Makers of Mumbai: Nazneen Dharamsey of Artique



Nazneen Dharamsey is on a mission to bring art into our every day. Her brand, Artique, sells products ranging from mugs and business card holders to bags and umbrellas, and she’s making sure we’re surrounded by art and beauty wherever we go. To order Artique products, you can visit the Facebook page or message on 084548 07122.


The City Story: Tell us about Artique’s journey.

Nazneen Dharamsey: Artique turned three in November this year. My mum is an artist. She studied it in college and then lost touch when life got in the way. She took up art again seven years ago. While art is very interesting, it is a small space and so unexplored. It is perceived as something that has a snob appeal and a niche and intimidating space. Art is such a holistic, expressive field and has so much untapped potential. That’s where the idea came up from for making art part of your daily consumption. It started in the home scape; soon we realised offices are another space where people spend a lot of time. So we started with daily products like coasters and trays. Now we’re also in the space of fashion and actually taking things out.

TCS: Did you study art/design? And do you do all the work yourself or do you have a team?

ND: No, I have zero experience in Art. I’m from advertising world. I started in client servicing, moved to account management and then into planning. I saw this space, which is completely new to me. I just took it up to see where it goes. I do have a sense of aesthetics. So I do know what looks nice visually. Also, essentially coming from a research background, I’ve got a deeper understanding of what consumers like and put that into play when and where I can with Artique.


Artique is just me. And I’ve consciously kept it that way. The minute you bring in other people, it’s different minds that get in the way. I do that enough in my other job everyday where I consult in AD projects. This is something that’s just mine, so I don’t have any timelines or restrictions.

Of course I don’t think anything is really done in isolation. I have my mum, my fiancé, and my friends who are extremely supportive of this idea and who consider themselves part of the journey.

TCS: How do you choose your designs? How do you decide which pieces make the cut?

ND: There are two kinds of paintings my mum does. Stuff that she does for exhibits and sales, and the ones she does purely for pleasure. Which is why those are very in flow, unadulterated and colourful, not made to perfection. It comes straight from the heart. It’s a constant fight picking on the ones to use. She loves her floral collection, her style is nature and abstract. I love her abstracts. Abstracts, as an art form on merchandise and home décor, is something you don’t see too often. The best thing about abstract art is that you can never recreate it. Even the artist can never really recreate it exactly the same. I love the story behind each piece of art. I try and inculcate that story when I’m trying to sell a product or talking to a prospective buyer: what’s the story behind this piece of art.


TCS: What do you think makes Artique stand out?

ND: I think the fact that we’re just not playing the game.

I’m not looking at what could be called competitors, and I’m not looking at their pricing and trying to figure if can I do better. I’m just doing the things that I think will work from my interaction with people. Things I think they will utilise every day. So for Artique, it’s not about pegging yourself against anyone We are just creating our own thing and taking each day as it comes. So one days it’s about products, the next day it’s about the blog, and the third day it’s something else.

TCS: Where do you see Artique going?

ND: It’s been a very conscious decision to keep the map fluid at the moment. The crux of Artique remains the same: we will always be about the everyday person, the everyday life and the role that art plays in that. There’s no other restriction. One leg of the business model is products, because that’s where the revenue is generated. The other leg we’ve worked on and we’re building right now its experience. Chatting Chai, for example, is things like the blog where we have everyday conversations over a cup of chai and try to bring art into the conversation. So at times my friend and I visit galleries around Mumbai and the blog about the experience. The blog is shared on our social media platforms. The idea is to get people to speak about art and contribute their writings. That’s something we’re building right now. At the same time, on the side I’ve started conducting these little groups, like a book club, but where people get together to discuss art and artists. It’s about getting in new age ideas about how people perceive art. Even a nine-year-old would have a clear view on how she perceives a particular piece of art. The idea is more about changing a mindset, as opposed to just selling a product.

Photographs courtesy Artique




Makers of Mumbai: Rhea Chhabria of SuckIn Straws

SPACE EXPERIENCE PEOPLE FOOD + DRINK VIDEO suckin straws metal disposable single use straws rhea chhabria


Rhea Chhabria always had the urge to do more for the environment and animals. When her pleas with restaurant owners to quit single-use straws fell on deaf ears, she co-founded SuckIN – reusable and eco-friendly bamboo and metal straws, stirrers, and cleaners.


The City Story: Why did you start SuckIN Eco Straws?

Rhea Chhabria: In November 2017, I was having brunch at Bastian when I met Chef Kelvin Cheung and applauded him for using paper straws. But he was disillusioned and not at all satisfied and asked me to help him find something reusable. I had made several repetitive attempts to convince other restaurant owners to quit single-use straws but failed. Therefore, I decided to take matters into my own hands and contacted my partner, Suraj Nair, to make reusable straws. We came up with the idea of metal and bamboo straws, and that gave birth to SuckIN in January 2018.

TCS: Why opt for bamboo and stainless steel as base materials?

RC: Stainless steel is a light, durable, rust-proof, flavour-free material that is available in food grade and medical grade quality; it doesn’t react with acids that might be present in foods and lasts a lifetime, just like your cutlery.

Bamboo, on the other hand, is a natural product that is fast growing, native to India, and inherently hollow, making it the perfect straw to be used up to 20 times and then put into your wet waste to naturally degrade.

TCS: How safe and hygienic are these products since they can be reused?

