27 Jul 2015 20:30 IST

How Chef Nishant hit the sweet spot with his brownies

Quitting a major hotel chain as a junior sous chef, Nishant looks to exotic brownies to feed his entrepreneurial dreams

Pulling back the sheet of foil covering the cake tin the chocolate brownie is cooling in, chef Nishant Vijaykumar carefully cuts a slice and hands it to me. I stare at it for a moment, sniff it and proceed to taste. With a name like Brownie Heaven, one would assume his creations would look more exotic. However, what the brownie lacks in looks, it surely makes up for in taste. It’s soft and chewy, sweet but not too sweet, and the lightly browned, coarsely chopped nuts — added as just a topping and not mixed into the batter — let you enjoy the brownie as it is, without interfering with the texture.

Nishant Vijaykumar, founder and chef Brownie Heaven

Brownie Heaven offers 12 flavour combinations that include the staid ones, such as Classic, Roasted Nuts and Peppermint, and also Chilly and Jamaican for the more adventurous palate. But at the end of the day, it’s just a brownie. Surely, anyone with a foolproof recipe and the ability to stick to instructions can be assured of perfect results, batch after batch. So, what set yours apart, I ask him?

“The idea was to create a simple product, consistently, and to build a sustainable brand. To give people something they already know and like, but better than what’s on offer elsewhere, by using good quality ingredients, such as top quality chocolates and unique flavour options such as peppermint, while charging a nominal price,” says 25-year-old Nishant, founder of Brownie Heaven.

Experience counts

Prior to entering the culinary space, Nishant was an avid cricketer and played for the State-level team as well.

“But I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, something to do with food,” he adds. “I quit Loyola College, where I had enrolled through a sports quota, and decided to work in a professional kitchen. I spent some time working the kitchens at prominent city-based restaurants such as Copper Chimney and Cornucopia. I realised food is where my heart is so I chose to pursue a Bachelor’s in Hotel Management from Manipal,” he says.

On graduating, he joined the Sheraton, Saket, and later the ITC Maurya in New Delhi, as a kitchen management trainee. After this, he was also part of the pre-opening team at the ITC Grand Bharat in Gurgaon.

He had only recently been promoted to the level of Junior Sous Chef at the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, when he quit to chase his dream of an entrepreneurial venture, and thus Brownie Heaven was born.

Celebrity clientele

At present, Nishant operates out of a modest test kitchen situated in what looks like an abandoned office complex on Chennai’s Peter’s Road, in the Royapettah area. “I started by advertising on Facebook and through word of mouth. I have a fairly large network of influential people who are my friends; it comprises cricketers and film stars from the Tamil industry,” he says. But he is quick to add: “They will buy it once if they were just supporting me, but they are all repeat customers. Not just them, my customer base has expanded to around 400, and 90 per cent are placing repeat orders. So, I am sure about my product’s quality, and confident of retaining customers.” Nishant’s clientele boasts of celebrities such as producer Aishwarya Dhanush, singer Vijay Yesudas, actor Amitash Pradhan, who is set to debut in VIP, and cricketer Murali Vijay.

Business seems brisk. Apart from individuals, Brownie Heaven supplies to restaurants, coffee shops and institutions, and has just broken even, having recovered the initial investment of ₹2 lakh.

Brownie Heaven has sold over 500 kg in two months. To break it down, that’s around 9 kg of brownies a day! And a kilo costs anything between ₹600 and ₹900.

Plans for cafe

But Nishant has bigger plans. In three weeks’ time, he will open his first café, occupying the shop just beside the entrance to his building. It’s been all of two months since he started this business, where's the rush, I ask him?

“I don’t want to be just a home baker,” says Nishant.

The cafe will serve brownie-based dessert concepts, like a brownie nest, which he says is a brownie with an indentation, served as a sundae with fruits, nuts, mascarpone cheese and sauces, anything that catches his fancy. “I want to innovate on a classic,” he adds.

Isn’t he afraid though, all of 25, and starting and managing a business of his own? “I used to work 15 to 18 hours a day in a professional kitchen. Yes, it was tough and demanding, as is this. I still work 18 hours, but this time, it’s for myself, so it’s different,” he says emphatically.