Pooja Dhingra: En Route Revolutionizing Indian Gourmet Desert Industry via Paris

Pooja Dhingra: En Route Revolutionizing Indian Gourmet Desert Industry via Paris

Pooja Dhingra, CEO & Executive Pastry Chef

Pooja Dhingra

CEO & Executive Pastry Chef

Pooja Dhingra is a known face across social media today. Having become the first Indian food influencer to cross 4.1 million followers on Instagram, the pastry queen is often seen whipping up sweet treats for celebrities across various social media platforms. While her most recognizable trait is her affable smile and her food & desert brand, Le 15 Patisserie’s bright colored macrons, not many know of Pooja, the astute business woman. Meticulous, hardworking and a risk taker are a few words that describe her approach to work.

Fresh out of culinary school, a determined 22-year old Pooja wanted to bring a slice of Paris to India. She founded Le 15 in 2010 as a manufacturer of macrons and cupcakes in a small kitchen with a team of three. Fast forward a decade and the 32-year old pastry chef has proven her entrepreneurial skills by growing her brand into a massive success. In a candid conversation with CEO Insights, Pooja takes us through her journey to founding Le 15.

What inspired you to foray into the food and desert industry? Give us a glimpse into the foundations of Le 15, the desert brand.
I've been fascinated by baking for as long as I can remember. My earliest baking memory is of making brownies with my aunt when I was six years old. However, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer and joined law school. It took me exactly two weeks to realize that my calling lay elsewhere. Consequently, I moved to Switzerland to study hospitality management at Cesar Ritz Colleges. I have always been amazed at how simple ingredients like eggs, butter, flour and sugar could create something so delicious and
magical. Later, in Paris, at Le Cordon Bleu, we learnt how the same ‘magic ingredients’ can be used to achieve a vast variety of treats.

When I returned, I was clear that I wanted to recreate a piece of my life in Paris. I tried my first macaron in Paris and knew instantly that this would be the piece of Paris I would bring back to India with me. I was inspired to make wonderful desserts, using the best ingredients I could find and serve happiness in a box.Additionally, at the time, stand alone pastry shops in India were not a thing, excepting one or two. I wanted to bring that culture to India. That is how Le 15 (named for the 15th arrondissement in Paris, the neighborhood where I lived) was born.

I started Le15 because I was passionate about a product and an idea and I knew there was a big gap in the market and other aspiring entrepreneurs should also have that clarity about their idea

Give us a glimpse into your company, Le 15 and its growth journey so far. Also, what role do you play in the organization?
Le15 is in the space of affordable luxury in the bakery segment. I started Le15 with a team of three people and today we’re a team of over a 100. For the first seven years of our operations, we were a bootstrapped venture it was only two years ago that we received external funding. All of Le15’s investors are customers that truly believed in the product and brand. We have now grown to have two cafes, two kiosks and a nationwide shipping service. I’ve authored three bestselling baking books and hosted a podcast called #NoSugarCoat that highlights the difficulties of the hospitality industry. My role currently is that of the CEO and executive pastry chef at Le15. I also helm the marketing and branding departments and I am looking forward to scale the company over the next three years.
An entrepreneur’s life often demands major sacrifices, especially in terms of personal life in order to gain success. How do you strike a balance between maintaining a busy work life while also taking some time off for yourself?
My immediate family has always been there to give me advice and to support me, and that’s what I focused on, because that was what truly mattered.Being an entrepreneur, my work never ends. I have to be on call all the time. However, I actively try to take some time for myself, even if it is to read a new book, meet a few friends or just watch something on Netflix!

What strategy do you undertake to ensure that you are on top of every market trend? Also, what should be an aspiring entrepreneur’s key take way from your journey?
I like to keep learning new things, and am always reading books, listening to podcasts, travelling and observing new cultures and picking up a new skill, such as music or art. I listen and learn from the market. I observe the trends and make plans accordingly. I believe that I am still learning and every day brings forth a new challenge to tackle. However, it is important for me to share my story so that it can be of help to someone else trying to make their mark. I actively participate in seminars, panel discussions and conferences.

I started Le15 because I was passionate about a product and an idea and I knew there was a big gap in the market and other aspiring entrepreneurs should also have that clarity about their idea. Also, in an entrepreneur’s life no two days are ever the same and it never gets easier; so my advice to budding entrepreneurs is to have patience and be persistent.

Pooja Dhingra, CEO & Executive Pastry Chef
Pooja is a celebrated pastry chef with a degree in Hotel Management from Cesar Ritz Colleges, Switzerland and great love for all things sweet. Other than running a successful company Le 15, she has authored three best-selling baking books and hosts a podcast called #NoSugarCoat.

Office: Mumbai

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