He dons way too many hats! He’s an engineer, a salsa instructor, an entrepreneur, a chai lover and a Tea-E-O. Having started one of Bengaluru’s earliest tea cafés, Chaipatty, he is now all set to foray abroad with tea cafés in Canberra, Cape Town and New Jersey. Over a steaming hot kullad of chai and onion pakoras, RITZ chats up with Chirag Yadav.
“It’s the chai that sells most and it’s chai that people often want,” is the statement with which Chirag opens the conversation. “The North Indian chai, with ginger and masala, that’s what I’m referring to. That’s my focus.”
His Chaipatty Teafé (or ‘tea café’) didn’t really start with the intention of serving chai. “It was primarily an activity centre where individuals could come and attend events and have some chai and snacks,” he reminisces about the journey way back in 2009, when Chaipatty opened as a centre hosting classes for bar-tending, handicrafts, salsa, pottery, photography, book launches and more.
It was much later that the focus gradually shifted to tea and from an activity centre, Chaipatty transformed into a teafé at Indiranagar, with activities now happening only occasionally. Today, it’s a cool hangout to visit and relish hot sips of kullad chai, as well as other teas such as lemon, ginger lime, mint, jasmine and green tea.
Chaipatty’s tea menu is varied, but not extravagantly extensive with over a 100 tea varieties thrown in. Chirag is quick to point out that even today, many people aren’t really aware of what chamomile or oolong is. “Since people mostly go in for kullad chai with the occasional cup of ginger tea or green tea, there is no point in storing exotic varieties which are expensive.”
What had started out with an initial investment of roughly Rs 2.5 lakhs with Chirag funding from his savings, is today raking in an annual turnover of Rs 98 lakhs. “It’s been quite a challenge, but nonetheless a great learning opportunity.” To curb costs, Chirag doesn’t overstock raw materials and buys through wholesale. Neither does he invest in heavy infrastructure such as big freezers, all of which add up to the costs.
Though he did experiment by opening more Chaipattys in Bengaluru (and one in Mumbai), the plan didn’t really kick off. “The offers I got were attractive and I lapped them up. However the take-off wasn’t too good and there wasn’t much revenue that was earned.” With the expansion experience having left a bad taste in his mouth, Chirag is sceptical about opening more teafés in the city, as well as in India.
His plan now is to take it abroad through solid partnerships. He has zeroed in on Canberra, Cape Town and New Jersey. “There are lots of tea connoisseurs in the US, Australia and South Africa. But tea cafés as such don’t really exist. It’s mainly the espressos and cappuccinos that cafes are famous for. Hence I’m eyeing the cities overseas,” says Chirag. Chaipatty abroad will be a drive-in café with a seating area. “That’s what I have in mind for New Jersey and Canberra. In Cape Town, it will be more of a café. The partner can bring in variations in food. But tea needs to be the key constituent. The moment a coffee vending machine is installed, I could pull my brand away.”
Being optimistic for markets overseas is great, but doesn’t India hold any promise at all? Chaipatty is Bengaluru is thriving with a footfall of over 200 on any given day, and almost double that number on weekends.
“In India, I want to take Chaipatty to the airports, to office campuses and tech parks. I’m presently looking at consolidating my existing one. I want to keep my business plan simple. If people want to come, they will,” says Chirag, who has a strong business partner in his mother, who is also hands-on with Chaipatty.
Alongside international expansion, he is keenly focusing on the merchandise available at the teafé. From hand-painted cutting glasses to kullads, trays, kettles and tea packets, Chirag is marketing the merchandise through the teafe and also online.
Another revenue generator could be the activities. Of late, he has had live band performances, startup conclaves, book launches and a few jazz events. “I let it happen. Though it doesn’t happen as frequently as earlier.”
A quick glance across Chaipatty would reveal that Chirag is involved not just in managing the people working with him, interacting with his customers and in the day-to-day operations, but also in the nitty gritties. With a passion for painting, he has himself sketched and painted on several canvases that are displayed at the teafé. “We have some intriguing paintings, such as an interpretation of the Last Supper that shows Jesus and his apostles having chai. The wall art we have is quirky and is done to provide a unique ambience and experience. Chaipatty for me is more like my home and most of my customers today are my friends.”