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UK chain Chaiiwala of London quickly expanding across Metro Vancouver



There’s been lineups outside several Chaiiwala locations on opening day, say the Surrey business partners who brought the tea shop to Canada

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Vahljiet Grayye’s son-in-law told her to try a new tea shop he compared to an Indian Starbucks. She has been hooked on Chaiiwala’s pink chaii ever since.

“I was in love,” she said recently as she enjoyed a basket of masala chips — fries smothered in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce — at the UK-based chain’s newest B.C. location in Newton.

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Owned by Surrey business partners Shiraj Kothiwala and Ajmal Gundhra, who hold the Canadian franchise rights for Chaiiwala of London, there are now 10 Chaiiwala locations across the country, with another three opening over the next month in Calgary. The goal is to eventually open 70 to 80 shops across Canada, with 15 in B.C. by early next year.

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Kothiwala said the new Newton shop is special because it is located in their own neighbourhood.

After only four days, a rotation of regular customers have been enjoying their morning karak chaii to go, or a desi breakfast after elementary school drop off. Teens come in for a Nutella paratha after high school lets out, while grandparents seek a cup of chai or garam hot chocolate in the evening.

The cafe is open until 1 a.m., when a younger crowd comes in, ordering from a menu that includes street bites like samosa chaat and desserts like gulab jamun cheesecake and rose ice cream.

“We love it when we come in and the tables are full,” said Gundhra. “There’s a saying that chai brings people together.”

Tea shop in Surrey.
Shiraj Kothiwala and Ajmal Gundhra at the newest Chaiiwala of London cafe in Newton on Friday. Their favourite beverage is the karak chaii. “The spices taste phenomenal. It wakes you up,” said Gundhra. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

The friends are self-described foodies, who also enjoy travel. Kothiwala, who previously worked in logistics for Loblaws in addition to running an Anytime Fitness gym, visited a Chaiiwala shop in the U.K. in 2019. Later that year, he began to talk to Gundhra, an aircraft engineer who operates a construction company and flooring store among other ventures, about opening a fried chicken or burger joint.

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The men were one of 75 applicants for the Canadian rights to Chaiiwala of London, a company that started in the U.K. in 2016, but has roots further back to India, where one of the founder’s ancestors had a small tea stall in 1927.

When the company reached out to ask how serious the men were about their proposal, Kothiwala and Gundhra offered to get on a plane to London the next day. They signed an agreement at the end of March 2020, just as the world went into lockdown in the early days of the COVID pandemic.

Gundhra said their vision never wavered. They knew they had community support behind them, in addition to huge growth potential among mainstream coffee and tea drinkers in B.C. After the pandemic, “We knew people were looking for a place to come together again.”

Chaiiwala’s tea is brewed from spice blends that come from three different regions of the world. The secret recipe takes almost an hour to brew.

Both Kothiwala and Gundhra enjoy the karak chaii, a strong, intensely-spiced tea, but they said their pink chaii, which gets its colour from a blend of spices and milk, is also very popular. Their food fuses the flavours of the East Indian subcontinent, East Africa and England.

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Chaiiwala teas shop in Surrey.
A customer is helped by staff at the Chaiiwala of London cafe in Newton on Friday. The chain began in the UK before rapidly expanding to Germany, Dubai, the United States and Canada. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

The men opened their first shop in Scarborough in late 2021, followed by one in Abbotsford. More Canadian locations followed. There are now three shops in Surrey, including Newton, as well as one in Langley. Plans are underway for shops in New Westminster, Central City Mall and White Rock. So far, they’ve signed up about 70 franchisees across the country.

The success has been exciting, said Kothiwala. Partway through an interview Friday, Gundhra paused, then dashed outside with his phone in hand. A bus had just pulled up beside the store with an ad for Chaiiwala on the back. He tried to get a photo, but came up short.

“There’ll be another one,” he said.

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