Rahul Minhas left a secure city council job and used his holiday pay to buy a food truck so he could cook and sell authentic Indian street food and chai drinks.
Despite the challenges of Covid-19 it’s been so successful he is now able to support his wife and two young children through the business.
The story of Chaiwalla began in 2015 when Rahul tasted a chai latte at a Wellington café. The cafe drink is made by machine and combines sugar syrup, cinnamon and milk.
It was nothing like it should be,” Rahul says.
He scored it zero out of five.
An authentic Indian chai is made from brewing tea and spices.
So Rahul set out to impress local Kiwis by making the real thing which he now sells at two weekly markets in the Wellington region and at events around New Zealand. He also sells a range of chai mixes online so people can make their own drinks at home.
Masala chai means mixed-spice tea and is made by boiling black tea in milk and water with a mixture of aromatic herbs and spices. Rahul’s chai product mix includes ginger, cardamom, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper.
Rahul named his business Original Chaiwalla.
The term “chai” originated from the Hindi–Urdu word “chai”, which was derived from the Chinese word for tea, cha. Wallah or walla is a person who performs a specific task. So chaiwallah means a person who makes or serves tea.
Delhi fostered a love of food
Rahul was born in Punjab State in India. When he was still a child his family moved to the vibrant and busy city of Delhi, famous for its colourful bazaars filled with food carts, sweet shops and spice stalls. This is where Rahul discovered his love for food.
In Delhi he did a double degree in commerce and hospitality and worked as a personal butler to guests at five-star hotels.
He was living the good life in India but his parents encouraged him to move to New Zealand to be with his brother.
He obeyed his parents’ wishes and arrived here in 2006. His parents followed, spending their time between the two countries. Currently they are living in New Zealand.
Rahul completed a diploma in patisserie in Auckland and then moved to Te Awamutu to work in a bakery.
Experiencing the real New Zealand
Te Awamutu enabled him to experience what he calls the real New Zealand.
But it was so quiet compared with India and Auckland that he developed tinnitus (ringing) in his ears.
Around 2012 he moved to Wellington and found work at its city council as a “local host,” seeking and reporting faults such as leaking water mains and helping visitors.
He then took a role in the Wellington City Council’s service centre where he met his future wife Kali.
After the birth of their twin sons Rahul was keen to return to hospitality and “make Indian food with a heart,” rather than simply making money.
He quit his council job and used his holiday pay to buy a food trailer.
Rahul began making traditional chai drinks and bhaji, a traditional vegan fritter. He also made his own chutneys.
Cooking with heart
So he could focus on cooking with a heart, Rahul refused to borrow money, instead saving for new equipment as it was needed. It meant he could focus on what he wanted to do, not what a bank said he should do.
Rahul feels there could be more support for small business in New Zealand and sees a growing gap between rich and poor.
It was not like this when I came here.”
Five years on Rahul has a larger food truck which he takes to Lower Hutt’s Riverbank Market on Saturdays and Wellington’s Harbourside Market (near Te Papa) on Sundays. He also travels to public and private events (including weddings and funerals) in both the North and South Islands.
One local event he took part in was New Year’s Eve at Upper Hutt’s Brewtown.
His current menu includes hot and cold chai, spinach bhaji, bread pakoras and chicken, paneer tikka, butter chicken sauce loaded chips as well as his own chutneys.
He is pleased his hard work has earned him high reviews on social media and some of his customers have been buying from him since he started.
Two fans are Amrat and Malti who have been customers since Rahul began at the Lower Hutt Riverbank Market. The couple both have grandparents from India and appreciate authentic Indian cooking.
Malti is impressed by the passion Rahul puts into his food.
She loves his paneer, onion bhajis and, of course, his chai drinks. Can she recommend his cooking? “Absolutely.”
Rahul also sells his chai mixes online and through specialty stores Ekko Shop in Upper Hutt and Otaki, Forage Merchants of Wellington in Lower Hutt and Marine Parade Eatery in Paraparaumu. His website includes videos on how to make chai the authentic way.
Since the arrival of Covid in 2020 there have been fewer events for him to attend. He relies on the two markets for most of his sales but is also exploring other avenues to expand the business.
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