The Duo that took a ‘tea break’ quite literally & are making a fortune out of it | MENA startups, innovation, and tech news


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The Duo that took a ‘tea break’ quite literally & are making a fortune out of it

Project Chaiwala: A Fusion of Dubai and India

In 2017, two friends Ahmed Kazim from the United Arab Emirates and Justin Joseph from India who previously worked in corporate jobs for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, quit their jobs and launched a homegrown tea cafe called ‘Project Chaiwala. Both cultures of Dubai and India have Tea as a traditional beverage that is commonly consumed every single day.

In the Project Chaiwala, Kazim and Justin brought together the two cultures inspired from the street “Chaiwalas” and created this project, Ahmed Kazim explains how they instilled the essence of the Indian Chaiwalas into a modern and chic cafe of Dubai to create an Internationally recognized Chai brand, Kazim stated, “The intersection between Emirati and Indian cultures is very deep. ‘Chai Karak’ or ‘Karak’ tea is a staple, for example, in my household. Every morning, my breakfast is ‘chai’ (tea) and toast. Eating a toast that has been dipped in hot tea leaves a lingering taste in the mouth. You can be from any emirate in the UAE, but a common denominator is ‘Karak chai’. In fact, a cafe that serves ‘Karak’ tea is our first touchpoint once we are in the car. It is simply embedded in our culture,”

The two boys once discussed their love for Chai at work and thus the plan for Project Chaiwala was birthed, on realising they were both “Chai nerds” they understood each other’s passion for it which we can recognize in the words of Ahmed Kazim, “We discovered we had so many mutual interests – including becoming entrepreneurs one day – and we quickly became friends at work. When the topic of chai came up, we wondered why there was no globally recognizable chai brand, the way you have so many coffee outfits all over the world.”

The first-ever sales done under the Chaiwala project by the two friends, began at Cinema Akil, a stand-alone cinema, as a homage to Dubai’s Chai shops, in the form of a semi-permanent pop-up shop. In Dubai’s culture as well, Tea is a common traditional beverage since the Dubai and Indian culture are closely related in many aspects, according to Joseph, “Drinking tea is a fundamental part of the ancestral culture of the Middle East. Every day, we find new and interesting proposals in the market as far as tea is concerned. Yet, the most important aspect of a delicious tea is that it should relax our spirit and impulses to keep us going through the day,” said Joseph, co-founder of Project Chaiwala.

Project Chaiwala not only sells traditional tea consisting of spices like cardamom, ginger, saffron, etc; but also Indian snacks made using traditional recipes, even the art and decor of the cafes’ are made keeping in mind the heavy culture of India. According to a review, “The look and feel of a typical street tea cafe in India are unmistakable — be it the popular “Glucose” or ‘Parle G’ biscuits or rusks on offer — to be dipped into a hot cup of tea — or the clay cups to serve the ‘chai’, or the Bollywood music playing at the store. Framed photos of famous Bollywood stars and movie posters adorn the walls of the cafe. We tried the simple tea and then the famous ‘Karak’ tea.”

The Project Chaiwala which started as a small pop-up now has 6 outlets and is continually growing, even during the time of covid they continued selling by adapting several consequential strategies like advertisements, reaching customers digitally at their homes, and launching an e-commerce portal. Some of the beliefs that made them successful as shared by them are:

  • Invest smartly by studying and gaining knowledge.
  • Invest a part of your income in the business regularly.
  • Passively Invest and keep patience.
  • Apply your knowledge and learn from mistakes.

Despite being so successful already, they now aspire to grow more and are currently aiming at, “In the next two years, we hope to build a local fresh ‘chai’ presence in the Gulf Cooperation Council market. The plan is to celebrate the ‘chai’ culture in UAE every day through joyous experiences and refreshed classic flavors,” said Kazim who comes from a family of merchants. “Becoming an entrepreneur was just the natural career path for me as a result,” said Kazim.

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