A cool, crisp evening, a refreshing cup of steaming hot tea and the company of a rather enterprising individual. This was how Letsstalkfood spent a rather productive Wednesday. I had the utmost pleasure of catching up with Abraham Joseph, Founder and CEO of GLF Hospitality and its signature brand CHAI NATION. Geared with a double Masters in Business Management (University of Plymouth, UK) and in Electronics (Sathyabhama University, Chennai), this food entrepreneur is here to play hard ball!
|Abraham Joseph with his cup of CHAI|
When people leave what they are mechanically trained to do, to pursue something they are passionate about, you know something in the world is going right. Such is the case of Abraham, who was a senior certified mortgage advisor in London. He tells me that entrepreneurship has always been his calling. Constantly thinking up new and innovative business ideas, his ultimate goal was to settle down in his home town and start a business there.
The “yes I want to start a business!” thought comes as easy as pie BUT the question of “what business should I start?” is one that many who wish to be entrepreneurs constantly wonder about. Some of the lucky ones, Abraham included, have managed to correctly identify and slam shut a need-want gap prevalent amongst consumers.
Extensive research on market opportunities led Abraham to stumble upon an untapped tea segment in Cochin. I was surprised when he mentioned that almost 90% of Indian households consume tea, yet however, tea as a product does not share as bright a limelight as coffee does; which is ironic considering tea consumption totals over 10 times more than that of coffee! Some of the inputs his research gave him was that Coffee was considered an elitist drink and more acceptable in social outings whereas tea had an association with home and low end tea shops. In several cases, making of tea is connected with an environment that lacks basic cleanliness and hygiene. This was the gap that Abraham wanted to fill. If a tea drinker is provided with a facility that gives him his daily dose of fresh, hygienic tea with snacks, with no compromise whatsoever on quality accompanied by an affordable price structure, you have yourself a fantastic business opportunity all hands down!
Abraham refers to tea as being the India’s national drink and hence he christened his venture “CHAI NATION” with an apt tag line: “MY NATION. MY CHAI”. Along with reaffirming affection toward this beverage, it is a perfectly adaptable name across the country; future expansion goals are just around the corner!
Nothing comes easy of course! The amount of research and development that went behind the scenes was exhausting! Travelling across states, constant tasting to achieve the best blend appreciated by the Kerala palette, setting up operations; there was a truckload of homework to be done! When everything clicked into place, a proposal was submitted to the management at Infopark and like they say…the rest was history!
Keeping the white collared crowd as the target group, CHAI NATION had its humble beginnings in small unit in Infopark two years ago. Sincere efforts and exceptional quality have seen a 2 staff Café grow into one with 14 permanent staff, a second outlet at Muthoot Technopolis and a third one launching this July at Cognizant Technologies Pvt Ltd, Phase 2 of Infopark.
“CHAI NATION thrives on a quick snack concept. Research has shown me that Keralaites gives great importance to the snacks that accompany a good cup of tea. Hence apart from a variety of teas, we also provide a range of snacks from proper kerala mutta kuzhalappam (or pancake) to burgers, cakes and sandwiches.” Despite the success, Abraham is ever mindful of the trust and support his management give him, with special mention to his Head of Operations, Mr.Vivek Joy, “with a decade of experience in the F&B sector, Vivek has really aided in helping CHAI NATION reach greater heights” he adds. His strongest support he says comes from his better half, Anju and their adorable son. “She stood beside me through everything” he says
CHAI NATION positions itself as a young, hygienic brand with quality driven focus. Upon asking how they differ from the usual vendors, Abharam said “We take pride in bringing our customers the best Chai our land has to offer. We use high quality tea leaves sourced from our exclusive estates and tea companies at Nilgiris Estates. The blend that we use is cherished around the world for its strong flavour, dark colour and intense aroma. We also ensure that we use no artificial colours or flavours that hamper the end product. Our wish is to provide customers with a sip of good health and wellness”
A short, relaxing break from the race of mundane day to day activities is what CHAI NATION has on offer along with its teas and delectable snacks. When I had arrived for our chit chat, I could hardly see the café for the amount of people clamouring for a cup of delicious warmth!
Crowd control however is a problem they have not faced, as a self service-token system is followed. Keeping tabs mentally and serving such a vast array of customers would be an impossible scenario and hence the 1st come 1st serve system was set in place. This led me to wonder out loud about how they manage when a staff member falls sick or quits. “Cross training” Abraham answers with a big smile. He tells me that every member of the staff right from the team manager to the team member is trained across each and every activity; be it soft skills, cooking, blending the beverages, billing. Smart move this! Of course it is a time consuming and laborious process with regular month end staff meetings but the end results have succeeded in removing any impediment that prevents the customer from enjoying their cup of tea.
