The present Prince of Wales, Charles Philip Arthur George, aka Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, should be delighted! In a narrow alley of Old Dhaka—a place his ancestors once ruled, there is a shop, bearing the title of British Royal Family for ages.
Prince of Wales Bakery is one of the oldest confectioneries of Dhaka city, running for over 137 years.
Built in 1882, coinciding with the establishment of St Gregory's High School, Dhaka, it was meant to cater to the school children of the affluent neighbourhood. It is said that, a British gentleman, whose name is lost from the pages of history, used to demand that he had been raised from Wales. This person took the place on rent from a Hindu tandoor and started his shop.
The shop, handed down to local owners, is now busy selling cakes, pastries and biscuits.
According to historian Dr Sharif Uddin Ahmed, professor at the department of history and philosophy at North South University, also the author of Dhaka A Study in Urban History and Development, the place might had already been used as a bakery by Armenian or Portuguese people who were the old residents of Luxmibazar that time, before it took the name Prince of Wales Bakery.
Luxmibazar had been a place for elite people. It was full of British, Armenian and Portuguese traders. The place had been a place of worship for the migrant traders too. Many churches and structures built by the Catholic, Augustinian Missionaries and Portuguese traders used to exist there. There was an Indigo factory and its office (now where Collegiate School stands) in Luxmibazar, which used to make the place more crowded with British officials. Thus, the existence of a bakery even before the Prince of Wales is not impossible.
In 1882, when St Gregory's High School was opened, it was a good business opportunity for anyone to start a bakery there for the Anglo-Indian students of the school. This kind of Bakery was very rare in the Indian subcontinent at that time. So, the original owner from Wales bagged that opportunity and started a very successful business with the name to honour King Edward VII, who was the Prince of Wales at that time.
Sheikh Buddhu Mia was the head baker of this pastry shop for a long time, and he was on very good terms with the British owner. His real name was Sheikh Badruddin Ahmed, but for the ease of pronouncing, his British owner gave him the name Buddhu Mia and later on he became well known by this name.
The original owner of Prince of Wales left for Britain after 1900 and he handed over the authority to run the bakery to Buddhu Mia. Before the partition, in 1946, Buddhu Mia bought the land of the shop from its original Hindu owner and continued running the business. In that year he also renovated the old building.
Buddhu Mia being the head baker knew all the original recipes. Now the third generation of his family is continuing the same old tradition and recipes.
Buddhu Mia asked his family never to change the name of the bakery as he wanted to keep the successful legacy of his previous owner. And he passed on the old tradition and recipes to his sons and grandsons when he died in 1958.
Speaking to The Business Standard, Mahabub Reza Babul, son of Buddhu Mia said, "We have kept everything as it was because our father instructed us to do so. We don't know a definite date of establishment of the shop. But we do know it was started with the establishment of St Gregory's High School."
The third generation of the family—Rajesh Ahmed, Imran Ahmed, and Kaysar Ahmed together run and manage the bakery. This is not the only income source for them; they have other businesses and careers to manage but they run their bakery business as a tradition of their family by keeping the old legacy alive.
The present owners of the bakery continued following the old methods and recipes which were passed down by their grandfather. The traditional bakery items like bread, cookies, cakes, buns, patties are made by the same old techniques used 137 years back.
The shop still does not have an electric oven or refrigerator. They bake the food items in the Tandur and keep them in glass boxes with light bulbs on inside them. The warmth of bulbs keeps the food warm and fresh all the time. Even the oven they use is antiquated; made of mud and brick it adds a different flavour in the food preparation. The fresh warm smell of the bread melts in the mouth.
Naseema Parvin, a frequent customer at the shop, said, "I used to buy from this shop from my son's school days. Now I have moved to another area. Still, I come to Luxmibazar once in a month to buy cookies and cakes."
The special items in this shop are cross bun, butter bun, jam tart, different kinds of cookies, fruit cake. The shop sells Christmas and wedding cakes. In Christmas season, cheesecake, love letter cake and special fruit cakes are specially made.
Cross bun is one of the items that came down from the British colonial era.
Rajesh Ahmed, one of the owners of the shop, mentioned, "Cross bun, butter bun, jam tart, Danish patties are sold at Tk 10 only. 100 grams of bread and cookies are within the range of Tk 50 to 70."
Another owner, Imran Ahmed, said, "Making changes is very easy, but once you change, you cannot bring anything back. That is why our grandfather wished we hold on to the old traditions. We want to carry the past to our future."