Away from his hometown, Ankit Nagwanshi from Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh, was living the routine life of a software engineer in Mumbai. He worked a 9-5 job and spent several hours commuting to and from work. Working as a business intelligence professional for a private firm in the city, Ankit had a well-paying job of Rs 8 lakh a year. But for four years, the search for something different followed him everywhere.
He always knew he wanted to do something in food. During his free time from work, he spent hours researching ideas that would help him enter the food business. By 2019, Ankit was tired of the daily 13-kilometer commute, and the routine he was living. On August 15 that year, he quit and returned to Chhindwara.
In 2021, his life is different altogether. The 30-year-old is no longer struggling to clock in his work hours. Instead, he runs a tea business, has hired two employees, and is earning an income of around Rs 60,000 a month. This change, he says, was not circumstantial, but one that came around because of the choices he made.
His venture, Engineer Chaiwala, has brought him immense satisfaction and pride.
Ankit had planned to start his own restaurant after quitting, but did not have the means or experience to run it. To start small, he began a tea business.
“In India, tea is consumed by almost everyone, and multiple times a day. I thought it was a lucrative opportunity, and one that required less investment. If I succeeded in the tea business, I could expand and eventually experiment in other food segments,” Ankit tells The Better India.
Ankit had lost his parents a few years ago. He talked about his decision to quit and start selling tea with his sister and other family members, but the conversation did not go well.
His sister Roshni says, “We knew he wanted to start a business. He would constantly research potential options. However, his idea of selling tea was difficult for us to digest. It was a tough decision for him too, but we decided to support him anyway.”
Ankit agrees with his family. “Who would want their relative to be a chaiwala (tea vendor)? It is not considered a respectable business. But I convinced them that it was the beginning of a long journey of eventually owning a restaurant,” he says.
From different corners of India
To compete with the other tea vendors in town, Ankit decided to bring uniqueness to his tea. “I travelled around India, including Jaipur, Pune, Amritsar and Delhi, to learn about different teas and the process of brewing them. Making tea is not rocket science, but the business model must be robust enough to sell varieties that are unique, so that customers remain loyal and come back for more. I realised that the desi tea, infused with ginger, tulsi, pudina and other herbs, was popular among customers. I decided to make a masala (spices and herbs) blend with secret ingredients. After perfecting the mix, I launched my business on 14 August 2020,” he says. He adds that the tea is brewed by adding ingredients in a specific order. The precise brewing time ensures the ingredients infuse, which helps bring out the tea’s best flavours.
Ankit says that he had hoped to start the business in February 2020 itself, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his plans. “Once the lockdown eased, I rented a roadside cart. I started by selling masala tea, immunity tea and South Indian filter coffee,” he adds. The entrepreneur says that he had to move spots as competitors did not take his presence well. He eventually settled in a place where no other businesses would ask him to leave. “But many businesses came up in the area following the success I received,” he says.
Ankit’s business sees about 400 customers a day, earning him a profit of Rs 2,000. A cup of tea costs Rs 8, and coffee costs Rs 15. “I have recently introduced poha to the menu. I plan to move from the cart to a permanent store soon. However, I am still learning and analysing customer behaviour,” he explains.
Harish Kumar Vishwakarma, a customer at Engineer Chaiwala, says, “I have been visiting the tea stall since it first opened, and have tried all types of teas here. But I am very fond of the immunity tea. It’s refreshing, and even my friends are huge fans. The restaurant’s board, which says ‘Engineer Chaiwala’ also arouses curiosity among new customers.”
Roshni says she will support Ankit in expanding business once she completes her MBA degree. “We support him by all means possible, and even take care of the business in his absence,” she says.
“I will introduce more snacks in the coming days. I am confident I am moving in the right direction and should reach my goal soon,” Ankit says.
Edited by Divya Sethu