The New 'Chai Masters'

They say “you should invest in experiences, not things.” Another “they” believe that Pakistani’s prefer commodities instead of meaningful brands. The new generation of food & fashion entrepreneurs is steadily proving the faceless “they” wrong.

Three years ago, the founders of Sattar Buksh started a psychographically justified idea, and replica’s have emerged to tap into the fusion of “burgers” that have acquired a taste for the non-burger category. We spoke to Aized Suharwardy and Hamza Usman, the founders of Chai Wala, a new challenger in the subculture.

Q. Where does the business name originate from? Who designed the logo?

The name was suggested by a friend and it appealed to us instantly. It is simple, elegant and has high recall value. The logo was a collaborative affair between ourselves and a truck artist we hired. The idea for making the “a” in Chai shaped like a chainak was Hamza’s wife, Hania’s while the colours and design that are incorporated with the “a” have taken inspiration from our truck artist. The way the name is written on our main board (From English to Urdu) is again Hania’s concept.

Q. People usually associate “Chai” with breakfast. Will you incorporate breakfast on the menu?

Given the high demand for breakfast, we are hoping to start it very soon. We’re currently working through our options for staffing, logistics and product development to make sure we can serve breakfast successfully in the future. Initially we will look at starting off with Sundays only and build it from there.

Q. Name and idea sounds similar to Chai Master. How is this original?

We want to be more than just a dhaba and establish Chai Wala as a brand that serves Pakistan’s most authentic cups of tea. Our chai is a selected blend which we have fine-tuned to deliver authentic flavours, while our truck art concept and colours are unique in the way we have used them to link our brand and product stories. We are essentially trying to bring different parts of Pakistan together with a common connection – Love for Chai and our brand essence “Peeyo, Magar Pyaar se” speaks to that.

We also believe in high hygiene standards (we have an open kitchen, anyone can come and have a look) and in providing a safe and suitable environment for families.

So in our opinion the comparison is false and will only prove more so as we continue to grow and evolve.

Q. Are you restricted to “Chai” in the hot beverage category or is coffee also in the cards?

Not at all – we are doing coffee and hot chocolate as it is and plan on extending our specialty chais further (these are western blends we procure from a vendor in Australia). Further, for the summers we plan on launching our Iced teas, Iced coffee, and other cold beverages.

Q. People are calling CW a sequel to Sattar Buksh. What is your response?

Not sure about that – I have only ever been there twice and haven’t had much exposure to it. I think you may make that association owing to the way we use art as a part of our brand story – but that really is where the similarity would end.

Q. A place like this with outdoor seating can attract the wrong crowd that might make others (like females) uncomfortable. How do you counter/prevent incidents?

The ambiance, the tone, the expectations – we set these things to make sure we attract the right sort of crowd especially families. We have intentionally kept the whole set up very family friendly and I don’t see any other outdoor seating cafe/dhabas/restaurants doing the same. We have also been fortunate with the sort of crowd we get but if there is a situation that we feel may turn nasty or be detrimental to our patrons’ experience then our team is trained to step in and/or call the necessary authorities.

Q. What was the logic behind this back-alley location?

A Back alley location was not something we were initially looking for but the spot we found was too good to let go off in our opinion. It actually helps since there is no external traffic really running through the area and makes for a more peaceful environment for our customers – away from the “shoor sharaba” you would find on a main road.

Q. Have you managed to turn a profit yet?

We would prefer not to get into the specifics about the profitability but let’s just say that we have done well these past few months! Sales have gone beyond what we had set as targets for the first 3 months.

Q. What operational challenges have you faced and countered so far?

Plenty – Staffing is a major point. Finding the right resources is never easy. Supply Chain is another – streamlining everything to operate under global standard SOP’s is a challenge, hence we have set up a daily stock checklist (closing & opening) & established an efficient automated just in time delivery system of our raw materials (especially for milk). Lastly, maintaining quality standards and ensuring they are being properly followed is a task in itself. For this we have compiled recipe books, cooking guides and health and hygiene standards for our staff.

Q. Due to the outdoor seating arrangement of the business, it would seem that only cloudy weather or a night time setting is optimal for customers. Yet you pay shop rent and pay for expenses. What is the business strategy applied to counter this?

This is a particular execution of Chai Wala the brand. We have already established our catering set up and have done numerous wedding functions at Imperial and Golf Club along with festivals like Karachi Eat, Behbud and Masala Festival. This is not taking into account the home catering we offer. In addition, we have recently started our delivery service through food panda and are looking to set up another branch very soon (this may even be an indoor cafe with an extended menu). Coming back to the point of shop timing – we will begin with being open during the day on Sundays, followed by Saturdays to see how customers respond to it. However, as it is an outdoor cafe in Karachi, the optimal time for visitors is always going to be in the evenings.

Q. Why isn’t CW open on Mondays? Why did you break this rule for March 23? How did you celebrate (or treat customers with something special) on that day?

We were closed on Mondays for the first two months but as demand picked up and we streamlined our staff schedules, we decided to remain open 7 days a week. So now we are fully functional on Mondays and March 23 was the second Monday we were operational on.

Q. I didn’t see any guards in the area and people have been robbed at various open space businesses like this one (like at Shahbaz/Sehr commercial). That said how have you countered / planned for security concerns?

No – I feel very confident about the security of our location, it is well lit with plenty of traffic moving around. It’s not next to a main road meaning it is not very accessible and especially now that we have a large volume of customers visiting, plenty of them bring their personal security as well. Furthermore we are located at a very safe part of DHA and have police and vigilance cars roaming the grounds on regular intervals.

Q. This place was packed when I visited, and I noted a lot of customers taking rounds to find parking. Why don’t you offer valet parking?

Around 50% of our orders go to customers sitting in their cars- a valet would not be of any use to them. It is a value addition but not something we consider vital or urgent for the moment.

Q. Any plans to get into eCommerce & conversion marketing?

Absolutely – launching a site is in the pipeline. There is so much scope to grow in this sector and we feel an online store and delivery service would be very attractive and a good product market fit. Also launching social media campaigns can be a great way to increase impressions, engagement and customer acquisitions, and now that we have a solid presence on SM platforms (Facebook & Instagram in particular) we will be working through the “AIDA” funnel.

Q. What’s the growth strategy implemented to keep this idea relevant and consistent in the minds (brand preference and not a fad) of customers?

Chai can never be fad for Pakistan. It is part of the fabric of our nation and no one really has tried to capture this. I think we don’t need to only look at chai but definitely the brand Chai Wala needs to own Chai. That could go beyond into products as well- the vision is very much there but we must evolve and grow slowly, taking one step at a time.

Published by: Express Tribune

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