Even after the longest days at work, I would come back home to bake late into the night, with all the enthusiasm to crack a new recipe.
Baking is an art in itself and there are many people around the world that enjoy the process of whipping up delicious and beautifully presented desserts. It is an art that takes patience, concentration and a truckload of passion. Baking also demands a high level of precision; an ingredient added in the wrong proportion and poof goes your plans for satisfying your latest craving! From being a Data Analyst to establishing her very own cafe, Niranjana Selvam has come a long way. For those of us with a sweet tooth, The Baker Ninja Cafe is the place to go. With her famous macarons and delightful cakes, Niranjana is sure to lead you into dessert wonderland. Baking is her way of spreading love and positivity. In conversation with the baker who can whip up the most amazing cakes, Chennai Insider gets to know more about her baking journey and her Cafe!
Chennai Insider: Tell us about The Baker Ninja
Niranjana: The Baker Ninja café was launched in Alwarpet in September 2017, where we have been serving customers our range of the highest quality desserts along with hot and cold beverages. Apart from dine-in, we also cater to celebrations with customized cakes and other sweet treats. French Macarons, personalized for parties and weddings, has been one of our stronger and more popular products. For the combined safety of our team and customers, we voluntarily closed the cafe on March 18th, 2020 and are now planning to reopen soon with a safer environment for all. Temporarily we are working out of our production facility which doubles up as a contactless pick up point.
Chennai Insider: What inspired you to start The Baker Ninja? What is the story behind it?
Niranjana: I bought my first oven in 2015 while in a full time job as a Data Analyst. Slowly but surely I started discovering joy in the wonderful process of sourcing good quality ingredients, whipping them up perfectly into desserts that instantly brought smiles on my near and dear ones’ faces. Baking started as a side hustle but quickly took over and became my full time when we decided to open up our cake shop in Alwarpet, Chennai.
The brand name, The Baker Ninja was conceptualized as a witty take on my name (Niranjana). Staying true to the name, we have always prioritized precision in technique in order to bring out perfect bakes consistently.
Chennai Insider: What were the challenges you faced in establishing your business? How did you overcome it?
Niranjana: One of the main challenges when we first opened was hiring the right team. We had a tough first few months of hiring and replacing cycles with endless hours spent on training everyone from scratch, only to find them leave in just a few weeks. We eventually found that it is not only more comfortable for the entire team and for me as a woman entrepreneur, but it is empowering to have independent women working collectively to grow this brand. Since then we have hired, trained and also been able to support the families of all the women who have worked with us.
Chennai Insider: Tell us a little about yourself.
Niranjana: Right from my childhood I have been taking my food rather seriously and the kitchen has always been my happy place. The one year of living in the UK for my Master’s degree pushed me to explore more of this interest, trying new things everyday. After finishing my masters in Business Analytics and Consulting, I worked in the field for 3 years. While I liked the job, there was always the thought at the back of my mind, of not having found my true calling. A year into my job, I took to baking from home for friends’ birthdays and gradually started baking for the office cafeteria and events. Even after the longest days at work, I would come back home to bake late into the night, with all the enthusiasm to crack a new recipe. Somehow my drive to keep doing more kept increasing and that is what made me realise that I had to make the career shift. With the support of my family I was able to start the small cake shop in 2017, and these 3 years have been a greatly enriching experience in the food business.
Chennai Insider: What are the delicacies on your menu? Which is your bestseller?
Niranjana: We have sold over 20,000 French macarons in our journey so far. This is a dessert that demands utmost precision to achieve the perfect look, chew and flavour in every single one we make; hence the dearth of these in Chennai. We can proudly call this one of our best selling products.
We have baked cheesecakes on our menu and they have been very popular as well. Both the New York style cheesecake and the more recently launched Spanish style Basque Cheesecakes, both have been received very well.
Chennai Insider: Tell us about your E-book. What motivated you to write the book?
Niranjana: During the first lockdown, we unintentionally found ourselves without a baking setup (which has been a granted for almost 7 years now). For the first few days it felt like a good break from our hustle but after that I was itching to bake again. I resorted to alternate baking with whatever basic ingredients I could get my hands on, and using basic home kitchen tools like the “paniyaram pan” and the pressure cooker. I saw a lot of our Instagram followers try these things that I was posting but I kept getting a lot of basic baking questions. This pushed me to make better use of my free time to put together a resource for anyone who has just started their journey in baking. I feel like the internet is a great place to learn, it’s also where I learnt all my baking from, but it can be vast and daunting. I thought it would be good to have all the important information required for an absolute beginner in one place. At the time, amidst all the confusion and fear, everyone was finding comfort in spending more time in the kitchen, cooking and baking for family, so I felt the timing could not have been better to launch such a resource. The response so far has been great with everyone who has purchased it finding it very useful.
Chennai Insider: How has the pandemic affected your business? What are the changes that took place because of it?
Niranjana: When the first few cases were being recorded here, for the safety of everyone, we decided to close down our shop temporarily. It took us a month to get a better understanding of the situation and to have a hold on safety measures recommended by experts. We made a shift to contactless pick ups only from our production facility and have had no dine ins ever since. We have adapted ourselves to the new normal and fortunately have been able to keep the business going in these difficult times. We’re hoping to reopen the storefront soon with some changes, in order to continue with this new way of working.
Chennai Insider: What are your goals for The Baker Ninja? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?
Niranjana: We would like to be the one stop for delectable sweet treats for everyone in Chennai, be it for a special occasion or just an everyday indulgence. We would also like to ship to other cities, so more people can have access to our products.
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