Sheetal strongly believes that one has to carve out their way in the market. Being a keen observer, she picked the gaps in the market and has created a niche for herself be it in the world of chocolates or dosa. Cheers to her passion!
Think the best place to have hot chocolate in Delhi, by default it’s Colocal and now if anyone thinks of having some of the crispiest vada or chicken donne biryani it’s this quaint little place named Athyeka Café in Noida. The mastermind behind both of this classic has one name Sheetal Saxena. Her inquisitiveness and love for what she does is clearly visible in all her brands.
She strongly believes that one needs to carve their own way, and that only comes with hard work. Having said that, yes, people are not very comfortable with women in this business, and there are hurdles at times, but assertiveness works.
In a quick chit chat with Slurrp, this Woman’s Day she opens up heart on chocolate, love and more.
How do you differentiate your restaurant from other restaurants in the same niche?
Well, all our cafés are different from each other and focus on different products. While roastery coffee focuses on specialty-grade coffee, Colocal focuses on craft chocolate. Both brands only work with Indian-origin beans. Athyeka is a South Indian Cafe format where we focus on South Indian filter coffee along with homestyle South Indian food. We also have PS Cheese, an Indian artisanal cheese brand that serves its food with fresh cheese that’s made in house. All four brands are focused on creating an eco-system for one another while only promoting Indian farmers and local produce.
Apart from your own creations, which is the best chocolate that you have tasted till date?
I love Dandelions from California and Manoa chocolates from Hawaii. Both are craft chocolate makers and make amazing chocolate.
I also love and have a lot of respect for Mason & Co. and their products.
How do you balance the creative and business aspects of your work?
Thankfully, we have been blessed with a family that has an entrepreneurial spirit. While I handle the creative side for both colocal and Athyeka, Nishant and Anshi take care of the business aspects.
What does chocolate mean to you?
Craft chocolate is again very personal. Every craft chocolate maker makes chocolate according to how they like it. For me, I feel a good chocolate should have a low acidity, a smooth mouth feel, and one should be able to taste the notes in it. We explored chocolate making four years ago. My husband, Nishant Sinha, is a speciality coffee roaster and owns a roastery coffee house. Roastery only deals with Indian-origin beans, so when we thought of introducing desserts in the roastery, we again wanted to do Indian-origin chocolates, but there was no one in the market who was doing Indian-origin baking chocolate then. While we tried to understand why we didn’t have it, industry experts said Indian chocolate is not good for baking. That’s where we found a problem that we wanted to solve, and Colocal happened.
How did you develop your chocolate-making skills?
I am a self-taught and experienced chocolate maker. In fact, I still learn about and explore new aspects of cocoa every single day. Nishant introduced me to cacao and its roasting process, and from there our journey of cacao learning began.
With everyone talking 'craft chocolate' what exactly is this?
Craft chocolate is essentially dark chocolate, which is more than 55% and made with high-quality, graded cocoa beans from a particular estate. It is made in small batches and should ideally be preservative-free. One should be able to taste the notes in the chocolate.
First it was Colocal and now it is Athyeka, two totally different brands that you are spearheading. How has the experience been?
Colocal started as a passion project, and we are super thankful for all the love we have received for Colocal.
Athyeka, on the other hand, is our ode to south India through our eyes. After getting married to Nishant, I was in Hyderabad for an entire year, and I absolutely fell in love with the South Indian food. It is so much more than the idli dosas. Also, while we were researching Indian cacao, we stayed in all five states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana), and I absolutely fell in love with the flavourful food they served. When we shifted back to Delhi 2 years ago, I always missed the ghee roast, biriyanis, and Malabar prawn curry, which were homestyle; hence, Athyeka happened. This menu has everything that we love from all five states. Both Colocal and Athyeka are completely different from each other as brands, and it’s been a blissful experience working on both of these brands. While Colocal is our passion, Athyeka is an idea we had while working on cacao for Colocal.
How do you differentiate your restaurant from other restaurants in the same niche? Apart from your own creations, which is the best chocolate that you have tasted till date? Do you think the market is ready yet for a woman entrepreneur in your field?
Well, honestly, the market is never ready for any entrepreneur, let alone a woman. We all need to carve our way, and that only comes with hard work. Having said that, yes, people are not very comfortable with women in this business, and there are hurdles at times, but assertiveness works. Eventually everyone is here for work, irrespective of gender, and I do see a positive change with the people I work with.
How much credit does Nishant get for all that running that you have done?
Well, I am where I am because of him. He is not only a supportive husband but also a great mentor and an amazing human. He shaped my vision into reality with Colocal and Athyeka. He is also a great co-founder to work with, as he holds 20 years of experience in this industry.
Your outlets have an absolutely charming vibe. What thought goes behind them while you design them?
Thank you. All our cafés have an old-world charm and are very reminiscent of old South Indian homes. We love nature and simple things, and our cafés just reflect that. We work in our cafés every day; hence, we wanted to create a very homely and soothing experience for us and for all our guests.