Sure coffee is cool and sophisticated, but tea has its own charm. Nothing quite wakes you up like a good ol’ cup of chai, and this is especially true in India. Thanks to our long-standing romance with tea, we have put our own unique spin on the simple British black tea, elevating it to something else. We have a tea for all seasons and reasons—tea with medicinal value (adrak chai), tea for a quick break (cutting chai) and one reserved for special occasions, elaichi chai. No matter how remote the location, you are sure to find a tea stall in this country. Given the popularity of this humble beverage, it’s a surprise there aren’t as many tea cafés as there are coffee shops.
Anirudh Poddar and Aditya Ladsaria felt the same way and decided to change this, and Chai Break was born in Kolkata in 2010. Today, it is one of the most popular all-day casual dining spaces in the city—not just with the youth but also older customers. Since its inception, the chain has grown by leaps and bounds and established a presence across the country with 14 outlets and more in the pipeline.
“Both Aditya and I thought that there were a lot of cafés specialising in and selling coffees, but there were no chai chains so we thought of creating one,” says Anirudh Poddar, the co-founder of Chai Break, which offers Italian, Indian and Chinese food, along with more than 30 varieties of teas and other drinks. Although their main target is the youth, they do have a customer base of all age groups, and this reflects in the menu as well.
“At Chai Break, our USP is that we are the only place that serves a thin crust pizza with a kesar chai,” informs Aditya Ladsaria, the other half of this novel venture. “Anirudh and I are childhood friends from school and we have been best of friends before being partners, so actually it’s more like a family,” he says. Having started with just one kiosk, the duo has come a long way today with 14 outlets across various cities. “Initial funding came from our savings, which we had done while working, before we started our first establishment. We started in a small manner with our first outlet in 2010. Once we were confident about our products, processes and other operational methods, we planned to expand with the limited capital we had,” explains Poddar. But one thing was clear in their heads right from the beginning: to expand. “We always thought of creating a chain of outlets; we never thought of only Kolkata. We had nothing to lose as we had dreamt of making Chai Break a pan-India brand—with a will to achieve,” elaborates Poddar.
A success story
But the road to success is seldom an easy one, and this was the case for the ambitious duo too. As they were not from the industry, they faced many challenges, and there was much learning to do. “The biggest challenge was to find good, skilled manpower, and we understood this fast. Thus, to retain old manpower and to hire new manpower, we made HR policies, which would attract our employees,” reflects Poddar.
Fortunately for Poddar and Ladsaria, the brand was accepted and adored by customers in Kolkata and the company started making profits from the first month itself. Encouraged by this, the duo started planning for the company’s growth. Taking us through this growth process, Poddar says, “We started saving and ploughed back money to the business. And then, last year we had Venture Catalyst investing in our company. From a 200 sq ft shared office with no central store and kitchen to a company where 400 of us are working together to take our company pan-India, Venture Catalyst has not only brought in capital for us to create a facility of central kitchen and store in an area of 10,000 sq ft in Kolkata, but also enabled us to create a team to take the brand to new heights.”
Hard work and perseverance always pays off, and for Poddar and Ladsaria, it has translated into awards and recognition from reputed organisations. They were honoured with the Award for Excellence by The Telegraph Food Guide and the ET Now Awards in the Food & Grocery Brand of the Year (Cafe) category, among others. Also, earlier this year, Anirudh Poddar was named one of the 100 Top Retail Minds by Asia Africa GCC.
A bright future
When studying together at St James School, these childhood friends might not have imagined they would one day be the proud co-owners of a successful chain of cafés. It all happened when Ladsaria was pursuing his CA and interning with Ernst & Young. As he teamed up with Poddar, he quit to focus on their dream of starting Chai Break—a risk that has paid off handsomely. Having come a long way since, their immediate plan is to grow further in Eastern India, as it is still virgin territory. “We want to have a clustered approach and target the B cities, as people in these cities have both the means and aspirations,” says Poddar. “We have signed our 21st outlet and plan to open another 50 in the next five years. We are targeting a ₹30-crore turnover by March 2019 and a turnover of around ₹200 crore in the next five years,” adds Ladsaria, talking about the duo’s vision and mission for the future.
After the success of Chai Break, the duo has launched Chai Break Café & Bar, as they feel this is the future of F&B—a casual place where one can enjoy a drink, listen to some music and maybe even play a game with friends over a beer or two. “We want to expand and open at least 10 more establishments in this segment by March 2020,” asserts Poddar. Once they conquer the Indian market, the dynamic twosome plan to set their sights on international shores. Given their growth trajectory and inner drive, this too might come to pass someday soon.