He sort of just picked a British-sounding name

Mcrennett The original Chennai bakery with an English name but a Tamil heart
Features Friday, June 03, 2016 - 17:46
Written by  Mythreyee Ramesh

Before international brands like Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme breached the walls of Chennai, before quaint cupcake eateries started sprouting across the city, before Hot Breads and Café Coffee Day became a commonplace, before almost any other bakery was established in the city, the quintessential bakery of Chennai – the Mcrennett Bakeries was born.

Established in 1903, the 116-year old Mcrennett Bakery is often perceived to be a British legacy that somehow transferred hands when the colonial power left the country. But no, the tracing of the Mcrennett’s etymology doesn’t lead you to a British baron, or an East India Company official, but interestingly an agricultural trader from North Arcot district.

Maanikkam Pillai stumbled upon a business opportunity on hearing about the demand for buns and breads amongst the British population.

“He is said to have believed that the business would fare better if it bore a European name. He randomly picked three English-sounding names, and wrote them down on three chits. He called for a child, and asked her to pick one of the chits, announcing that he would name his bakery depending on the chit she chose,” says a senior employee of the bakery. Foreigners fell for his ploy and thought the bakery was British-run, and Pillai never bothered to correct them.

Pillai opened Mcrennett bakery in a small space on Mount Road in Madras, but as times changed, the owners opened branches across the city, transforming along with the changing landscapes of the city.

Over the years, the bakery has a loyal set of customers who keep returning for its breads, hot-cross buns, their famous egg puffs, unforgettable plum cakes, glazed donuts introduced in the early 90s.

Hidden behind the fancy name is a ‘Namma Chennai’ bakery that is as Chennaitte as you and me.