Ever thought about quitting your desk job and diving head-first towards your dream career? Even if it was just a fleeting day dream, it’s usually a happy one – one that involves you leaving the drudgery of a 9-to-5. But that’s not the case for our Chit Chaat Chai founder, Tania Rahman. Tania gave up a job she absolutely loved – one that let her travel the world, meeting and working with exciting people from all walks of life – to take a leap and open her own restaurant.
The Chit Chaat Chai Blog team had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and learn how the restaurant really got off its feet – from humble street food stall beginnings to a trendsetting restaurant. Join us as we chit chaat with Tania:
Tania, what was your vision for Chit Chaat Chai, the restaurant?
Chit Chaat Chai pays homage to chaat, the food you’ll find at the road-side stalls or food carts across the streets of India. We really wanted to elevate the chaat experience, and give the London food scene a taste of authentic Indian street food. People who come here to eat are usually trying a part of Indian cuisine that they’ve never eaten before, so I really didn’t want to take away from the flavours or the spice that Indians would eat. Everything about Chit Chaat Chai, from the décor and the menus, to the food is real, raw and authentic.
Where did it all begin? How did you get introduced to the London food scene?
I started sharing my love for Indian street food – or chaat – by opening up my own food stall. I worked several markets in the Hampshire area, and slowly graduated to food festivals. After a year of testing the waters, I knew that I was on to something. People loved the food and they could relate to our brand and the type of experience we wanted to create. So I took the next big step and started hosting supper clubs in London, and eventually ran a 2-week pop-up in Covent Garden.
Did the pop-up restaurant experience solidify your decision to open up your own restaurant?
Having a restaurant was always my end goal. Even as I say that though, I already have plans to open a second location and launch a cookbook as well! But ever since I started the food stall, I knew I wanted to go bigger. The pop-up was really a stepping stone into the London food scene and figuring out if the market here even cared about chaat – a relatively new food concept to the city. To my pleasant amazement, our pop-up, as well as our supper clubs, did extremely well.
What was the transition like from the corporate world to being your own boss and full-time restaurateur?
I come from a family of restaurateurs, so I’ve always known how extremely hard a career in the restaurant industry is, not to mention the 14-hour work days! But the transition was actually very difficult for me. Working at Stack Overflow, a London-based software company, was the best job I had ever had in my life. I started there when it was still a start-up of just 6 people, and I’ve watched it grow to a team of more than 30. I travelled a lot with them, saw the world, worked with like-minded people and built great friendships – it pretty much couldn’t have gotten any better for me. And going from that support system to being my own boss was surprisingly very difficult.
The biggest challenge for me was not having the same support network or real comradery amongst a team of colleagues. I needed to find my own mentors in the restaurant industry to talk to and lean on for advice, especially leading up to our restaurant launch.
What was your experience with launching the restaurant?
Launching Chit Chaat Chai definitely kept me on my toes! There were so many unexpected surprises. For example, just as we were getting ready to open, our contractor told us that a past owner of the site had illegally covered up a fire exit. The only way we would be able to open was to reinstate a fire escape for the kitchen team. That in itself set us back about a month – not to mention the hit we took on our budget!
Oh wow! Definitely not an experience for the faint-hearted! Are you glad you launched the restaurant, then?
Oh, absolutely! Everyday still brings new surprises, but we’ve had such great reception from the local community here in Wandsworth. It’s amazing to have our customers from our food stall in Hampshire come all the way to London just to dine with us – it’s really been a humbling experience, and one that I am only looking forward to expanding further.