RC: Cleaning properly is the key factor for their safe usage. All the inner surfaces of SuckIN straws are smoothened, preventing any residual food particles, and we provide cleaning brushes that can clean the innards of the straws. Alternatively, our straws are also dishwasher safe, making the process of cleaning extremely simple and easy, whether at home or in a restaurant. We use only the best quality of steel which is rust proof, lead-free, BPA-free, and flavour-free. Using a SuckIN straw is as safe as using a spoon/fork. Bamboo is a natural product, so it doesn’t contain any chemicals. It is equally easy to clean, but being a natural product it catches on to strong natural and artificial colouring present in foods. It also could get damaged if someone has a habit of chewing on straws. We would recommend keeping it in a dry place to dehydrate it thoroughly before storing, to avoid any growth of fungus.

suckin straws metal disposable single use straws rhea chhabria

TCS: It is said that although a stainless steel object can be recycled, it does not degrade. By that logic, how sustainable it is?

RC: The whole concept of stainless steel straws is that they become like your cutlery, as they last a lifetime. Stainless steel can be recycled multiple times. When need be, the steel can be melted into liquid form and converted into a new object, thus never ending up in a landfill. Our products follow the rule of the 3 Rs – reduce, reuse, and recycle, making them eco-friendly.

TCS: What are the challenges you faced setting this up, and how did you cope?

RC: Hailing from a design background, business development and management is absolutely new for me, but my partner, Suraj, has guided me through the journey. The major issues we face as a startup are addressing people’s concerns over the safety issues of reusable straws. Another pointer that our clients in the hospitality business are irritated about is of theft of straws by their customers. To combat this, we started engraving the logo of each restaurant on the straw to make their customers aware that the straw belongs to the restaurant.

TCS: What keeps you going?

RC: Preserving our planet is the need of the hour. The inherent need to see change is what keeps me going. I have grown up near Juhu beach that had clean, light sand, seashells, fish, and sea birds and have seen it transform over the years into a plastic dump with carcasses of dolphins, turtles, and whales washing up ever so often. As a scuba diver and an avid traveller, I have seen swathes of plastic floating in the sea and have always wanted to do something about it. So, having a green alternative to straws and stirrers help us prevent single-use plastic landing up in the oceans, thereby protecting marine life.

suckin straws metal disposable single use straws rhea chhabria

TCS:  How green conscious is your lifestyle?

RC: We are all aware about how consumption of meat, seafood, dairy products, and leather goods damages our planet. I gave up non-vegetarian food and leather goods in February 2016. I still do eat fish when I am travelling internationally for lack of vegetarian options. I have reduced dependency upon single-use plastic at home and in the office. Using a bamboo toothbrush, biodegradable sanitary napkins and soap bars, carrying my own reusable cutlery and water bottles, etc. are some options I religiously adhere to. In fact, anybody with a green responsibility can adopt such a lifestyle.

TCS: What are SuckIN’s future plans?

RC: We aim to create a variety of products to replace single-use plastic items. Our goal currently is to replace every plastic straw in India with reusable and eco-friendly alternatives. We can also style these options as corporate gifts. We are also working on cheaper options that we can sell to coconut vendors, udipi restaurants, and fast food chains. We are positive that we will be able to achieve all these in the next five years.

Photographs courtesy SuckIN Straws



Makers of Mumbai: Nishchay Gogia of Moochwala



Moochwala was launched in August 2015 with t-shirts dedicated to lovers of moustaches and beards. Since then, it has steadily grown into the one-stop shop for all things mooch, making moustache-inspired items like quirky bowties, mugs, mobile covers, diaries, and more. We caught up with its founder Nishchay Gogia who tells us about its origins, social causes, and what he’s learned about Mumbai’s shopping habits.

moochwala nischay gogia


The City Story: How and when did Moochwala’s journey begin?

Nishchay Gogia: It was [in 2015]. I was planning a solo trip to Spain and wanted to carry a couple of fun graphic t-shirts with me. I was a bit disappointed to find there were only two options available anywhere I looked that played around with the concepts of moustaches and beards, and I already owned them.

While away, I noticed that beard trend wasn’t isolated to India; it was all over the world. So once I got back I got in touch with my designer friend Amrita Saluja and discussed the possibility of working to fill this gap in graphic t-shirts together, and Moochwala began. A lot of names were scouted at first, and we almost locked on “Moustache Mania”, but we found Moochwala to be more generic. Like you see someone with a beard and moochwala–daadheewala is the first thing that comes to mind. It makes it easier for the brand to travel.

TCS: Do you have a background in design?

NG: No, I don’t. I’m not a design person, I’m an ideas person. I enjoy cracking quotes. As a creative director in television, I’m good with keeping track of trends and manage to come up with t-shirt around that. So when Wild Wild Country was all that everyone could talk about, we came up with a t-shirt that said “Wild Wild Beard”. Also, some of our products and designs are seasonal. We have Moochwala rakhis that pop in during Raksha Bandhan that have been very popular. Also during Diwali we’ve had tops with quotes centred around the festival.

TCS: What is the connection between Moochwala and Mumbai? Do you consider the city a nurturing space for a business like yours?

NG: Definitely. I’m a Bombay boy; born and brought up in the city. Mumbai is a city where we have people from all over the country. It’s a great testing ground for a brand, in that sense. You get such a wide and varied sample to test your products on.

moochwala nischay gogia

The city’s pulse, the pulse of the people, and the way they shop, changes every two stations. What I mean is, a Bandra and a Khar shop in a particular way, but a Mahim and a Matunga shop in a completely different way. Every two stations there’s a different shopping pattern. There are a few of our designs that work in a particular belt and others that do not work in a particular belt within Mumbai itself, and that provides a huge learning curve for any brand.

