There are thousands of tea stalls dotting the highways in Kerala selling steaming hot ‘chaya’. But if you ever pass through Pallimukku, a town in Kollam district of Kerala, you could easily spot the ‘BTech Chai’, a unique tea stall set on the side of NH 66.
Anandu Ajay, Mohammed Shafi and his brother Mohammed Shanavas, three engineering graduates came together to start the BTech Chai. Set on a pushcart stationed on the roadside of one of the busy areas in Kollam, BTech Chai offers over 50 flavours of tea.
“We wanted to start something very unique in all aspects because spotting a chai shop is easy here, therefore it was essential to be different and to stand out from the crowd. Also, because we three are engineering graduates who are running a ‘chai’ business, we wanted it to be named BTech Chai,” he says.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed have been one of the toughest times for many across the country, including Anandu and Shafi who lost their jobs during this period.
“When we lost our jobs during the lockdown we both decided to start something of our own and a food business was always on our minds. But due to financial limitations, we couldn’t start anything big or something that involved risk. So, we started the BTech Chai on a pushcart,” Anandu tells The Better India.
Shahnavas, Shafi’s brother who was working in the Middle East, also had to face many challenges during the pandemic period. He then decided to return home to join Anandu and Shafi in their business venture.
Despite facing a lot of resistance from his family, Anandu decided to move ahead with the chai business. He says, “It was very difficult to convince my family. My parents couldn’t accept the fact that a BTech graduate is going to sell tea on the roadside. My mother somewhat reluctantly came around but my father is still not convinced.”
Unlike Anandu, Shafi’s parents were easily convinced and supported him on his venture. Shafi says it was his mother who helped them find a pushcart for setting up their business. “There were a lot of questions regarding the chai business. But I have been doing a lot of odd jobs for several years including painting, catering, event management, etc. So, my parents didn’t discourage me, they just didn’t want me to be jobless. Also, my brother joined us and he has been big support ever since,” adds Shafi.
After brainstorming for several months, Anandu and Shafi came up with a proper business plan but there was another challenge in store for them — raising enough funds. Anandu says, with zero savings and no financial support from their families, they depended on their friends who lent them small amounts of money which amounted to Rs 1.5 lakh.
Within a month of its launch BTech Chai became a sensation in the area with people lining up in front of it waiting to taste varieties of tea and delicious snacks. Shafi says, “We are happy that our small venture got this much acceptance here. It’s not just because of its unique name, but mostly because we never compromised on the quality of teas or the ingredients that we use to make them.”
Besides offering over 50 varieties of tea, BTech Chai also provides scrumptious malabar snacks like Chatti pathiri, Kilikoodu, Unnakaya, Erachi ada, mutta petti, etc. Anandu explains, “All the snacks we provide here are mostly homemade and are sourced locally. We have teas ranging from a basic black tea priced at Rs 5 to a Saffron tea priced at Rs 45. Now, we have over 50 teas and we keep adding more teas to the menu every month.”
Other special varieties include dairy milk chai, butter chai, badam pista chai, vanilla chai, pineapple chai, strawberry chai, chocolate chai, mint chai and the list goes on. Anandu adds, “We have a special tea named ‘Ginja chai’, it is made with a special masala that we formulated using 10 spices and four herbs. We only source top-quality spices for this secret masala and make the mix by ourselves.”
BTech Chai is open from 3 pm to 1 am every day, and is a success with over hundreds of regular customers visiting, but they are yet to gain a stable profit out of the business, says Shafi. “We are now planning to eventually set a menu of 101 tea varieties. Also, we believe that we could expand it all over Kerala and even beyond, thereby establishing it as a brand and marketing our flavours,” he adds.
“I proved many people wrong who believed that one has to leave their home town and move abroad to get a decent job or be successful. But I believe that if you have the mind, then it’s possible to start something on your own and be successful no matter where you are,” concludes Ananthu.
For any enquiries, you can call Anandu on 9995126639.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)