CHAI NATION focuses on two main business models; retail sales, driven through their outlets and institutional sales, driven by tie ups with corporates for bulk orders. This has given then a major foothold in the corporate F&B industry as far as experience is concerned.
Abraham has simple tastes and that extends to the brand he gave life to. Instead of diluting the concept of tea with 40 different varieties , CHAI NATION serves up 8 varieties of hot teas and 5 varieties of iced teas. The main objective being attaining volumes. Apart from beverages, they also tickle your taste buds with shakes (only full on fruit pulp with absolutely no ice cream), juices, burgers, cakes and sandwiches and over 40 plus variety snacks.
Abraham trusts the wonders of the word of mouth. He says that reviews about the café go online in a matter of seconds after consumption of their products and they have all been extremely encouraging; “CHAI NATION is without a doubt, the grooviest, most happening tea café in Infopark” to quote one among the many customer remarks. The crowd CHAI NATION draws is a recurring crowd whose tastes have been aptly catered to. “Customers keep coming back for more and we pull all stops to ensure that they get the best” says Abraham. Keeping in mind the stringent entry policies at Infopark, advertising for CHAI NATION has been kept at a minimal through social media and the all-powerful WOM. But with plans to extend to various other locations, advertising and branding plans are being drawn up. A major event that CHAI NATION partnered as F&B associate was the RAAHGIRI in association with KOCHI METRO. A massive crowd was flawlessly handled thereby gaining much appreciation from the KMRL. For more information on the event, please log on to: http://blog.kochimetro.org/2016/05/02/thuruvulsavam-when-road-made-way-for-happiness/
By the time we wrapped up our discussion, the crowd had thinned down considerably and we pulled up chairs right outside the café to enjoy the fresh air. A tasting was scheduled as well with the best sellers being my target. Some of the fastest moving products at CHAI NATION are their Regular chai, peach iced tea, mango shake, mayo chicken sandwich, chicken and veg burgers and banana chocolate cake slices. Despite me repeatedly telling Abhraham to provide me with only tasting portions (my body tends to disagree with my passion for food always!) he went full on with the beverages and snacks “To get a proper feel of what we serve” (I’m not complaining!)
I was first served a soothing cup of hot regular tea which was deep in flavour and satisfied my soul! I just wanted to cuddle up with it under a blanket!
The glasses used were authentic kerala cutting glasses with logo and name branding across the top. This heavenly drink was followed by a black tea and masala chai. Abraham suggested I try the black tea with a slice of their famous chocolate banana cake…bliss I tell you! The chocolate seemed to romance the silkiness of the black tea. The cake was light, moist and self saucing…a right treat! I am personally not a fan of masala chai but this cup served was a lovely blend of cinnamon, mace and other spices, adding a firework of flavours to every sip.
With the hot beverages drunk and loved, we moved on to the cold beverages. I was first asked to try their famous mango shake. This shake put every shake I have ever tried to shame and it was so thick, I could bet on holding the cup upside down and it still wouldn’t fall off! CHAI NATION uses frozen Alphonso mango pulp for this delight. Chuck the straw and give me a spoon to polish off this cup-o-love I say!
The mayo chicken sandwich made its entry and though it looked humble enough, the flavour was fantastic! Creamy mayo, ice berg lettuce and shredded chicken mixed together to create a perfect balance. What I loved best was that I didn’t have just bread to chew on toward the end of the sandwich. Every bite had a mouthful of filling as well. Like a loyal friend, it stuck with me till the very end! Corny I know but this sandwich made me happy!
I washed down this sandwich with a chug of refreshing peach iced tea. Perfectly blended, this drink doesn’t scream SWEEEEET! It was as invigorating as a cool dip in a pool! I’ve of course been saving the best for last…the chicken burger. A good sized burger for such a reasonable rate I noted when I was served. I closed my eyes and savoured each bite!
The veges were crisp, the bun soft and fresh (miles ahead of the flaky stuff one gets at chick king!), the mayo and accompanying sauces lending a mild hint of flavour across the chicken patty. And oh wow! That chicken patty! Crunchy on the outside, super succulent and meaty on the inside! Their patties are made in house and the care they put into it really comes out! All the layers together formed a wonderfully harmonious union! If ever you visit CHAI NATION (and you must) have a burger with their peach iced tea! You can thank me later!
Super happy and satiated (with plans to skip dinner) I round up with a final question on future plans. Abraham is as focused an individual as they come. He wants his brand to become a renowned chai chain across Kerala and then outside. Growth has been steady and assuring and efforts are consistently put in 100%
“It takes just one drink to bring two strangers together and also to drive a nation- CHAI” you said it Abraham!