The Keventers and the biscuits business were part of the second-generation inheritance and Agastya’s father got his share in it. But from all accounts, his father, Gun Nidhi Dalmia, was more keen on running the biscuit factory, as the product had built a loyal customer base under the brand of Dalmia Biscuits. The factory was in Punjab but the family decided to sell it during the 1980s. Militancy in the state was at its peak at that time and it was getting difficult to run the factory. It was not safe for the employees, the management or even the owners. So, the factory was sold and shut down. Back in Delhi, the Keventers factory had also been shut down a little earlier, but it was for a completely different reason.
Edward Keventer had established his dairy factory in Malcha Marg and when Dalmia bought the business, the factory continued to supply dairy products. “Back in the 1940s, Malcha Marg was on the outskirts of Delhi,” says Agastya. “So, you can imagine that after the 1960s it became a little difficult to operate a factory there,” he smiles impishly. “It became a diplomatic area and I guess the cows just didn’t fit in.”
Even after the Keventers factory shut down, there was one enterprising stockist in Connaught Place who continued to sell Keventers to the multitude of people who came to buy it. “Basically, this guy went ahead and continued to use our brand. He made his own milkshakes, put our name on it and sold it to people. My father was busy with other things but in spite of that, he got them shut down at least three times,” says Agastya. The family did think about Keventers occasionally, especially when people talked to them about buying Keventers flavoured milk from the Connaught Place outlet. “Everyone assumed it was our product,” laughs Agastya. So sometime in the mid-1980s, the Dalmias decided to file a lawsuit against the stockist. After many years of a court case, the matter was finally resolved in 2009 and the stockist had to change the name of his business.
“But we realized what the stockist had done when we relaunched Keventers milkshakes. Over the years, he’d had used his own formula and extra sugar. So when we started selling our own milkshakes, people didn’t like them. We could not understand it! They wanted more sugar and a stronger flavour,” says Agastya, shaking his head disbelievingly. “We did not want to do it but we had to make our shakes sweeter. Otherwise, people would not buy them. They kept saying – this is not Keventers!” he laughs incredulously. “Can you imagine? Telling the real Keventers that their product does not taste like the Keventers!”
Original Keventers! The flavoured milk that Delhi grew up with. Did Agastya use the original formula to make his milkshakes when he re-launched Keventers? I ask.
“When the factory shut down, no one thought of preserving anything, let alone the formula. These labels that you see,” he says waving his hands around, “were also found in some scraps lying somewhere. I guess no one realized or understood the value of all of this back then.” With a rueful smile, he says, “It would have been so wonderful if someone had preserved the formula. We would not have had to go through all this experimentation.”
The formula may not have been preserved but the brand has persevered thanks to the stockist. With the brand remaining in the public domain, did Agastya understand the value of the brand as he was growing up? “Not really,” he says, “The court case was going on and I was busy playing tennis and studying. So, the brand was somewhere at the back of our minds. But I never really thought about it while I was growing up.”
So how did he think about relaunching Keventers? “Actually, a good friend asked me what I planned to do with the Keventers brand after we won the case. I was happy playing tennis and business was the last thing on my mind. But when Aman asked me, I thought to myself—why not? Let’s do something with Keventers. It is as simple as that!”
And Aman Arora agrees. He says that the idea to relaunch Keventers ‘just came up.’ Having drunk the Keventers milkshakes all through his school life from the Connaught Place outlet, he felt that someone within the family had to keep the brand going, else the Keventers name would be lost. “Why not us?” says Aman. He and Agastya had known each other since college and they already had a business relationship. Delhi Street Football, a five-a-side football league on the lines of Futsal, had been Aman and Agastya’s first venture. It was quite successful but the two friends did not take it national. This time, when the two decided to collaborate again, they were both clear that this business was going to go national.
Agastya remembers all the discussions he had with Aman before working on the relaunch of Keventers. But even before that, I wondered, did Agastya need to take the extended family’s approval, considering that the brand had originally belonged to all of them?
“Not really,” he says and then explains that when the Malcha Marg factory land was sold to DLF, it was essentially the dairy business itself that was sold along with all brands and products. After the deal was done and the financial settlements within the Dalmia family completed, Agastya’s father asked DLF to transfer the Keventers trademark back to his name. “And DLF had no problem in giving it back,” says Agastya. After going out of the family for a brief time, the brand Keventers came back, this time as the property of Agastya’s father.
With the brand secure within the family, the two young friends sat together to work out what exactly they wanted to do with a 100-year-old brand. “There was no formal, structured discussion. I followed my gut a lot,” he said and decided that it was the Keventers milkshake (originally flavoured milk) that they would focus on. The reason for this, as he explains, was that Aman and he realized that neither of them had run a full-fledged business before. “Delhi Street Football did not count as we saw it as more of a hobby and less of a business,” he says. As they worked on a plan for an actual business, they wanted to keep it simple. “We decided that we would focus on only one product to start with and then see how the business developed,” he adds. And since the brand Keventers was almost synonymous with milkshakes, “It was a logical decision for us to go with milkshakes,” Agastya explains.
Excerpted from “The Inheritors: Stories of Entrepreneurship and Success” by Sonu Bhasin, published by Penguin India.