Chai Wala, reinventing the roadside dhaba

A diverse crowd sipping exquisite blends of exotic and gourmet teas in the open-air, as assorted gushes of the cool sea breeze afford a touch of perfection to the relaxed ambience. Interesting?

But not as exciting when you add the vivaciousness of the riot of colours that is truck art, a strong doodh patti that any Khan sahib would gleefully gulp down with a pinch of niswaar; and desi ghee parathas that even grandma would be proud of.

This amalgamation of a local dhaba and a modern tea cafe is called Chai Wala, where you will be served doodh patti or a kahwa sitting in the open, but you can also order a paratha with Nutella and strawberries or the pizza one that oozes a hot mix of cheeses and mushrooms.

Vibrantly-coloured direction boards guide you through the lanes of Bukhari Commercial Area near Khayaban-e-Shujaat in DHA Phase VI to this lively and distinctive dhaba, the truck art covered signboards, furniture and, even the menu, instantly capturing your attention.

“The initial idea was to open the kind of traditional tea café that is gaining popularity in western countries by offering unique tea blends,” says Aized Suharwardy, the co-founder of Chai Wala, who returned to Pakistan after spending five years in Australia for his marketing and finance degrees.

“But then the infatuation with the local doodh patti kicked in, paving the way for a tea café with a dhaba look,” he added.

For those with a liking for the more local versions of tea, Chai Wala offers everything from doodh patti, elaichi chai and Peshawari and Suleimani kahwas to the in-demand Kashmiri chai. Besides that, there is Cadbury chai, lemon grass tea, coffee and hot chocolate on the menu list too.

But the tea adventure really begins by experiencing the special tea blends. The Red Tulsi Magic is a blend of imported red tea with aniseed (sonf) and other herbal components that is not only rich in aroma, but was also a tantalising treat for the taste buds.

The Red Fruit Fancy is also a red tea experimented with chunks of seasonal fruits. Then there is the Red Green and Dreamy that combines the aromatic and savoury delights of red and green teas.

Perhaps, many would prefer going for the Green Geisha, given the suggestive nature of its name, which is a green tea blend in a pure and simple form. Finally, the Black Arctic Fire is another mix that was rich in both, aroma and taste.

The special teas are an exception, but why would somebody opt for a cup of doodh patti at double the price than the ones available at the multitudes of dhabas across the city? Suharwardy argues that there is twice the amount of tea in their cups than the ones at dhabas. “Besides, we prepare our teas in the most hygienic of environments and only use mineral water in them.”

Of course Chai Wala also offers a variety of mouth-watering parathas. They can be just regular, with a sprinkle of zeera to pack a nutty and peppery punch or filled with potatoes, radish, pickled chicken or minced meat for a homely feeling. Then there are the Nuttela and pizza parathas that, without a doubt, would leave you craving for more.

“A paratha is such a popular local delight and can be experimented with in so many ways,” says Suharwardy, “That is precisely what we have been trying to do and it really seems to be working well.”

After months of planning with co-founder Hamza Sadiq, a long-time friend who also studied in Australia, Chai Wala opened in December last year and proved to be an instant hit, the response hitting a mark expected to be reached much later. “In just over three months, we are where we were hoping to be in a year or two,” elaborates Suharwardy, acknowledging that his and Hamza’s strong social networks have been invaluable to Chai Wala’s unanticipated success.

Aized has also employed his digital marketing skills well using social marketing tools wisely and effectively, not only advertising Chai Wala on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Tumblr, but also remaining constantly in touch with customers and potential ones through them.

The duo has adopted “the happier the staff, the more the productivity” approach, paying employees on a monthly basis rather than opting for the daily wager method preferred at many restaurants and dhabas.

Suharwardy also attributes the success to the nice, clean and family-oriented atmosphere they have managed to maintain at Chai Wala. “It’s a place where you can come with your family and feel safe,” he adds, “How many roadside places in Karachi can really say that?”

And indeed, his words rang true as there were several families at the open sitting-place, even foreigners among them, chatting away and occasionally sharing laughs over a cup of tea – the best pastime some would say.

Published by: The News

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