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More Than Just Tea

By Chanda Kumar | Vjmedia Works | March 21, 2016

While coffee cafe chains are the order of the day, the'Chai' concept is catching up in various shapes and forms. Ekk Cup Chai is an interesting model, which offers more than a cup of tea and has created a humble hangout space to encourage dialogue in the community.

Chai, in the Indian context is more than a cup of tea. In fact, it's an integral element of our culture. Go north or south, east or west, the humble cup of Chai is cherished across India. It works as an icebreaker for strangers, brings the family together, gives you a break at work and reason to hangout with friends.

Today, the typical cup of Chai is restricted at home or maybe the tea shop or tapri on the street. With an idea to extend this offering out of home, a group of women entrepreneurs came together to start Ekk Cup Chai in Mumbai. Leading the venture is Namratha Kotian, a banker by profession who gave up her promising career to start the dream project and Sharmila Vyawahare, a home maker with excellent culinary skills and a burning desire to turn her passion for food into a profession.

Ekk Cup Chai's first store was launched in November, 2015 in Thane, with a view of the Masunda lake popularly known as Talaopali, a famous landmark in Thane.

The concept is strongly based on'ON THE GO', with Chai being the main driver while they also cater to a variety of local and regional snacks.

With an innovative new store format catering to a large tea-drinking population in the city, the founders were certain that creating an identity upfront is important to positioning ECC in the right space. "We decided to work with a professional to begin our journey. Innovative, creative and deep understanding on the subject was essential to create and build this format. We found all such capabilities in FRDC and without any second thought they were on board,” Namratha says.

While contemplating on the business model and store concept, the founders of ECC and design agency FRDC realised that'Chai' is a dialogue starter. And with this the design agency narrowed down to pick'Samvaad' or Dialogue as the theme for the store design.

With just a size of 300 sq ft, the store is located on busy road in Thane West. The ground floor of the store caters to service and seating area , while the mezzanine floor is used for storage and preparation.

The store front takes advantage of the street with its imposing view, where the logo and name synonymous with'Dialogue' creates an emotional connect with passersby. The tone of Façade is kept as a natural extension of inside space.

FRDC represented the concept with a design that not only evoked the character of ECC but suited their budget as well.

Traditional pattern tiles, wooden rafters, projected platforms, metal stools, framed visuals are the perfect mix of traditional and contemporary materials. "The space doesn't look plastic or artificial. It could be any one's traditional home or a patio/verandah, institution or a public space, as all such spaces evoke dialogue,” Sanjay shares.

Usage of basic local materials, recycled and reused materials, local skills and an open façade concept helped the agency to keep the budget to a minimum.

Through this format and its popular price points, ECC is connecting to a large segment of people whether young or old. "So, this is a case where volumes will give us the economies.  Hence, our expansion plans are certain and the strategy to go high street, kiosk in business parks, malls and high traffic areas is underway. Our plan is to open five kiosks in corporate parks in the next 18 months. This could include cart or van models in areas where space could be a crunch,” Namratha concludes.

"The name Ekk Cup Chai resonates the warmth familiar to a home environment and connects with the sentiments of'Chai' in its original Indian taste that is made by your Mom. The store has a home like hygienic environment, with offerings at very competitive prices which is welcomed by a large segment of people that cuts across multiple demographics and age groups,” shares Namratha Kotian, Founder, Ekk Cup Chai.

"Our USP is that in spite of this being a Quick Service Restaurant, we make everything fresh. Ingredients like Chai Masala we brew in our chai are freshly ground at the store,” Sharmila, Founder, Ekk Cup Chai explains.

"The overall objective of the design was to bring together a fusion of'Mumbai' Chai as an ethos within a contemporary space, where people can chit chat or'baat cheet' over a cup of tea,” Sanjay Agarwal, MD, FRDC explains.

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