Cheery and bright, the first franchise in Mumbai’s Chaityabhoomi area of MBA Chai Wala makes for a day-long teatime

Two professionals and a “Maharashtrianised” chai cafe

On the SVS road coming from Siddhivinayak Temple in Dadar towards Mahim, past Kirti College and Dadar Catering College, as you turn left to go towards Chaityabhoomi,  on the corner you will find this cute pink and yellow-themed café called MBA CHAI WALA, the very first franchise in Mumbai of the Ahmedabad-based original.

It is a most noticeable spot, with indoor as well as outdoor seating, designed for small groups and couples inside and bigger groups outside. Outdoors, particularly in the evening, the vibe is peppy.  

Devyani Nadkar (left) and Shubham Tamhankar with a group of friends at their newly discovered
chai ka adda

This is what drew Zubin Pathan to the place. Sitting outside with two colleagues from work, this 40-year-old professional said, “I heard about MBA CHAI WALA through one of my friends who had visited the cafe in Delhi, and when I saw this in Mumbai I had to try it you.” His friend added, “The chai is amazing”. She and her friends were all drinking adrak elaichi chai.

The café is the dream come true for two best friends from Worli Koliwada, Himali Koli and Rohan Panchal who dreamed of doing something on their own. Himali (27), an HR professional from a traditional fishing family, and Rohan (26), an IT engineer, professed that they were both “tired of their jobs” and were thinking of something else to do that would keep them engaged and excited.

It was the success of 26-year-old Praful Billore, the founder of  MBA CHAI WALA in Ahmedabad, that triggered their dream of setting up a franchise in Mumbai. So far there are more than 100 such cafes all over the country, except for Mumbai. They were further inspired by the fact that Billore’s journey to success in establishing a chain had taken only five years. Billore started a small tea stall on July 25, 2017 in Ahmedabad on an investment of merely Rs 8000. According to startupauthority.in, in December 2022, he was worth Rs. 3.4 crore.

Incidentally, according to Billore himself, MBA CHAI WALA does not refer to any educational qualification. It just stands for Mr. Billore Ahmedabad Chaiwala.

The Mumbai franchise opened on January 18, which makes this place an infant, not even a month old at the time of writing. But between conceiving the idea and its actualization, there were six months of hard work.

Himali and Rohan faced lots of challenges while doing this. From locating a good place, finding investors, completingthe legalities to budgeting for what seemed to be an expensive proposition for two young people with a dream, they had to do it all.

Even the grant of franchise was a time of tension, because there were two other applications in the race to open Mumbai’s first MBA CHAI WALA, one from Bandra and the other from Thane. Then there was the problem of raising capital, a challenge that took them from banks to investors. Raiding their own savings as well, they succeeded in raising Rs. 35 lakh.

The biggest component in this plan is of course the rent, says Himali. After all, in terms of positioning, the café already enjoys the advantage of location, location, location, with offices and large institutions, including one college in the neighborhood. “The rent was so high that we automatically ruled it out of our plans at first”, said Himali. They saw other places, but this one was chosen by the R&D representative of the company. As it turned out, it has been a good choice.

The list of teas, nine of them, is pre-decided by the brand. As expected the favourites were adrak elaichi and masala chai. No one was surprised. But herein lies the tale of a tweak, albeit a permitted one.

“As Mumbaikars, we drink adrak wali chai most often. It is our Maharashtrian identity”, Himali declared. To this Rohan added, “We are given the recipes and directions and we have to stick to it, but customer reviews kept saying both teas were too bland.”

“We decided we would ‘Maharashtranize’ the taste of the chai by adding extra masala and adrak. Of course we took permission from the brand,” Rohan interjected. Added Himali, “Unless you feel the spicy flavor of ginger in your throat, you have not drunk tea.” Both these teas are their best sellers.

On the first day itself, there were 100 orders and the staff of seven (including Himali and Rohan), had a busy time. The kitchen-to-table phase of the process is  very smooth. First, the order is placed at the counter. This is then relayed to the kitchen behind the counter, through a hatch. Orders usually take ten minutes to complete, but if footfalls are high, this could go up to 20 minutes.

Rohan says, “When we serve the customers ourselves, it increases the interactions with us and it helps us to know them better.”

The staff work well together. “This is our family”, said Pankaj Gupta who is the kitchen head  with a team of three people, Anagha, Nayan, Prathanesh, and Dhanashree, the last named a cousin of Himali who is helping out at the counter.

Mornings might be slow but it’s not even a month yet!

The cafe opens at 10 am, but footfalls are heavier in the afternoons and evenings. Usually, they get 150-200 orders on weekdays and on weekends, it goes up to 200-250 orders till 11 pm. Himali says there were plans at first to start the café during the last festival season. Now she is glad they started only in January. “It would have been very hard to handle the crowd,” she said. “During the festival season, we expect more than 300 orders in a day. Starting out, we would have found this difficult to manage.  We are now in our learning stage and we are learning how to handle customers slowly and steadily,” they added.

MBA CHAI WALA keeps not just tea, but also a variety of classic milkshakes, coolers, and cold coffees. They also have different types of ice teas, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and the eternal favourite, bun maska. And for those craving a piece of their teen and early adult years, there are Maggi noodles served up in five ways!

The place already a hangout for many people. Devyani Nadkar (21), a graphics designing college student who had come there for the first time with a group of friends, said, “This is now an ‘adda’ for our college gang to sit and chat.” Humali agrees. ‘We have many repeat customers, but most of them are college-going groups,” she said.

“We are so used to tapri wali chai, so the concept of a chai cafe is new for us,” said Shubham Tamhankar, 23-years old, who came there to spend time with his group of friends.

Rohan Panchal and Himali Koli are betting on their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs, even if itmeans selling chai for now.

Pocket-friendly combos, Happy hours, and also special discounts for the students on the ID – it’s all part of the plan.  “Even we were students once and we have done things like sharing one dish and splitting the bill but now with the combos and discounted prices even the students can enjoy coming here,” said Himali.

What’s next is a question that every entrepreneur is asked. “In the next six months we are planning to open up a new cafe, not necessarily part of this chain. Nor will we stop there,” said Rohan and Himali. They both want to expand their interest in cafes in the next three years.

Vaishnavi Birmole
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