Tamil Nadu. Chennai. Images of strong Kumbakkonam degree coffee smells wafting in the air, spiraling out of shining “kaapi tumblers” are strongly associated with the Southernmost state of India, and its capital, Chennai.

“We were quite confident about launching Chai retail outlets in a coffee capital like Chennai,” says Jahabar Sadique, co-founder and CEO of Chai Kings, with over 50 outlets in Chennai, one each in Hyderabad and Coimbatore, and growing.

He and his co-founder, Balaji Sadagopan, have been involved in entrepreneurial ventures since 2012. “We both were good corporate profiles, growing well and handling large teams and complex projects, but our hearts were in doing something on our own.”

Both of them began with a hair salon, Green Trends, that they grew into four outlets, followed by a Toni and Guy, and even a Subway. “Subway franchising was a great learning experience,” Sadique recalls, “they had every element of running a store down to the last detail and delivered phenomenal learning to every franchise owner — we had to meet stringent benchmarks and achieve a good scorecard.”

That learning propelled the duo to start thinking of their own brand. “We started to explore the food business, but the labor and margins turned us off….

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