TCS: Since all your products revolve around the mooch and beard, does your name limit your customer base to men?

NG: Moochwala is for lovers of beards and moustaches. Having one – or both – is not a prerequisite to being a patron of the brand. The break-up of our customer base is something like 60 women to 40 men. I must say a large part of the credit goes to my good friend/guinea pig, TV actor Nakuul Mehta.

He has almost every t-shirt that Moochwala has ever made. I test new stuff on him. Most of his following is female. Nakuul wears one of our shirts, he puts it up on social media, and I get five orders for that t-shirt almost instantly. Also, most of our t-shirts are what you’d call boyfriend fit t-shirts. We also have crop tops and V-necks for the ladies.

moochwala nischay gogia

TCS: Moochwala is more than just a brand offering merchandise. You’ve also often voiced an opinion on social matters.  

NG: Yes. Moochwala has a big mooch, a big beard, and a bigger mouth. We’re not afraid to talk about things that matter. It’s great to have a platform with some 5000-6000 followers where I have the opportunity to put something out that I feel strongly about.

In the past, we had this tie up with the film Phullu to put an end to period shaming and talk about menstrual hygiene somewhere in 2016.

As a brand, we also want to stand for people that are not afraid to talk. Another one of the issues I was eager to address was awareness for depression that often leads to suicide. All of our t-shirts come with a back print. The idea is whenever you see someone with a Moochwala logo on his or her back the concept was, “I’ve got your back you can talk to me.”

TCS: Is there something that’s stayed with you since the start of Moochwala?

NG: One of the most heart-warming experiences since the launch of Moochwala has been watching the response to our campaign Bhaag Anil Bhaag. We wanted to raise the funds to allow Anil Kumar, a 38-year-old woodcutter from Kerala who was shortlisted for the Asian Masters Athletic Championship, to get to China and compete.

moochwala nischay gogia

So I came up with the idea, and Nakuul was the face of the campaign where we sold t-shirts with the slogan “Be BadAsso”. The response we got was phenomenal. We had orders coming in from Pakistan, Dubai, South Africa, the UK, the US, and everywhere. We reached our goal in three days. To make such an impact it was a big win for us.

TCS: So how do we get our hands on some Moochwala goodies?

NG: We’re reachable on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A simple Direct Message on any of these platforms enquiring about our products will get you a swift response. Our transactions are currently only via PayTM and online payments. We deliver all over the country and internationally as well. We also do pop-ups at fairs where and when we can.



Makers Of Mumbai: Avinash Bhalerao Of Grain



It’s the simplicity of Grain’s designs that make them stand out. Their bags, made of ahimsa leather, are handcrafted in founder Avinash Bhalerao’s elegant designs with clean lines and classic colours. We speak to Avinash about selling through social media, a typical day at the office, and what’s next for Grain.

grain avinash bhalerao


The City Story: Why did you choose leather as the main material for your bags?

Avinash Bhalerao: Genuine leather lasts a life time. I wanted to make something that lasts long and looks better with age. Leather has a unique quality of getting better and younger every day. Grain bags are such that there is no other material in the inside lining, just leather. We keep it raw to have a natural look and finish, thus making them more premium. We may have roots in leather but are also open to other materials which will help us achieve our vision of making decent, minimal bags. We have already started experimenting with different cloth and canvas materials.

I’m involved in every stage of making the bags, right from sketching the designs to being present when the craftsmen do their thing, it is almost as if the distinction between the artisan and the designer vanishes and the sole point of it all is to make that one bag that would just leave you with immense amount of satisfaction and a smile on your face.

TCS:  You don’t advertise. How do your customers find you?

AB: We have social media presence on both Facebook and Instagram where we share updates about our products, which helps us spread the word, but we also get lot of help from word of mouth where someone who has bought our products share their good experience with others and they directly reach out to us via phone or email. As of now we are happy with organic users we get from Facebook, Instagram, and word of mouth.

grain avinash bhalerao

Our buyers get to see our entire catalogue on their email, and after detailed discussion with us they order their required product. All our consumers get a personal touch from us while deciding which product they want to buy. (Ed. Note: You can reach Grain at or +91 98678 40439)

TCS: What does a typical day in the office look like for you?

AB: Working on new designs, managing the production floor, and making sure all orders are reaching consumers on time.

TCS: How does Mumbai feed a designer’s creativity? Has it had any influence on how you conceptualise/design products for Grain?

AB: Mumbai has given us both love and fame and good clientele list and response. We have started with a small thing and now we are growing larger. Mumbai is the best platform for creativity; everyone here welcomes your work and supports you.

grain avinash bhalerao

TCS: On the flip side – does the city pose any challenges for a small business as it grows?

AB: Every business, small or big, faces challenges with increasing competitors and changing rules and regulations. As a business, we just make sure to keep working hard and to keep getting up whenever we fall.

TCS: If you had to pick just one thing, what is your favourite part of your job and why?

AB: Designing a new product is the best part, as designing is in my soul.

TCS: What’s your personal favourite Grain product and why?

AB: The Galloway backpack; it’s very minimal.

grain avinash bhalerao

TCS: What’s next for Grain?

AB: We will soon have e-commerce website going live, so consumers will be able to check our catalogue online and directly buy the product they like from our website. We are also working on opening a Grain Shop soon, which will be located in one of the best locations in Mumbai for buyers who want to touch and feel our products before buying.

TCS: What’s your favourite thing to do in the city on your day off?

AB: Sketching.



