Driven by Chai - Rohit Kauntia talks with You & I

While Hyderabad is bubbling with new breweries and restaurants, Rohit Kauntia took a different route for establishing his food and beverage business. Nesting in the busy lanes around the Jubilee Hills signals is Chai Pani Café, which offers at least 50 varieties of chai with flavours from different parts of the country, like the Kesar Chai from Punjab and Kulhad chai from Kolkata. With a witty tag line ‘Ek pyaali India’, its owners, which include two others apart from Rohit, have launched the café with a vision to have a pan-India presence.

Whether it is a chai ka pyaala or nashta to go with it, Rohit knows what he’s offering. That is what makes the café an instant hit with his fast expanding customer base. In conversation with an enterprising restaurateur, who shares his experiences and pursuits.

Tell us about your career. How did you get your start?
My career has been a roller coaster ride. I began developing software programs to teaching for GMAT preparation professionally, and then moved on to the family business of real estate and manufacturing tubular bags for batteries. Finally, I took off on the Chai Pani journey, thanks to my partners.

How and why did you open Chai Pani café?
The idea of meeting out for work or leisure over a fresh cup of tea, and not finding a good place to do so, made us think about an opportunity in this space. The fact that one of my partners had a project report prepared over a decade back called Chai Pani, further instigated the idea. We spent over a year researching before setting up the café, which has become the backyard of many people lately.

What has been your greatest professional success and biggest setback?
I still think the greatest one is yet to happen, but setting up Chai Pani has been the most exciting one so far. I consider that the biggest setback is not having done a JV with a European company after signing the deal. But it looks like it was for my own good that it didn’t happen.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities as an owner?
As one of the owners, I look into execution of the project along with day-to-day affairs and new opportunities. My partners look into the food and administration and handle the creative part, R&D, and finance. However, we switch roles or help each other out whenever needed.

What’s your secret to keeping customers coming in?
Some people call it “Tea away from home, it’s the best that has come”, while others love the ambience that is balanced with the delicious taste of the snacks and lip smacking iced teas. A touch of warmth and love adds to it all.

What are some of the challenges of being a restaurant owner and manager?
Tea of course is one of the most challenging products to make, as each one has his/her own taste. Although satisfying everyone with a standard is really challenging, we’ve received incredible appreciation so far.

What is your personal favourite from the café’s menu?
Mumbai Cutting Chai and Vada Pav.

And what are your plans for the café?
We intend to keep evolving in this exciting field and expand with a strong base in Hyderabad, reaching out to all tea lovers. We further intend to take up one city at a time and set up a strong base in India before going global.The ultimate goal is: “Think chai, think Chai Pani”

What advice can you give to those who would like to open a restaurant of their own someday?
Patience and perseverance are more important than having a strong passion. Always seek to offer a sense of satisfaction to your customers rather than focusing on short-term gains, as it may lead to a long-term loss.      --- as told to Sumana