followed for our pastries and breads. It will take some time, but we are sure when more people try our Croque Monsieurs, Vol-au-Vents, Onion and Goat Cheese Tarts, savoury Mille Feuilles, famous French Onion Soup and many other delicacies that we are gradually adding to our menu, they will begin to appreciate them equally.
What were the biggest challenges you faced as a brand in the past year and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was to ensure the safety of our customers and of our staff through the introduction of stringent hygiene protocols and additional measures such as individual packaging of all our pastry products. Next was obviously the issue of cash flow. During the first few weeks of lockdown, we had zero revenues with all activities halted. We restarted by producing only breads for online sale and through home delivery. A few months later we opened our outlets for takeaway only and then allowed limited dine-in and so forth. Managing our cost by right sizing the staff, renegotiating rental agreements to the extent possible, and securing the regular flow of raw materials were some of the other issues we had to face over the last 12 months.
Has your marketing approach changed to address these challenges?
There are different approaches to marketing. We prefer to be understated, by concentrating our limited resources on products and services and letting the customer experience speak for itself, rather than advertising beyond our means. During the pandemic, we did not change course but reinforced our customer engagement by revamping our website, reinforcing our social media presence using every opportunity to communicate with the public and allowing the customers to increasingly use our online shop and home delivery services.
How do you maintain your French ethos while offering products of mass Indian appeal?
This is an excellent question. We have remained absolutely loyal to our “Frenchness” whilst offering products that appeal to the Indian palate. For instance, we offer a rose water macaron or more chocolate based pastries which are appreciated by our local customers. We have noticed over the years that our Indian customers, who represent over 85% of our clientele, are as keen as their foreign counterparts to enjoy high quality authentic French products. Obviously, we are not really talking about the “masses”, but the socio-economic segment of society who can be categorised as potential L’Opéra customers. We have also prepared an amazing “Exclusive Eggless Collection by L’Opéra” featuring some 50 eggless products which will be introduced later this month.
What are the seasonal / special offerings people can try currently at L’Opéra?
We have just introduced three spring and anniversary specials which have been very well received by the customers. They are uniquely French, light and fun to enjoy - Paris-Brest, Choux à la Crème and Chouquettes. Paris-Best is made with praline and biscuit crunch, this quintessentially French pastry has been revamped with an even nuttier and creamier taste. Choux à la Crème is a classic French pastry made out of choux pastry buns filled with a delicately flavoured cream. And finally, Chouquettes which is the favourite of all French school children - and their parents - is a type of choux pastry consisting of small portions of dough sprinkled with pearl sugar.
What is next on the cards for your brand?
L’Opéra was destined to become a national brand in India by extending its presence to Mumbai, Chennai and a few other major cities in 2020, but then came COVID-19 which upset all our plans and sent us back to the drawing board. We are happy to have successfully navigated through the crisis and are now continuing our journey. We shall open two new outlets in Gurgaon within the next 60 days and more are being planned as we enter the second decade of L’Opéra’s existence.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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