Shyam Sunder Aggarwal is the man behind a culinary empire that best reflects the amalgamation of Indian traditions and modern technology. MARWAR finds out more about the man, whose vision morphed a simple halwai shop into an international brand known the
THE CULINARY HISTORY OF DELHI WOULD BE incomplete without the mention of the Bikanervalas, who have been in the business of Indian mithais and snacks for generations now. After perfecting the art of making gourmet delights in the city of Bikaner in Rajasthan for over a century, the family–the Aggarwals–expanded the business by opening an outlet in Delhi’s famous Chandni Chowk in 1950. Delhiites fondly called them ‘Bikanervala’.
Success was immediate. Over the years, riding on a reputation of uncompromised quality, the name has transformed into an international brand selling Indian sweets, snacks and gourmet delights to patrons across the globe. And all this would not have been possible without the talent and insight of Shyam Sunder Aggarwal, the managing director of Bikanervala.
His claim to fame is the Kaju ki Barfi, which he says is his contribution to the world of Indian sweets. Surprisingly, he himself prefers Agre ka Petha. The culinary czar also admits it is his drive to present the rich culinary tradition of India to the world.
The initial years
“I really enjoyed my childhood. Growing up in Bikaner was a joy. I was not interested in studies and was always exploring the outdoors, running around in the streets and fields. I was fond of sweets and used to stop at the family shop on way back from school,” he recalls.
His fondest childhood memories are that of Diwali. He shares, “Diwali meant new clothes, dressing up and lots of sweets. The family shop was well-stocked and decorated like a bride for the occasion. The sweets were displayed artfully and delicacies were arranged in large brass trays in a conical manner. Every year, a photographer was called early in the morning to take pictures of the shop and a family photograph. Family members dressed in festive attire, and I’d get ready well in time on that day and reach the shop early to ensure a good spot for myself in the portrait.”
Eventually, he gravitated towards the family business and started spending more time at the sweet shop. The elders gradually started entrusting him with small jobs such as packing sweet boxes for customers, or helping out in the workshop where sweets were made. “I learnt the art of making sweets from masters who had been in the business for generations. It was around this time that I learnt a big secret from my elders, ‘Nothing but the quality can keep you ahead of the competition’. I thoroughly enjoyed this phase of my life and took immense pride in our family heritage,” says Aggarwal.
Making of a brand
Today, Bikanervala represents a successful amalgamation of the old and the new. It has incorporated corporate management techniques and modern technology in a traditional family-owned business model. Over the years, two verticals have also been added to its stable of brands: Bikano Café and Bikano packaged food products are now well-established in the domestic and overseas markets.
The company has five modern manufacturing units in the National Capital Region and a chain of around 140 outlets in India across cities such as Delhi, Gurgaon, Agra, Noida, Ghaziabad, Meerut, Haridwar, Lucknow, Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Allahabad, Varanasi, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. It also has a presence in countries such as Singapore, New Zealand, Dubai and Nepal. There are around 70 outlets of their flagship family restaurant chain and 75 Bikano Chat Cafés. Standardisation and modernisation has been the key in expanding the chain, in which ethnic sweets and vegetarian pan-Indian cuisine are served in air-conditioned fine-dining environs.
Importance of roots
Being a Marwari family, the Aggarwal household has always focused on preserving the values and traditions that have been passed down from one generation to another. Aggarwal reveals, “The most important thing about Marwaris is that they respect Indian values, family structure and traditions. A Marwari may live in a foreign country for generations, but he will always retain his Indian-ness. Family is not only our support system, but also provides training for the next generation to learn the ropes. I encourage children to travel around the world and learn about modern technology and management systems, but they should come back and enrich the family enterprise with these newly acquired skills.”
Ask Aggarwal about the one life mantra he has always stuck by and the response is quick and simple, “There is no substitute to hard work. To achieve success, you have to be patient and persevering. You have to maintain an unwavering focus on your aim. Success is bound to follow.”
When it comes to their brand philosophy, he elucidates, “The success mantra at Bikanervala is to look at all products and services from the customer’s point of view. Customer satisfaction is Bikanervala’s most important promotion policy. Uncompromised quality, creativity, far-sightedness and a positive approach are the cornerstones of any business. Learning as we go along is our strength and adding value to our brands is what inspires our team further.”
Giving back to society
The Bikano Trust performs all CSR activities for Bikanervala. They aim to reach out to the more vulnerable sections of society such as underprivileged women and unemployed youth by providing them vocational training for the food industry.
Aggarwal shares, “Earlier, each member of the family knew the entire work process, from procuring raw materials to manufacture of end products. Today, due to the enlarged scale of operations and expanded market, it is inevitable to have training facilities to develop the human resource in an organised manner. Our Bikano Foundation has tied up with the Government of Delhi to provide training to artisans in the art of making Indian sweets and snacks. With this skill-development initiative, we hope to have an academically trained and quality-conscious workforce to help us expand operations in India and abroad.”
The path ahead
When asked about the factors contributing to the success of the company, Aggarwal humbly says, “I would not like to sit on our past laurels and become complacent. It is true that we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The world is our market and sky is our limit.” His vision is to introduce the flavour of Indian sweets, snacks and cuisine to the entire world and to establish the Bikano and Bikanervala brands internationally.
This process entails inclusion of the younger generations of the family and their outlooks and inputs. So Manish Aggarwal, under the tutelage of his illustrious father Shyam Aggarwal, in a tenure spanning over a decade and a half, has not only learnt the ropes of his family business well, but has also steered it to the international markets. One of his key achievements has been to help the company establish a firm foothold in the expanding Middle East market with six outlets in Dubai and Sharjah.
In India, he has successfully launched the Bikano Chat Café, positioning it as an in-house food outlet for corporates. Presently he is also the executive director of Bikanervala Foods Pvt Ltd and is responsible for the company’s operations. Clearly, with such a dynamic mix of ideas and values, there is no stopping Bikanervala from becoming a prominent brand of Indian sweets and snacks globally.
Shyam Sunder Aggarwal (sitting) with Manish Aggarwal
Below: A range of products offered by the company
A Bikanervala restaurant in Hyderabad