Thursday 18 Apr 2024

Goan legacy of Karachi: Midas magic of Misquita Bakery

MENIN RODRIGUES | MARCH 30, 2024, 01:39 AM IST
Goan legacy of Karachi: Midas magic of Misquita Bakery

Customers queue up outside the JC Misquita Bakery in Karachi.

Photo Credits: Benny Vaz



TORONTO

Every year, all the hot cross buns baked at the legendary JC Misquita Bakery in Karachi turn into gold for the owners! There is something providential, magical, or even mystical that happens at the bakery; year after year on Good Friday. I have been a witness to this gold rush for nearly three decades.

For curiosity, I have estimated sales figures and they seem to be quite mindboggling. It is difficult to fathom what makes this observable fact so booming every year on Good Friday. Is it taste, quality, ingredients, aroma, the tradition of eating hot-cross buns on a day of fasting, or simply an infatuation?

THE HISTORY

The original JC Misquita Bakery, a small outlet set up by a Goan, Joseph Cajetan Misquita, opened doors on Frere Street Saddar (Dr Daud Pota Road) in 1858, almost 156 years ago. It is believed JC Misquita owned tens of properties in Karachi by the middle of the 20thcentury. His son Manuel Misquita served as the Mayor of Karachi from 1946-47. The Misquita wealth is altogether another story but the success of Misquita Bakery to this day is a story I can throw some light on.

In 1967, the Misquitas gave away the bakery on contract to a friend. The bakery maintained its quality while catering to a mix of communities, Hindu, Parsi, Muslim, and Christian, and to every stratum of society, rich or poor, that lived around the shop.

The competition was tough in those days being in the neighbourhood of the big boys (bakers), PF Pereira, Boman Irani, Adam Sumar, Empress, Lawrence, and later United; but the bakery held its ground, its quality, mysticism, and magic!

Early in 2000 when the old shops on the corner plot where Misquita Bakery stood were demolished, the second owners moved the business to a lane opposite the Bohra Jamatkhana, off Mansfield Street (now Syedna Burhanuddin Road); a stone’s throw from St. Patrick’s Cathedral!

After a couple of years, they sold the bakery and with it, its precious brand equity and heritage. The third owners took over and changed the name to “Al-Rehman Bakery” and to their surprise; started losing customers and business. Within a year or so, they re-changed the name to “New JC Misquita Bakery” – and both business and customers were back!

THE DEMAND

One year, I left home with my nephew Brendon at 4.30 am (half an hour earlier than the previous year) and upon reaching Saddar, found 60 more people ahead of us, some came as early as 3 am! The shop was closed. When the counter opened at 5 am, our turn came 45 minutes later getting Token #59 at about 5.45 a.m. By the time our turn came at the pick-up counter, it was 7.15 am. I reached home at 7.25 and by 7.35, was enjoying the most delicious and piping hot-cross bun, ever! The early morning rush grows every year despite online booking and home delivery. 

THE CONNECT

The annual experience at JC Misquita’s is like a pre-dawn picnic! You get to meet and interact with people whom you’ve not met in years, some forgotten friends and neighbours, early risers, storytellers, taparu uncles and made-over aunties, teachers, bikers, showmen, sleepy ‘susegad’ people, and some funny folks. Indeed, quite a colourful community, all in the quest for, not just buns but the latest gossip – Goan to the core!

THE BUSINESS

Now here is an estimation of conservative figures. The average number of customers served per hour was 8, each customer was served with an average number of 4 packets (each package containing 12 buns) that is 48 buns per customer. That makes it 1,536 buns in one hour!


Hot Cross buns from the JC Misquita Bakery in Karachi. Photo Credit: Benny Vaz

The sale starts at 5 am and give or take, the sale counter is operative for an average of 10 hours, that figure comes to 15,360 buns on one day and 30,720 buns on 2 days of sale (Holy Thursday and Good Friday). Buns are also sold before and after these two days.

The cost of each bun this year is Pakistan Rupees 62, so the total business (PKR 62 x 30,720 buns) would be Pakistan Rupees 19,04,640 for two days. Not bad for 2 days of work!

Incidentally, this hypothetical figure does not include Online Sales and another large quantity that is picked up by the old ‘Roti Walas’ on bicycles who go door to door for sales of confectionery to their decades-old customers. Please don’t take my word for these figures; I may be completely off track! Make your guesses.

Hot Cross buns are sold in several bakeries throughout the city on these two days of Lent but the Hot Cross buns from the Misquita Bakery have a touch of gold!

[The writer, a Toronto-based communications consultant, Karachi Goan community/city historian and author]




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