Think Kolkata and a vision of sweets like sandesh and rasogollah immediately comes up, and so does the name Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick, one of the most iconic sweet shops of the city. Sudip Mullick, the fourth-generation owner of the popular brand, talks to Slurrp about taking this sweet vision well into the future.
Kolkata has always evoked visions of sweets like sandesh and rasogollah, those typical Bengali varieties of mishti that have now become popular across the world. But when citizens of Kolkata think about these sweets, the name of one iconic sweet shop immediately pops up as their go-to: Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick. A century and a half old, this mishti shop is synonymous to Kolkata and has an immense legacy too. But, unlike many heritage food places, Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick has managed to stay relevant and updated with the innovations introduced by their current owner, Sudip Mullick.
Mullick is the fourth-generation owner of the business, which started off with one branch in Bhawanipore 138 years ago when his great-grandfather moved to the city. Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick has since thrived and made great strides, leaving a huge imprint on the city’s culinary tapestry. In conversation with Slurrp, Sudip Mullick revealed the value of the legacy and the need for innovations to keep the business thriving for another century.
An Incomparable Legacy Of Sweetness
Mullick first explains how the legacy he carries came into being with his great-grandfather, Ganesh Mullick. “Prior to Ganesh Mullick coming to Kolkata, our family was based out of Konnagar on the banks of the River Hooghly,” he says, adding that their family business was always about sweets. “There is still a small sweet shop in Konnagar, Mullick Sweets, which was run by my forefathers. Ganesh Mullick decided to take the family business to Kolkata, to set up something on his own. He worked in different sweet shops, learnt more about making popular sweets to grasp the taste of Kolkata. He observed that outside Kolkata, people want their mishti to be sweeter. In Kolkata, people want less sweetness and more of a finish in the mishti. He also noticed that the best sweet shops were in North Kolkata.”
During a visit to Kalighat Temple in Bhawanipore, Ganesh Mullick realized that the area he was in was the last thriving point of the city at the time. Jadubabur Bazar was a huge market and iconic personalities like Ashutosh Mukherjee, Subhash Chandra Bose all lived nearby. So, he rented a store at INR 400 per month and started his business with two coal burners. “He used to mainly prepare varieties of Sandesh, then Rasogollah and Gulab Jamun,” Mullick explains. “After some time, his sons Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick joined the business.”
Balaram Mullick was famous for catering to customer demands. “I’ve heard that one customer asked if he could make Jackfruit Sandesh. The staff didn’t know how, so Balaram Mullick got jackfruit, took out the pulp, mixed it with chhena and made the sandesh by wrapping it in sal leaves before cooking it. Till date, we don’t use any dyes for our Jackfruit Sandesh and instead rely on the sal leaves. For us, maintaining this legacy of recipes is very important.” The customers know it too. For example, Ashutosh Mukherjee started frequenting the shop and his descendants do the same even today.
Over the century, Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick has become an iconic landmark and must-visit place in Bhawanipore. “People navigate the bylanes, the one-way streets, the bustle of Jadubabur Bazar to get to our shop,” Mullick says. Staying close to the market has also benefitted the business since it makes sourcing fresh fruits for a variety of sweets much easier. Bhawanipore also has a huge non-Bengali (predominantly Gujarati and Marwari) presence, and the shop has been able to capture their attention too. “Jadubabur Bazar, Bhawanipore and Balaram Mullick—we have all thrived because we were able to complement each other,” he says.
Not Just A Legacy But A Responsibility
Mullick goes on to explain that this legacy is so valuable that there are times when it feels like a huge responsibility, one that he can’t take chances with. “I didn’t start this business, my forefathers did. Sure, the family business gave me huge mileage but at the same time, it restricted me from taking risks with the brand,” he says. “I always knew that I cannot take this lightly or destroy it, because I have not built it from scratch. The only risks I’ve taken have been organic and calculated to ensure that the brand should thrive for another 100 years.”
Expansion, therefore, happened over generations. Mullick explains how when his father, Pradip Mullick took over the business, he decided to modernize it by introducing modern packaging—making it easier for visitors to the city taking the sweets back to their homes across the world. Keeping up with this, Mullick converted their Bhawanipore shop into a showroom of sweets that could appeal to visitors. He has had more impactful contributions too. “Till 2004, we had only one branch,” he explains. “When I joined, I started opening more branches across Kolkata, and now we have 16 branches.”
Mullick’s most popular contribution is not just opening more branches but also introducing a whole range of baked Bengali sweets. Before he innovated the Baked Rasogollah, no sweet shop in the world had imagined such a twist on the world-famous classic is possible. What inspired him to create this dish? Mullick had trained as a chef and was about to leave for London when the opportunity to join the family business came up. “I studied hotel management and I was always longing to become a chef,” Mullick says with a laugh. “My forte was baking, even as a kid at home. I used to bake my own bread at home. Once I experimented with bitter gourd stuffed with chhena, a dish that took my family by pleasant surprise. After I joined the business, I thought, why not bake sweets? I combined the sandesh and rasagollah to make Baked Rasagollah and it became an instant hit!”
Keeping Up With The Nation’s Taste For Sweets
Because he was able to combine his love for baking and sweet innovations with the future of the business, and because it brought him immense success, Mullick has never felt the need to leave the business. “I kept on introducing new items and everyone went gaga over them,” he says. “Then people started choosing the new sweets over the old legacy sweets. Now people ask us what’s new every season! People now expect us to innovate all the time. I can say proudly that our innovations have taught people beyond Bengal how to enjoy Bengali sweets in this day and age. Credit where it’s due, they have learnt this from us and the other iconic Kolkata sweet shop with a legacy, Girish Chandra Dey & Nakul Chandra Nandy. Today, 80 per cent of our customers are non-Bengalis within and beyond Kolkata.”
Mullick is right on point. It is in fact shops like these that have popularized typical Bengali sweet ingredients like nolen gur and jhola gud. Now, people not only ask for baked sweets at Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick, but also for traditional gud-based sweets. Mullick wants to continue with this success streak, and he has understood that constant innovation in all aspects is the key. “During the lockdown, we realized the value of safely sealed products instead of hand-packed sweets in boxes that can be easily opened,” he says. “So, we are now working on increasing the shelf life of sweets by improving the quality of packaging further. Now our Baked Rasagollah stays fine for 15 days without any preservatives, all thanks to the packaging. We are also now delivering our sweets across the nation through intercity delivery services.”
But despite all this success, Mullick has no plans to start branches in India beyond Kolkata. “My position has always remained the same on this,” he explains. “I wanted to transform Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick into a boutique sweet shop that is synonymous to Kolkata. I want my sweet shop to be a brand ambassador for Kolkata. Whenever people think of Kolkata, they’ll think of our sweets—that's my vision. The only expansion plans I have beyond Kolkata are for London, Dubai and New York, as an international representative for the city of Kolkata.”