Let the chaii wala chai wars begin
It’s no secret that the UK’s Halal burger scene is saturated, with FtLion having recorded the opening of 24 fully Halal, dedicated burger joints in 2021 alone.
Over the past couple of years though, we’ve witnessed two clear trends emerge: the rise of McDonald’s- and Burger King-inspired Halal fast food places; and the surge in Halal smashed burgers.
Whatever the reasons behind this, be it a lack of innovation or the pursuit of a quick buck, there’s another food trend that appears to be approaching its saturation point if it hasn’t already.
While the concept of a Halal brand revolving around desi tea and Indo-Pak street food snacks was a novelty when introduced by Chaiiwala back in 2015, their success has brought with it those seeking after a swig of the chai.
In June last year, we reported on how Chaiiwala was seeking to take legal action against “rip-off” Chaiiwale in Middlesborough before lamenting: “We come down hard on these businesses legally because we have worked very hard to build the brand through Allah’s grace. But it’s disappointing for us having to keep addressing these issues.”
Last year alone, the franchise – boasting stores in London, Birmingham, Bolton, Blackburn, Leicester, Cardiff and Bradford – revealed: “We spent over £100,000 on legals last year.”
Of course, while there is room for healthy competition, the question of when that reaches the point of absurdity is a legitimate one.
Churning the chaii in Birmingham in more ways than one
Take for instance the opening of Mi Chaii‘s fourth venue overall and first in Birmingham’s busy stretch of Ladypool Road last week.
If we consider their choice of residence at 353 to be a few minutes walk down from Chaiiology at 398, which itself is barely a stone’s throw from Chaiiwala at 410, would we have surpassed said point?
What if we threw into the simmering brew another tea leaf in the form of Chaska & Chaii that’s situated farther up at 142-144 Ladypool Road?
In fact, it appears as though our Brummie brethren have a particular predilection for such tea, since there simply is no other city in the UK that boasts as many such restaurants, with ‘chaii’ or ‘chai’ being strategically utilised as a brand name, than Birmingham, where we have:
- A variation on Chaiiwala and Chaiiwale with Bradford’s Chaii Wali having launched at 932 Stratford Road, and Chaiwali in Manchester’s Chorlton.
- Chai Shai; again located on the same road at 789 Stratford Road, though having opened earlier in 2018.
- Not to be confused with Karak Chaai in Manchester, there’s Karak Chaii, which, having also opened in 2019 at 1118 Stratford Road, has a second on 250 Soho Road in Handsworth, with plans of brewing in London and Manchester.
- As mentioned before, Birmingham’s first ‘park & dine’ Chaii Garden on Alfred Street.
- Although Donuts N Chai on Lower Tower Street might have something to say about who the city’s first park and dine place is.
Moving further afield, there’s Tipton’s House of Chaii peering in from the outskirts; Chai Walla in Bath; Luton’s Chai & Chapati; the recently opened Chai Time in Chesham; Birkenhead’s more succinct Chaii; and two variations on Mi Chaii, with My Chaii in Blackburn and My Chai coming soon to Coventry.
Then there’s the capital itself, which, while being a focus of Chaiiwala’s 3-year expansion plan, might not quite be there when compared to Birmingham, but houses Chaii Pot in Uxbridge, ChaCha Chai Wala in Hayes, Chick ‘n’ Chaii in Wimbledon, and the soon to launch Karak and Chai in Whitechapel.
Of course, with so much competition about, finding an edge is essential particularly when first starting out. In this respect, Chai Garden has tapped into another trend, which was forced on more out of necessity than choice due to the covid lockdowns, and that’s the introduction of drive-thru and drive-in restaurants.
We then have those who, while finding that edge, risk going over, such as Mi Chaii’s clever use of the double entendre “Mi Chaii since 1964”, which only really means that the “ideas behind Mi Chaii go back to the arrival of our father from the sub-continent in 1964… [who’s] been enjoying that tradition ever since”.
And while the abbreviation “est. 1992”, located directly under Chaii Wali’s logo, does indeed appear to reference this brand’s year of origin, their Facebook page suggests otherwise, with the actual restaurant apparently having been launched only last month (despite contacting them for clarification, they were unavailable at the time of publication).
With so many of these chai-cum-chaii joints having opened across the country, it’s evident that while the demand is certainly there, we may be in short supply of originality.