Makers Of Mumbai: Tapasya Prabhu Of Lovely Little Charms

SPACE EXPERIENCE PEOPLE FOOD + DRINK VIDEO lovely little charms tapasya prabhu


Tapasya Prabhu is the owner and artist behind Lovely Little Charms, a one-woman brand specialising in miniature collectibles modelled after food items. An interior designer by day and miniature artist by night, the 25-year-old artist is always in the middle of creating something. We speak to her about her creative processes, colour palettes, and her favourite corner of Mumbai.

lovely little charms tapasya prabhu


The City Story: When did you start making miniatures, and what inspired you?

Tapasya Prabhu: I was always very creative and inclined towards art. Even in school I would create art from waste materials like plastic bottles. I used to make miniature flowers out of either play dough or regular atta. When I was in my third year of architecture, I saw a video online that introduced me to polymer clay. Polymer clay contains particles of plastic and hardens on baking. That was a big revelation, and I was very excited about it. I started doing my own research and began experimenting. The first miniatures I made were a cookie, a doughnut and a bear on top of paperclips. I don’t get into creating realistic food items straight away. I just wanted to make cute things that could be used by people. Later I realised I could make it look more realistic, challenge myself, and turn it into a serious art form.

TCS: Why food?

TP: I’m a big foodie. And with this I can combine two things I love – food and art. Also, even though I’ve made them before, I don’t really enjoy making cars, cameras, and figurines.

TCS: When and how did you decide to turn this into a business?

TP: When I initially showed my friends the miniatures I had made, they were blown away. They didn’t even know something like this was possible. I got on to Instagram on my friends’ insistence, and then people started contacting me to ask if they could buy the miniatures. The plan was never to sell, but eventually I started doing that. (Editor’s note: Tapasya sells miniatures from her Instagram page.)

lovely little charms tapasya prabhu

TCS: Take us through the process of making one of your miniatures. What is your frame of mind when you create?

TP: I usually work at night, because I can concentrate better when it’s quiet. It’s very important to be patient, because there is a lot of research involved. I don’t have the actual food in front of me, so I have to replicate by referring to an image. Even after finding the image, I have to sit with it for a while to study and understand the colours and textures, because they are essential to making the miniature look realistic. I usually work on 10 pieces at a time, because if I make more it gets monotonous and hampers my creativity. It takes 3 to 4 days of work to complete one batch. And I’m very particular about quality. So even if there’s a minor mistake, I do it again.

TCS: How do you decide what you want to create next?

TP: I get a lot of suggestions from people who contact me on social media. Whenever I’m out of ideas, I refer to that list of suggestions. A lot of the times its food that I really like. Otherwise, I always check Pinterest for inspiration.

lovely little charms tapasya prabhu

TCS: What is the most challenging miniature you’ve created?

TP: The butter that’s on top of the pav bhaji miniature was challenging. It was very tough to get that colour right. I have actually written down the exact proportion of different coloured clay that I had to mix to get this shade. When I initially tried to mix white and yellow to get the pale shade, it looked like a very weird neon green because of the chemical composition of the clay. Everything else on the plate was ready, but I had to experiment a lot for the butter. It’s the tiniest bit, but it took the most amount of time. Even the ramen bowl was quite challenging.

TCS: What’s the most memorable compliment you’ve received for your work?

TP: When people say, “I thought it was real”, that’s the biggest compliment for me. Recently my friend was over while I was creating the paneer tikka miniature, and she started picking up everything and pretended to eat it. It’s funny, but the fact that she wants to eat it even though it’s not real makes me very happy.


lovely little charms tapasya prabhu

TCS: What’s the best place in Mumbai to procure art materials?

TP: The area around Crawford market, especially Abdul Rehman Street. You get everything there.

TCS: Do you have a favourite area in Mumbai?

Apart from Wadala where I live, I love Bandra village. I also like Colaba. Since I’ve been an architecture student, I tend to pay attention to buildings and structure, and there are some beautiful old buildings on the back of Colaba Causeway. Whenever I’m in that area, I always take a walk to look at the buildings. I even like the stretch of art deco buildings along Marine Drive. I feel bad when buildings go for redevelopment to make way for monotonous structures.

lovely little charms tapasya prabhu

TCS: What next for Lovely Little Charms?

I usually just go with the flow and take up opportunities that come along. However, I have spoken to a few restaurants and brands about creating miniatures for them. So let’s see how that goes.

TCS: Any words of advice for budding miniature artists?

TP: Just go for it. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else. Challenge yourself and be consistent.

Photographs courtesy Tapasya Prabhu



Makers Of Mumbai: Saptaparni & Shalmoli Of Myrtle Handcrafted Jewellery

myrtle handcrafted jewellery Saptaparni Shalmoli


When Saptaparni and Shalmoli couldn’t turn away the stray cats that trooped into their ground-floor apartment, they realised they needed to find alternate means of income to feed their growing army. They began Myrtle in early 2018 and their distinct handcrafted jewellery has already gathered a loyal following in the city. The sisters have moulded the perfect partnership – Saptaparni designs and creates the jewellery, while Shalmoli does all the number crunching.


The City Story: Tell us a little about your journey. How and when did you decide to start Myrtle Handkraft?

Saptaparni: I loved clay modelling and painting as a child. I started with sculpting faces and heads and then moved on to miniatures. That was my learning curve. I started making jewellery in 2013. Being an actor, I often get a lot of free time between auditions and shoots. Then my closest friends suggested I start selling the pieces. I don’t like selling art, but I needed the money to feed the stray cats we had started adopting. So we began posting the pieces on Instagram where we got a good response.

TCS: Can you talk us through the process of creating?

