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No Sleep Till Brooklyn: What our new cafe means for KCC

No Sleep Till Brooklyn: What our new cafe means for KCC

“They say if you love it

You should let it out the cage,

If it comes back you should know it's there to stay."

-- Jay-Z, Can I Live Freestyle 


These past six months of building Kolkata Chai have been the closest I’ve ever felt to being a parent. I’ve watched our company grow up, evolving and adapting to the world around it, while making an indelible mark on everyone who crosses its path. It’s not the 10” x 10” farmer’s market stand in Jersey City anymore – it has a swagger and a sense of confidence that comes with being at the top of its game for the past 5 years.


Maybe it was the New York Times feature, the national tour with Hasan Minhaj or the assorted number of viral moments that unfolded over the past few months that have contributed to that swagger. Regardless, the Kolkata Chai Co of today knows exactly who it is and is unashamed about it. As a “parent” directly responsible for guiding, navigating and fostering this sense of identity, I feel like I’m watching my kid get ready to go to college. 

However, with this maturation and adoration come the potential distractions and pitfalls. Kolkata Chai has become something that people ardently identify with. Billionaire investors fly from Singapore to explain the untapped opportunities in the Gulf and why they’re the best fit to take KCC into the future. Venture capitalists offer their expertise and network, angling for the opportunity to invest and their pound of flesh. Old friends pop up out of nowhere, promising to drop everything to franchise a KCC cafe in their awkwardly small town. 


It’s in this environment, full of temptations and half-truths, that Ayan and I have been navigating which direction to take the company next. As we explored our brick and mortar strategy, we had a choice: capitalize on the hype and raise millions for a nationwide expansion or grow deliberately and do it our way. The former would come with splashy headlines and the ability to serve more people, but would require us to give up a significant piece of our company. The latter meant growth would be slower and require us to still be in the trenches, but we’d keep our options open in regards to ownership. 

We explored both options thoroughly, as I believe all founders should. Ownership is important, but so is creating value, and you have to give in order to get. Our search for a Brooklyn location started in the late summer of 2023, with every location we saw having its usual frustrating set of pros and cons. 

During this hunt, we chatted with Basu Ratnam, the founder of Inday, who pioneered the concept of a health-forward, Indian-inspired eatery in NYC back in 2015. With Basu’s mom being from Kolkata, we’ve bonded over good chai and the need to push South Asian cuisine in a progressive, sustainable direction.

Through our conversations, the idea of collaborating on a Brooklyn location came up organically. Inday’s All Day cafe on the corner of Driggs and Metropolitan is a gorgeous, sunny space that is inviting and tastefully designed. As we explored the details, the idea of a “Kolkata Chai at Inday” partnership emerged. 

This partnership will allow us to bring our beloved beverage program to Brooklyn with a partner who shares the value of growing deliberately while preserving ties to the community. In some ways, it’s back to the trenches for Ayan and I as we look to establish ourselves in a new borough for the first time. Queue Marlo Stanfield’s playbook of building a presence by consistently serving your customers the best product. 

Though every cafe opening is a hectic amalgam of poor sleep and Murphy’s Law in full action, I’m overcome by a sense of relief. Kolkata Chai gets to keep growing, subverting the need to raise money and be beholden to someone else’s expectations. We get to preserve the magic and do it our way through this next phase. It might take some time, but that’s expected when you’re building a generational business. 

Onwards.

-Ani