Bright side of business: Tapri founders savouring success of chai tea venture

Tapri co-founders
Tapri co-founders Parth Shah and Naina Kansal launched the Ottawa-based beverage business early in the pandemic. Photo courtesy Tapri
Editor's Note

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If you’ve been in a cafe recently, you’ve likely come across chai tea latte – a beverage inspired by a South Asian drink that, over the past several years, has gained huge popularity in North America. 

Now, an Ottawa pop-up shop is tapping into the growing chai tea trend. Tapri serves authentic Indian chai made with fresh herbs and spices and no artificial flavours. 

Co-founder Naina Kansal jokes that Tapri is a “pandemic baby.” In May 2020, she and co-founder Parth Shah – her business partner and now fiancé – visited Quebec City. While trying to find “the perfect morning cup of chai,” they realized they couldn’t – no matter how tasty the alternatives were.

Just before the pandemic, Kansal and Shah had started an eco-friendly swag company, and were building a promising roster of clients. But when COVID-19 hit, sales evaporated almost overnight. 

“We had literally no customers,” Kansal says. 

The pair quickly decided to pivot. Seeing a gap in the market for authentic Indian chai, they began brewing up their new business idea. 

Diversity of cuisine 

Kansal explains that, in North America, Indian food is often associated with delicacies such as butter chicken. She and Shah wanted to show the full diversity of Indian cuisine, which includes the “cup of chai that India is really known for,” she says. 

Dipping into their savings, Kansal and Shah bootstrapped the beverage startup while both still working full-time jobs. They rented a commercial kitchen in Bayview and spent weekends developing recipes and selling chai tea through pop-ups. 

"The whole concept of Tapri is that it's a roadside experience where you meet people."

“We were overwhelmed with (the) response from our customers – we had lineups, we had pre-orders,” Kansal says. 

Tapri hired casheries and servers, with customers parking outside and grabbing a drink. 

“The whole concept of Tapri is that it's a roadside experience where you meet people,” Kansal says. “If you go to India, you will see these tea carts at every mile, and all of them do really well.” 

Once winter kicked in, Kansal and Shah realized customers might not drive all the way to their commercial kitchen. They began dreaming of a retail location, and that’s when they hit a snag.

“Not a lot of investors are looking to invest in retail food and beverage businesses,” Kansal says – especially during a pandemic. 

Once again, the pair decided to take a leap instead of waiting around – this time, developing recipes for South Asian-inspired milk beverages. Their products, including cold cocoa, Badam Milk – a popular Indian beverage made with almond paste – and Thandai, another drink made with almonds, are now sold in four South Asian grocery stores in Ottawa.

Vegan products coming

Kansal also sees plenty of opportunities to grow the business through e-commerce, and Tapri’s products are already available online. Looking ahead, Kansal and Shah want to start offering vegan products – including vegan nachos – while staying true to their commitment to sustainability. 

All of Tapri’s products are natural, with no preservatives, meaning there’s a limited shelf life of three to four weeks per product. Currently, the business sells about 400 to 500 bottles per week – a number the owners are determined to grow. 

“We want to provide that very authentic Indian experience that people crave, and we want to sell those childhood memories in a bottle,” Kansal says.

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

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