Fancier bakeries and patisseries have opened across Delhi to give Wenger’s competition, but the establishment can still hold its own.
Cream rolls, chocolate and lemon tarts, chicken and mushroom patties, and chocolates covered in colourful foil line the shelves at Wenger’s in Connaught Place. The manager Charanjeet Singh has been with the company since 1965 and confirms that a Swiss couple with the last name Wenger established the bakery in 1926. It was designed by British architect Sir Robert Tor Russell and was the first bakery in Delhi to introduce Swiss chocolates and margarine cakes.
Indians weren’t familiar with cakes and pastries in the 1920s, and since Wenger’s products were expensive, its clientele mainly was British in its early days. However, as the place grew in popularity, the owners added patties and cookies to the menu, all of which continue to be bestsellers even today.
Connaught Place was completed in 1933, and Wenger’s had already been established as a venue for socialising in the city. Since it used to be more like a restaurant in its early days, people made bookings in advance. Wenger’s was earlier a tearoom and a confectionery spread over two floors, which included Rendezvous (the café), La Mer (the ballroom) and Green Room (the party room). But, in the style of the British who ruled over India then, Wenger’s used to closing its doors to move to Shimla during the summer.
A couple of years before Indian independence, the Swiss couple managing Wenger’s sold the bakery to the Tandon family. BM Tandon was then an employee, and his son, Atul Tandon, is the bakery’s current owner. Atul has carried his grandfather’s legacy forward with great care and attention to quality.
As the British left India and restaurants sprung up around Delhi, the importance of Wenger’s slowly faded. The large ballroom wasn’t being used and was expensive to maintain. So, in the ’60s, Wenger’s started to offer catering and sustained a clientele that included diplomats and embassies. But, of course, the bakery had its share of celebrities visiting it, too. Personalities like MF Hussain, actress Helen and prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have all been fans.
The restaurant closed its doors in 1979, and Wenger’s became smaller. However, the current bakery is in its original location. The brand has mostly remained true to its old recipes but has also moved ahead, especially when replacing margarine with butter and fresh cream. Special occasions see the arrival of festive goodies like hot cross buns and Easter eggs. Christmas time sees their famous plum cake and pudding.
Fancier bakeries and patisseries have opened across Delhi to give Wenger’s competition, but the establishment can still hold its own. Today, its prices are reasonable compared to other bakeries in Delhi, and quality standards are upheld. It has become an iconic institution, and it’s heartening to see Dilliwalas recognise its value.