Anubhav Dubey, who was born into a family of entrepreneurs, opened a tea store in Indore at the age of 22 without the knowledge of his father, a real estate developer, with a friend, Anand Nayak. Five years later, the business has evolved into a 145-store tea chain with a turnover of Rs 100 crore, with locations in over 70 Indian cities and one each in Muscat and Dubai.
“We opened the first Chai Sutta Bar store in 2016 with a Rs 3 lakh investment and grew through the franchise model,” says Anubhav, who has been in business since he was in school.
The company now owns five locations, with franchisees owning the remaining 140. When Anubhav was a child, his family went through some difficult times, and some of those memories are still vivid in his mind. The family used to dwell in Rewa, a tiny town about 670 kilometers from Indore with a population of about 3 lakh people.
However, they subsequently relocated to Indore in order for their sons to receive a better education. Anubhav took some time to acclimate to his new surroundings at first. Indore was a significantly larger city than Rewa, where he grew up. He felt out of place because the students at the school spoke fluent English.
But he immediately gained confidence and made friends. When he was in Class 11, he met Anand Nayak who turned out to be his best pal and his business partner even while in school. Both were ordinary students who were street smart and looked for money-making chances. It was around this time when touch screen phones were just becoming popular, and the two bought a used Samsung smartphone for Rs 6,000.“We each gave Rs 2,000, and three other students split the remaining funds. We used to hire the phone out to students on a daily basis before eventually selling it.
“We then bought a pre-owned CT100 bike for Rs 19,000, which we used during our college days and then sold it.”The duo graduated in Commerce from Renaissance College of Commerce and Management, Indore, in 2014. In college, they continued to trade in pre-used phones on the side and made some money for their personal expenses.
In 2014, the two received their bachelor's degrees in commerce from Indore's Renaissance College of Commerce and Management. They continued to trade in secondhand phones on the side while in college to supplement their income and cover personal needs.
The pals drifted apart after college. To prepare for the Civil Services test, Anubhav moved to Delhi and enrolled at the Vajiram and Ravi coaching institute in Karol Bagh. They had been apart for nearly two years when Anand contacted Anubhav one day in 2016 to tell him that things were not going well and that they needed to think of something they could do together.
To be with his friend, Anubhav boarded the first train out of Delhi bound for Indore. They sat down and talked about their future plans, deciding to start a business as they had promised one other earlier.
“The first idea that came to me was real estate because it is the most straightforward way to make money. However, it was a capital-intensive enterprise, and we only had Rs 3 lakh in our bank account, which Anand's parents had given him,” Anubhav says.
“My father had no idea I had left Delhi for Indore. My mother was aware of the situation, but she didn't dare to inform my father, who continued to send money for my rent and other costs.
After much deliberation, Anubhav and Anand decided to open a tea business on Bhanwar Kuwa Street, directly across from a ladies' hostel. “The monthly rent was Rs 18,000.” It featured a large tree and was ideal for the image we wanted to project for our organization. We saved money on labor by completing the majority of the job ourselves,” Anubhav explains.
“Because the digital board was too pricey, we painted the place ourselves and constructed a name board as well. We also saved a lot of money by buying furnishings on the secondhand market.”
Manoj, their first employee, was poached from a nearby dental office. They offered him twice his income if he agreed to wait until business started up before getting paid.
“On the first day, we gave away free chai to onlookers. “The two of us went around town talking about how this new chai point called ‘chai sutta bar' had a lot of variety,” Anubhav recalls, recalling how they used all kinds of marketing techniques to promote the store in the beginning.“We also invited our Indore school and college buddies to pay us a visit. And then, all of a sudden, the place was packed with young people. The hostel girls thought it was a great and happening location, so they started going there with their friends."
They switched from paper cups to kulhad (earthen pots) and offered seven different types of chai, including a chocolate chai that was a hit with the kids, rose chai, masala, ginger, cardamom chai, and a unique paan chai. The chai and other products they serve, such as Maggi, sandwiches, and pizzas, cost between Rs 10 and Rs 200.
“Things kept moving to the point that we launched our second franchisee location within three months,” says Anubhav, whose father learned about his business six months later but didn't say anything. “After that, I was invited to do a Ted Talk. I summoned all of my bravery and requested Dad to join me. He was in tears after the chat and held me tightly for the first time and hugged me in my life.”
Chai Sutta Bar, a private limited company, has rapidly expanded by opening franchise stores since 2016. For a single store, they ask Rs 6 lakh as a franchise fee.
“Despite two lockdowns in the last year, none of our businesses have closed and are doing well. This is the worst time for the F&B industry, but we are certain that we will make it,” says Anubhav.
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