Saptaparni: I use air-dry or polymer clay that you can buy from any store. I mix a little bit of watercolour, acrylic or oil paint into the clay to create the colours that I want. The true colours only show once the product is completely dry. I make the base first, then the flowers, leaves and other designs. Finally, I stick those on the base. I improvise a lot. I never have a fixed design in mind when I start.

Shalmoli: We always tell our customers that they will never get the same design, because our designer keeps improvising. Even making a pair of earrings is difficult for her at times, because she can’t copy the designs so precisely. But customers love that, because it makes the jewellery unique.

myrtle handcrafted jewellery Saptaparni Shalmoli

TCS: What inspires you?

Saptaparni: In 2013 I saw big, chunky earrings at a Dolce and Gabbana Show at Milan Fashion Week. I loved those earrings, and I wanted them. That was the trigger point. Since then I’ve always wanted to create big jewellery pieces.

In terms of design, I’m instantly attracted to flowers and leaves. Even if I consciously try to avoid them, I end up creating them in most of my designs. I will eventually move on to more geometric shapes, but right now I’m focused on florals.

TCS: What are some of the challenges of running a business?

Shalmoli: Money is always a problem. So many customers bargain a lot. We do give some discount if they’re buying in bulk, but it’s not possible for us to lower our prices since we’re barely making any profit. While fixing prices, we take the cost of production into account, then the size, then the postage charges and finally add only a tiny margin for the actual labour and time spent on making the product.

TCS: What keeps you going?

Saptaparni: The love of art. I believe that any form of art is therapeutic and requires a lot of concentration. People should not take up art to become famous, to earn money. They should do it for the joy it brings them, just like I do.

myrtle handcrafted jewellery Saptaparni Shalmoli

TCS: What are your future plans? Where do you want to take Myrtle in the next 5 years?

Shalmoli: Our next step would be to create a website. Right now, we only have an Instagram account. A website means better brand value and more customers. We are also looking to start world-wide shipping, because we have been getting requests from overseas as well.

Saptaparni: From the product point of view, my goal is to make bigger, chunkier earrings. I believe that more is less. People have approached us for collaborations and bulk orders, but I can’t keep up with that since I’m the only one who makes the jewellery.

I would also love to make my own utensils – ceramic bowls and plates. But it’s very expensive to have that kind of a set-up at home with a wheel and baking kiln. I started with the jewellery because I couldn’t afford that, but I hope one day I can.

TCS: What do you love most about Mumbai?

Saptaparni: I’ve travelled all over the country, but I can relate to Mumbai because in many ways it is similar to Calcutta. The culture is rich, the people are humble and the weather is beautiful for most part.

TCS: Where do you go when you need a quick escape from the city?

Saptaparni: We like going to Karjat on the weekends because all our cats are there now, at an animal shelter called Probably Paradise run by Roxanne Davur. It’s a beautiful space with over 250 rescued animals including horses, dogs, cats, and cows.



Makers Of Mumbai: Shailaja Sharma Of HappyBooch




The people of Mumbai are increasingly focusing on living and eating healthy. Vegan cafés are popping up across the city, and farmers’ markets offer fresh produce for a hearty home-cooked meal.

When it comes to our drinks, we’re trying to ease off the sugary sodas without compromising on taste. One alternative is kombucha, the fermented tea with its origins in China two millennia ago. We spoke to HappyBooch’s Shailaja Sharma about the benefits of the drink, fads, and how she started the brand.

You can order by messaging HappyBooch on Facebook or Instagram or by calling on +91 70215 52978.

The City Story: Why kombucha?

Shailaja Sharma: There’s a strong connection I feel with the booch, unlike with any other food or beverage. It’s a big part of my life now, and I can spend hours brewing my kombucha – testing new teas, herbs, or fruits. And that’s what I do! I started brewing in late 2016 and, ever since, my desire has been to share this unique-tasting probiotic tea with as many people as possible. It started with family and friends, and in September 2017, I started HappyBooch to be able to share it with the rest of Mumbai. At the time, I was also on the quest to take control of my health and be selective in what I eat or drink and be mindful of what that food does to me. Kombucha fit in perfectly into my story. I believe kombucha – when brewed right – is an excellent alternative to unhealthy ice-laden and artificially carbonated beverages, and it gives a lot in return through its naturally present good bacteria, beneficial acids, and B vitamins. I’ve never been a fan of sugary shakes, colas, or energy drinks, and the naturally tarty and fizzy nature of kombucha struck a chord with me as it does for a huge population world over. It’s a significant category in North America, the Asia Pacific region, and also beginning to emerge in certain European countries. In India or Bombay, it is very new and there is a lot of curiosity around it. A couple of cafés across India already are introducing kombucha on their menu.

And so, it is immensely gratifying that through HappyBooch I’m able to create a small community of kombucha lovers in Mumbai/India. When I go to the farmers markets in Mumbai on Sundays to sell HappyBooch, I love the reactions that our kombucha generates – it makes people really happy to try something new. They laugh, we engage in good conversation about natural fermentation, and sometimes people even run away when they hear “live bacteria” or “fermentation” as it’s “not their thing”. I love the fact that HappyBooch is able to make a difference in the Indian beverage industry and help grow the nascent kombucha market here.

happybooch kombucha shailaja sharma

TCS: How did it morph from you making it the first time to a small business/retail? How can we get our hands on Happy Booch?

