Kedarnath Aggarwal, the founder and chairman of Bikanervala, one of India’s most beloved and ubiquitous sweet shop chains, died Monday in New Delhi. He was 86.
His death was confirmed by Bikanervala, who announced in a statement that Mr Aggarwal’s passing “marked the end of an era that has enriched palates and touched countless lives.”
Known affectionately as Kakaji, Mr Aggarwal began his entrepreneurial journey modestly in the 1950s, selling snacks like bhujia and rasgulla from streetside buckets in Old Delhi alongside his brother, Satyanarayan Aggarwal. Through determination and craftsmanship, the brothers transformed their homemade sweets into a thriving business with over 60 outlets across India today and a global presence.
“Kakaji’s departure is not just a loss to Bikanervala; it’s a void in the culinary landscape,” said Shyam Sunder Aggarwal, Bikanervala’s managing director. “His vision and leadership will forever guide our culinary journey.”
Mr Aggarwal was born in Bikaner in the western state of Rajasthan, where his family had run a modest sweet shop since 1905 under the name Bikaner Namkeen Bhandar. Seeking greater opportunity, he and his brother relocated to Delhi as young men in the 1950s, bringing their family recipes.
With little capital, the brothers began selling snacks like bhujia, a crispy deep-fried snack made from gram flour, and rasgulla, syrupy cheese balls, from buckets along the bustling streets of Old Delhi. Their homemade treats quickly gained a following among locals and visitors.
“In the beginning, my father and uncle used to carry buckets and sell bhujia and rasgulla on the roadside near Chandni Chowk,” Mr Aggarwal’s son Radhey Mohan Aggarwal, now a Bikanervala director, told The Economic Times in 2019. “Gradually, when customers started asking for more, they opened a small shop.”
As demand grew, Mr Aggarwal and his brother set up a small brick-and-mortar sweet shop in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk area in the late 1950s. Using time-honoured family recipes, they began offering traditional Indian confections like kaju katli, a cashew-based fudge, and moong dal halwa, a sweet pudding made from mung beans.
Their shop, which they named Bikanervala after their hometown, quickly gained renown, particularly for its signature Bikaneri bhujia. With its perfect crunch and complex flavors, the snack became a Delhi favorite and, in time, a globally recognized Indian treat.
“Such was the popularity of the shop that during the 1970s and 1980s, the lanes leading up to Bikanervala would be jam-packed with cars and crowds trying to get a taste of their snacks,” according to The Economic Times.
Under Mr. Aggarwal’s leadership and sharp business acumen, Bikanervala expanded rapidly in the 1990s. Today, the company boasts over 60 locations in India, including outposts in Chennai, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and an international presence spanning five continents. Abroad, Bikanervala has become an ambassador of Indian sweets and snacks to global consumers in countries like the United States, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand.
Even as his company went global, Mr. Aggarwal remained hands-on and committed to excellence, often developing new sweets and emphasising high-quality, authentic ingredients.
“Bikanervala will continue to reflect his values – a place where every dish tells a story and every customer is part of our extended family,” said his son Radhey Mohan Aggarwal, now a director at Bikanervala.
Mr. Aggarwal’s ambition was fueled by a larger vision of promoting India’s rich and diverse culinary heritage. In an interview with The Economic Times, he described sweets as “the best way to experience the real India.”
“Sweets are a part of our ancient food tradition,” he said. Through Bikanervala’s global reach, he helped catalyze a greater appreciation of Indian cuisine and culture worldwide.
As the curtains fall on Kakaji’s remarkable journey, Radhey Mohan Aggarwal, the eldest son and Director of Bikanervala Group, affirmed the commitment to carry forward his father’s legacy. “As we bid farewell to a legend, we carry forward his legacy with a deep sense of responsibility. Bikanervala will continue to be a reflection of his values – a place where every dish tells a story and every customer is part of our extended family.”
In the heart of Delhi, where the cacophony of the streets meets the aroma of spices, Kakaji’s vision gave rise to a culinary empire that transcended borders. The legacy of Bikanervala will forever echo the journey of a man who turned the simplicity of street food into a global gastronomic experience.
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