The Chai Cart®, founded by Paawan Kothari, has its roots in San Francisco's street food culture.
While growing up in India, chai was an integral part of Paawan's everyday life. When she moved to the US in 1994, finding a good cup of chai, away from home, became a challenge. While many cafes sold highly sweetened "chai lattes", they never really came close to the chai she was used to. In 2009, Paawan used a bicycle trailer to set up an informal "chai cart" to share real homemade chai on weekends. Encouraged by its success, she finally quit her corporate Marketing job and launched The Chai Cart and its line of products.
Paawan writes about how it all started
Until 2009, I was a typical highly educated Indian immigrant in Silicon Valley. With a computer science degree and an MBA from one of the best schools in the world, I was employed as a Marketing Strategist at one of the largest tech companies. But, I was feeling unsatisfied and burned out at my corporate job. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to engage with people and have a direct impact in their lives. But how?
That summer, an underground street-food movement started to grow and gain popularity in San Francisco. These “carts” would pop up in different locations around the city and sell homemade delights. Many gained a huge following on Twitter and would tweet their expected location several hours in advance. Half the excitement was in finding these makeshift carts before the cops did.
There was already a thai curry cart, a soup cart, a gumbo cart and even a crème brulee cart. So why not a chai cart? I grew up in India where chai was an integral part of my everyday life, and chai carts on the streets were commonplace. When I emigrated to the U.S. in 1994 for school, finding a good cup of chai became a challenge. Some cafes sold chai lattes, but they never came close to the chai I was used to.
In 10 days I put together a bicycle trailer and loaded it with airpots filled with two flavors of my own homemade chai: cardamom and mint. I rode my Chai Cart to the park the next weekend. At first, I thought I’d do it for a weekend or two while I tried to figure out my next career move. But it became so much fun I started doing it every weekend. More and more people followed me on Twitter and Facebook. I started to get invited to cater events.
By the end of 2009, I was ready to leave behind a stable and cushy corporate life and undertake a tremendous personal and financial risk to become a food entrepreneur. The journey so far has been challenging and also very fulfilling.
I really enjoy the art of bringing together different herbs and spices and delicately balancing their flavors to create a perfect cup of chai every time. It brings me great pleasure to share a part of my culture and give you all a taste of the traditional chai that’s enjoyed every day across India.