Sweet Dreams - Mehnaz Hussain Ali talks with You & I

With a pinch of determination, a dash of hard work, and a generous heaping of natural talent, Mehnaz Hussain Ali has just the right mix for a gifted baker. And her bake shop, Labonel, provides the proof. Soon after its launch, Labonel became synonymous with quality, offering a wide range of desserts, cakes and pastries, made exclusively to order.

It isn’t just Mehnaz’s fresh bakes that leave one craving more. One can’t forget the aroma of melting butter and gooey chocolate that lingers even after stepping out of the shop. What started as a hobby has grown into a well-established brand, now known in many parts of the country.

Tell us about your journey in baking.
I started baking at the age of 11. I continued baking as a hobby even after marriage. Eventually my passion turned into a profession. I’m a self-taught baker, and everything I have learned over the years has been through trial and error. It was rather a practical experience of sorts. I feel that the art of baking and decorating can only be enhanced and learned through continuous repetition. No matter how many courses you take, if you don’t practice regularly, you will never get it right. I don’t think I ever gave up on a recipe; if it didn’t work the first time, I wouldn’t stop trying until it did.

The way cakes are baked in Hyderabad is evolving, and people are more aware of different confectioneries.  Do you feel your customers’ demands are also changing?
Yes. There is a constant need for variety. People want change and request more choice on the menu. Gifting, especially, is a big part of our culture, and demands variety in products. I also feel that customers are inclined towards a simpler, healthier style of baking. No mixes, no chemicals, preservatives or additives. Although aesthetics do play a certain role in how cakes and patisserie items are presented, customers are much more conscious about the ingredients being used. There is a certain sense of satisfaction when we reassure our clients that we bake fresh and, more importantly, that we bake as we would at home.

Apart from your baking skills, your business acumen also seems strong. Do you feel that branding changes the game? How?
I can’t take sole credit for the business; my husband and I work as a team. We are at this stage in the business because of his strong vision for growth. His sound decisions for brand Labonel and its products have taken the company beyond our expectations. If I had to sum up matters, I would say what goes in the box is my challenge, and how the box is taken forward with respect to branding and visibility is his ball game! Good branding is undoubtedly a game changer, without which you’re left behind.  

What are your future plans for Labonel?
We would like to expand further, and take Labonel to other cities one day. But to be honest, it’s not an easy task. We take pride in ourselves for our ability to bake fresh at each location. The smell and taste of freshly made bakes when you walk into any of our stores is what gives that sense of comfort to the customer. Expanding this experience to other cities is definitely a challenge.

What is your favourite confection?
I love plain and simple teatime cakes. No icing, no frills. Just plain old comfort food on a lazy, hazy, or rainy day!

How do you use your free time?
I love to read. I indulge in different genres. It takes me into another world/dimension apart from my work, and allows me to relax.         – as told to Sumana