SS: It all started with one mother Scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast – the kombucha culture) that asked me to adopt it. And then came the baby scobies that demanded their own hotel (hotel is kombucha industry slang for a jar where you store all the scoby offspring). I was fascinated by these live cultures and how they work so hard to produce all the energy, the natural carbon dioxide, the amino acids, enzymes, and the beneficial acids. Certainly they have some hipster vibes even as they don’t look so pretty. Increasingly, I decided to spend more of my time with them. That followed with thrusting a glass of kombucha on everyone, then came out the brews with fruits and the exotic teas, and I had a full blown kombucha lab! That was most of 2017. When friends and aunts kept coming back for more, I sat down to speak to market experts in India and the US, and after a couple of months of research, I started selling officially. I was always known as the “chaiwali” for the floral or herbal concoctions I carried in bottles for friends. But now I have a more sophisticated name: BoochLady.

We’re largely run out of Instagram and Facebook, where people can order by messaging us @happybooch. They can also order their batch by calling us on +91 70215 52978. The best way to meet us and know more about our kombucha and flavours is to keep an eye out for our farmers market stalls. Presently, we are also working on our website.

TCS: Tell us why we should drink kombucha.

SS: Being a fermented beverage, kombucha helps in healing the gut with the help of its billions of good bacteria, which trickles down to other benefits such as a healthy digestive system, balanced weight, enhanced immunity, and better joint health. Plus, it’s delicious, naturally effervescent, vegan, low-calorie and low-sugar drink, making it perfect for enjoyment. It is a “living” beverage with its origins in China 2,000 years ago and has been called everything from “elixir of life” to “tea of immortality”. In the present day, however, I think it’s best described as an all-natural beverage for overall wellness and your go-to if you’re trying to go off alcohol, sodas, ice-teas, or things with sugar in it. Personally, the booch has helped me with an extra spring in my step to take on all the tiring commute in Mumbai. I feel people in Mumbai are always working hard and late and often the workplace is hours away from their homes. Most of us don’t focus on our meals and end up eating things we later feel guilty about. Kombucha is often seen as a hipster drink, but it’s known to help in cell regeneration and in making you crave less for junk foods.

At HappyBooch, we are not a factory; every step is manual right to our sticking of labels and writing down the “best by” date. We spend a lot of time checking on the health of our cultures and the quality of the brew so our kombucha is as pure and raw as it gets. We use organic tea leaves and real fruits and herbs and don’t force-carbonate or pasteurise to keep the benefits real. We make really small batches of handcrafted kombucha and the taste and efficacy is everything. It’s always important to find out if your kombucha is raw.

TCS: Do you think kombucha is a fad? Currently there’s a rise in matcha, kombucha, and soy-related food. You think it’s here to stay or will it slide like goji berries did a decade ago?

SS: The health foods industry has many cyclical fads at any point in time, and presently there is a surge in the number of “super foods”. There’s been a lot of interest in kefir, kombucha, and non-dairy products such as soy and almond milk in the past year. With the advent of social media, food trends are now more global, and fads in tea or coffee are really quick to find a spot in Indian cafes or homes. You’re right to point out that many of these food trends are cyclical in nature. All of these products are new to the Indian palette and not likely to become very mainstream in the store aisles, but that does not mean Indians are not consuming them. From growth point of view, these are difficult product categories to establish in the context of India and mass-appeal but there is enough potential for growth in the years to come. Given Veganism is on the rise and given the cultural mix of Mumbai’s population, there will always be a demand for good niche nature-derived brands. Specifically about kombucha, globally, it is a category too huge to be termed a fad. We’re stoked with the response in Mumbai and are sure there will always be a dedicated customer base for it, however small. It requires a lot of education and sampling, but increasingly people are warming up to the idea of bringing kombucha to their breakfast tables and they keep coming back, asking for the next flavour they can try. That is very encouraging.

TCS: Tell us a little about yourself and Mumbai. Have you always lived here? Is it a good city for a start-up/small business?

SS: I’ve always lived in Bombay and spent the past decade working for some of the largest newsrooms in the country, breaking news of the biggest mergers and acquisitions and chasing CEOs to ask them uncomfortable questions about their businesses. These jobs have given me the opportunity to spend every single day on the field, right on the ground where the action is. When you commute across Mumbai, you see the Bombay and the old-world charm of the city in all its glory, and then you see the haphazard or the crumbling infrastructure in other parts of it, the booming of the health-conscious café revolution that the creative and writer community calls its home during the day, and the sharp and shocking disparity across the street. Taking your product from one part of the city to another always is a draining task. Despite all of the city’s challenges, at the end of the day, work gets done and there is no dearth of opportunity for new businesses in this city. In fact, Mumbai offers more opportunities for small businesses across foods and fashion than ever before. Having said that, it is probably easier to start a venture but difficult to sustain it long-term as eight out of 10 new ideas fail to pan out as expected. Because Mumbai is such a beautiful mix of cultures, the people here are always up for trying new things.



