An idea that started off as a ‘chai tapri’ outside a college in Shillong is a multi-crore tea business in Delhi today. Chaai Seth, a brainchild of Arpit Raj and his friends, has outlets in 27 Indian states.
While pursuing BBA in Hospitality in 2015, Arpit Raj (24) along with his gang of friends would often roam the streets of Shillong looking for good food joints. However, studies coupled with a hectic curriculum meant the boys would only get free late into the night when the town was too dark to permit meanderings.
“We thought that if we had midnight cravings, there certainly must be others like us who would love to get food delivered,” says Arpit, recounting the many stops along the way that led to him setting up the venture ‘Chaai Seth’ years later. It would go on to become one of the fastest-growing tea franchises in India.
So, in the hostel room where the boys lived, Arpit and his friends started a tiffin delivery service that was exclusively meant for those wanting to snack late at night.
Soon the boys moved to a flat, which meant they could hire a cook too to help them with orders. “I remember hiring a local Bengali woman who would prepare snacks, aloo parathas, gobi parathas, etc, and we’d get on our scooters to deliver these. Our promise was that we’d get the food to you within 30 minutes,” he reminisces.
In the journey so far, Arpit had realised an important fact: “Food connects people.”
In his own college, he often noticed how people from a vast diaspora often looked for food from their own cultures and craved it. So when Arpit and his friends were looking to start a food stall outside the campus, this idea seemed exciting, but he could foresee loopholes.
“Someone from North India would have preferences for their kind of street food to be made a certain way. Same for someone from South India and so on.”
So, instead of striving for perfection in various cuisines, he decided to zero in on a food item that could bring people together no matter where they came from.
And, tea was the answer!
This was also the inception of the idea on which Chaai Seth would one day be based, albeit at the time, Arpit saw the venture only as something fun to do.
‘From a tapri to a franchise model’
The idea worked incredibly well. The climate of Shillong meant people flocked to the tapri ever so often, and soon, Arpit and his friends began to see returns.
“In that 100 sq ft area, we were five friends serving chai and just having fun,” he says. While Arpit and his friends graduated in 2018, he says it was around the same time that a local group made them shut down the tapri.
Due to the regulations in the Northeast, which require individuals to partner with locals instead of conducting individual businesses, Arpit states that they gained valuable knowledge and experience.
Meanwhile, Arpit was packing his bags and looking forward to his corporate job in Delhi, but also disappointed to leave behind the little idea that he and his friends had worked on during their college days.
In Delhi, Arpit began working with a startup, where he worked for a year and a half before he realised his heart was still set on his college venture. “I had a crazy idea,” says Arpit, “I discussed it with two of my friends — one of whom was going to start work as a CA and another who was a software engineer. I convinced both of them that we could really scale the chai tapri idea into a business.”
So the three friends quit their individual endeavours and bought a space in Delhi to restart their business. “Our initial days were amazing,” recounts Arpit. “Our main customers were IIT professors. But then around 2020, COVID hit and the pandemic brought with it a lot of challenges. But we were so intent on our idea that nothing could stop us.”
So, in the initial phase of COVID, Arpit and his friends decided to expand the menu and add burgers, biscuits, frankies, sandwiches, pastas, momos and other snacks to it.
“Indian homes are known for chai being a staple drink. We needed to go above and beyond, and create an experience that people wouldn’t usually get at home. That’s when we decided to serve a range of teas instead of just the traditional one.”
Today, at any Chaai Seth outlet, there are 25 varieties of tea for a customer to choose from. These include the common ones as well as those you may have never heard of — like daalchini tea, butterscotch tea, kali mirch tea, guava tea and more.
Chaai Seth has 27 outlets pan India and a customer base of “more than 50,000 people”. The brand witnessed a whopping turnover of Rs 3.5 crore last year. Arpit says its main USP has been consistency across orders and outlets.
Chandrakant Panchal, one of the frequent customers at the Ahmedabad outlet, says the space is a wonderful one to spend time with family. “I love the concept of their flavoured tea and the taste of food is really amazing.”
Another customer Parth Sanghavi says what he loves most about Chaai Seth is the ambience. “I have ordered normal kadak chai and kesar ilaichi chai. The taste of both is very good.”
Edited by Pranita Bhat