It is 5:30 p.m. and customers are beginning to trickle in. Waiters in white shirts and red tunics are ready to take orders. Adjacent to this is an equally charged atmosphere where tables are laid out, lamps lit up and eager waiters are serving customers. As the evening progresses there is a steady stream of customers; families and friends lingering over cups of tea and parathas.
For Chai Wala and Chai Shai (two open-air chai dhabas) it is business as usual. Both are located in Karachi in the upscale locality of Chota Bukhari Commercial in DHA and both are new to the business, having opened just six months ago. Of course they are not your average dhabas, what makes them stand out is their ambiance, thought out themes and smart menu ideas and their intention to target well heeled customers.
|Located in Bukhari Commercial, Chai Wala with its truck art theme attracts mostly young and affluent customers.|
Chai Wala is the brainchild of Aized Suharwardy. who previously worked in advertising and Hamza Usman Sadiq, an engineer by education. According to Suharwardy, they decided to open a dhaba because “although there are many dhabas around, there aren’t any which provide the kind of environment where women can come alone to enjoy a cup of tea.”
Suharwardy and Sadiq say that Chai Wala is more than just a dhaba, it is a brand, one which they intend to take places. So far their branding has revolved around the truck art theme; their façade is adorned with chamak patti art, the logo is a typical dhaba kettle with truck art flowers and leaves on it and even the cutlery, crockery and coasters carry truck art motifs.
In Suharwardy’s words – “chai dhabas are not new in Karachi, but what we did is unique. We have used art to give chai dhabas an upscale feel.”
Chai Shai is the outcome of the combined effort of four partners - a banker, a businessman, a government employee and a food entrepreneur, and their first challenge was to hit upon a distinct theme.
According to Shanila Awan, co-founder of Chai Shai, “we wanted our brand to be colourful, so we thought of Lollywood and our golden era artists. We wanted the older and younger generation to connect with us!”
One of the walls at Chai Shai looks like a cinema billboard, with names of films plastered on it. However, apart from this, there are hardly any other themed elements in the dhaba.
|Chai Shai, adjacent to Chai Wala, is based on a Lollywood theme.|
As for the menu both dhabas offer interesting variations on the standard chai/paratha and include double doodh patti, mint, elaichi, Cadbury, karak and Kashmiri chai as well as chicken cheese, aloo anda, pizza, Nutella, Mexican gourmet, feta cheese and spring onion and barbecue chicken parathas.
In terms of marketing, while Chai Shai believes that the taste they bring to their menu is their foremost good promotional tool, Chai Wala uses word of mouth and social media. Suharwardy also adds - “keep an eye on us to see what we do in the next six months.”
Building a brand and making it stand out requires a strong unique selling point that customers can relate it and in this respect Chai Wala seems to have found its niche with an open kitchen policy where customers can see what is being cooked. Furthermore, mineral water is used to make the tea and hygiene is a top priority. To retain staff and build a strong team, there are HR policies in place which include annual and sick leave, bonuses and transport allowances.
The future of such establishments seems promising; with minimal capital investment, lots of creative ideas and interesting food on the platter, Chai Wala and Chai Shai are on a good wicket.