Makers Of Mumbai: Preetika Chawla Of Pickle Shickle

pickle shickle



If you opened a jar of pickle and found mango, lemon, or even carrot in it, you wouldn’t be surprised. You’d expect to see them, even. But pork? That’s a new one. The City Story spoke to Preetika Chawla, one half of the duo behind Pickle Shickle, the independent brand pickling pork and other unusual foods.
You can find out more about Pickle Shickle from their Facebook page or email them at
The City Story: Tell us a short story on Pickle Shickle.
Preetika Chawla: Pickle Shickle has a short story at the moment, even though (without us knowing it) it’s been the narrative of our lives! In a nutshell, the pork pickle is something we grew up with. It is our grandma’s special recipe, and even mum would make it all the time. My sister, Prerna, and I moved to Mumbai 15 and 11 years ago, respectively, and when our mum would visit, there are two things we’d make her cook for us in copious amounts: dal makhni and pork pickle.
Our friends soon hopped on the bandwagon and began demanding jars. At one point this became awkward for our friends, and they started offering to pay for it because, “Let’s face it. We can’t not have it.” They insisted, and so one day, we began selling the pickle, and there’s been no turning back ever since.
We began (informally) in August 2016, and since then we have grown quite organically. We started with the classic Pork Pickle and eventually started bottling Prawn Pickle. Soon after the vegetarian options of Jackfruit and Lotus Stem was introduced.
When it came to naming the company, we were on a Skype call with our childhood friend, and actually she named us Pickle Shickle, on a lark, sitting in Chicago. But we loved it! And the name stuck.
Our brand philosophy is really quite simple, and that is to be a part of every home and every kitchen, making people’s food experience more fun!
At pop-ups we usually do live food with our pickles. Tacos, sliders, poppers, baked potatoes with sour cream and pickle… the list could go on! It’s very versatile, and that’s something we love encouraging people to explore.
TCS: Why pickles? India is the heart of pickles, and every corner shop has multitudes of pickle brands and varieties. What made you want to be a part of this section of the food industry?
PC: Why pickles is a tough question to answer, because the plan wasn’t to make this a business. We thought we were doing it just for our close friends! I guess the answer would be: because our friends said so, that’s why.
Having said that, the encouragement people showed us by constantly coming back for more gave [us] a high. We were excited to be able to share a close part of us with everybody! Our only aim with our pickles has been to maintain the homely touch. We have people writing in, telling us that our pickles are unlike other store-bought ones for exactly this reason. We cook in small batches and have continued to do that despite the increase in demand.
I suppose the love we have received in this section of the industry is what has kept us going. People nowadays are very busy. They don’t necessarily have the time to cook elaborate meals every day. So they’re looking for ways to add a “kick” to a boring meal. Or have access to an easy midnight snack (pickle and bread). Or make a simple finger food more exciting (tacos, poppers, etc.).
It’s been really fascinating to be in this section of the food industry and yet function as a bit of an island, because we are not here to compete. We wouldn’t dare. There are some fantastic brands out there, with equally fabulous recipes in the industry. But that’s just it; we are not industry.
TCS: Who are your customers? And what’s the pickle that’s flying off the shelves?
PC: Our customers are largely between the ages of 15 and 45. Anybody with a job. Or not. Anybody who has time. Or not. Sneaky non-vegetarians who aren’t allowed meat in their homes take jars and hide them!
The vegetarian pickles (lotus stem, jackfruit, and mushroom) are, to our surprise, our highest sellers. The Pork and Prawn Pickles are a close second. We will soon start mutton, the response to which has already been overwhelming (based on tasters).
TCS: Did Mumbai have a part to play with your brand? What’s your relationship with the city?
PC: Mumbai had a massive part to play with our brand. It was created for (and by) practitioners from the theatre community of this city. I think being actors and production people for several years equipped us with two things: the ability to take a risk, dive into the unknown. And the second is to use instinct.
Mumbai teaches you to ride the wave and adapt to just about any situation. It is a cruel city with the kindest people, where anything is possible! Our relationship with the city can best be described in one sentence: It is now our home. And Pickle Shickle is an extension of our home.
TCS: Where’s Pickle Shickle headed?
PC: We hope all the way across the world in the next few years. Most of our friends overseas (whether they are Indian or not) demand vacuum sealed supplies by the kilo! So why not dream of selling everywhere someday?
We have recently started deliveries in Delhi and are in the shelves of The Taste in Defence Colony. Our vegetarian pickles are on the shelves of Cornucopia in Matunga. Certain shelves in Goa are on the anvil too (very excited!). We are working on our website at the moment, so that people across the country (and eventually the world) can order too.
Hopefully we have a long, long, fun journey ahead of us. So far, we have met the most wonderful people along the way. We certainly hope that continues.


12 Questions With Valentino Premium Bitters’ Valentine Barboza



Bar consultant Valentine Barboza creates and sells his own brand of bitters – Valentino’s Premium Bitters – with exotic and native flavours such as pecan coffee, rhubarb, pink grapefruit, sour apple, Meyer lemon, and Egyptian orange. Valentine sources most of the organic ingredients from the US, South America, Cyprus and Greece – the oranges are from right here in Vashi. You can use the bitters to make your own cocktails or even as an ingredient while cooking at home.

Get in touch with Valentine Barboza at +91 95520 02530 to buy his boxed pack of four bitters (40 ml each).


It’s been a bitters-sweet journey for bar consultant Valentine Barboza – from Mumbai’s plushest 5-star hotels and bartending stints in Oman and Dubai to training in Canada and Cuba and finally moving back to the city by the sea. Five years ago, he plunged into the big, bad world of bitters, experimenting with exotic and native flavours to create his own brand of extraordinary elixir packaged in vintage bottles – Valentino’s Premium Bitters.

We spent an afternoon with the man responsible for the original bar at Olive Bistro and the brand new Out of the Blue. Over sparkling soda and chilled water treated with drops, dollops and dashes of his patent bitters, we sipped our way through talk of maceration, vintage bars, pesky excise laws and everything in between. Here is an extract of the conversation.

valentino premium bitters mumbai valentine barboza

TCS: Before I tasted the Singapore Sling – regrettably rather late in life – cocktails meant mojitos and margaritas for me. When and where did you hear about bitters?

VB: I started my career with Oberoi Towers at Nariman Point in 1984. I began as a banquet casual and my wages were Rs. 15 per day. In those days, bars weren’t as elaborate as they are now. But Lancer’s Bar at Oberoi was pretty famous because that was the only colonial bar in the city at the time. I started working at the bar after completing the apprenticeship program. Our uniforms were in line with the theme. We would come an hour early to polish our buttons. That bar served all the classic cocktails because 5-star hotels had the facilities to import their liquor. So that was the first time I saw a bottle of bitters, which was Angostura.

TCS: This was way back in 1984! And you started making bitters on your own about five years ago. Is there a resurgence?

VB: So bitters were originally made as a medicinal digestive, or for stomachaches. Even Angostura, which was made by a man called Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert in Venezuela, was made to cure stomachaches and not as an ingredient for cocktails. But bartenders started experimenting with it. Bitters died down during the Prohibition era [and] have only cropped up again over the last 10 years. The reason people have started using bitters extensively now is to combat the sweetness that’s prevalent in most cocktails. Take a Cosmopolitan, or a mojito. Everything has sugar.

TCS: Angostura has kept its recipe a secret for almost two centuries. Can you share your recipe?

VB: I can’t share the recipe, but I’ll tell you the process. Let’s suppose we’re making orange bitters today. Oranges in India are apparently waxed to increase their shelf life. So are lemons and grapefruits. So I dip them in boiling water to get rid of the wax and [then] cool them down. Then I take baking soda and use it to brush the oranges and remove the polish completely. Then I peel them, remove the piths and put them out to dry in the sun for three to four days. This gets rid of the impurities and certain aromas come to the fore only when the peels are sundried.

Then I put them in amber jars, which are free of ultraviolet rays and sunlight penetration. It’s important that there be no light when you’re making bitters. Then I add bittering agents, the peels and herbs and steep it in alcohol for three weeks. After the third week, I strain the mixture and add water to the sediment to extract more flavour. Then the peels are taken out and dried for another week. Even though they’ve given out most of their natural juices, there’s still a lot left. We don’t use the last extract. That is kept aside for the next batch. It’s like making yogurt at home. Your mum will keep a little bit aside to make the next batch, so you get consistent yogurt. The entire process takes at least four weeks.

valentino premium bitters mumbai valentine barboza

TCS: How did you learn the process?

VB: I happened to work with Brad Thomas Parsons, a great bitters maker and author from US. I got help from many bitters makers in South America. Bittering agents are very easily available everywhere in the country, but very often they are not guaranteed. I don’t get any of my botanicals from India. I procure all my gluten-free, GMO-free ingredients from organic outlets in US, South America, Cyprus and Greece. Oranges however, I buy from the APMC market in Vashi.

TCS: Do bitters ever go bad? What is their shelf life?

VB: Because bitters contain alcohol, ideally they shouldn’t go bad. Nevertheless, I would say one should use it within a year.

TCS: Bitters are so essential for bars, yet it seems like such a niche product. Who are your clients? Where and how do you sell your bitters?

VB: I don’t really sell them in India. This has never been my market. I produce them for a friend in Spain, who has got all the necessary EU clearances. I’m not interested in selling on a large scale in India. A lot of people have expressed interest in my bitters, but Indian laws are extremely stringent. The moment any product contains alcohol, it falls under the excise law, and that’s a murky area. You often have to pay bribes, taxes. The product needs to go to a bonded warehouse. You need to have a distributor in place. It’s much simpler to export to Europe. Here, I only sell to enthusiasts, people who are interested in trying bitters and using them at home.

valentino premium bitters southern fried chicken mumbai valentine barboza

TCS: Do you have any competition? Are you aware of anyone else in the country that makes bitters?

VB: I don’t know of any makers in India. But if there are any, I would be very happy because this city needs to wake up to drinking good stuff.

TCS: I’ve heard that some bars make their own bitters. Are you aware of that?

VB: There may be many bartenders that get recipes off the internet and try to make bitters, but that is not correct. That’s not the right way to do it because there’s a proper process involving many stages. It only comes through years of practice and errors. If it’s bitter, it’s not bitters. But that’s the common misconception of bartenders in India.

TCS: Is there a dream flavour that you want to attempt or have attempted but haven’t managed to get right?

VB: I’m partial to floral tones so I’ve been looking at edible flowers, but flowers are very delicate. Whenever I’ve tried, I’ve gone wrong with the proportions. I’m making Black Walnut bitters right now, which is very different. I’m also making tamarind bitters, which is very Indian in its flavour. It’s a mix of bitter, sour and sweet, as well as a little bit of spice.

valentino premium bitters negroni mumbai valentine barboza

TCS: Have you kept tab of how many flavours you’ve tried?

VB: I’ve tried quite a few flavours, maybe 40 or 50. But I’ve got nine successful ones so far. These are pecan coffee, rhubarb, pink grapefruit, Bartlett pear, sour apple, Meyer lemon, cucumber, cardamom, and Egyptian orange. The ones in the making are black walnut, root beer and there are some other aromatics that will come in the next few weeks.

TCS: Which is your favourite bar?

VB: The Dead Rabbit in New York. The owners themselves are bartenders and everything is made in-house, unlike the bars in India.

TCS: And your favourite bar in India?

VB: Out of the Blue. They serve all the traditional classics. A good cocktail is only about three or four quality ingredients. Here you will get cocktails like Satan’s Whiskers, which I hadn’t even heard of. You will find a lot of the classics from Savoy, London on this menu.

Fried chicken photo copyright capacitorphoto –

Negroni photo copyright maxandrew –