Chit Chaat Chai started with a Bombay Bhel, or rather a lack of one. Tania, the foodie founder, was feeling sad and hungry. She had endured a long and fruitless search across the country for her favourite Indian street dishes or, as we know it Chaat. With little on offer here, the pioneer took matters into her own hands. She trawled high and low for the best ingredients, honing her recipes for friends and family each weekend eventually turning her street food business from a market stall into a restaurant. Read our interview with Tania Rahman, Founder of Chit Chaat Chai, below.

Describe your relationship with food in three words.

Fun, fanatic, fantabulous (if that’s a word!) 

If you weren’t a restaurant owner what would you be doing? Tell us about your journey.

Before Chit Chaat Chai was a glint in my eye, my background was in tech start-ups as a Team Lead. I worked for a U.S-based tech company called Stack Overflow, which is one of the best companies I’ve ever had the pleasure of working for. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who were naturally entrepreneurial in their mindset, with the tenacity of a ‘Get sh*t done’ attitude (which is one of the mantras at Stack Overflow). I caught the entrepreneurial bug and with the encouragement of my former colleagues, I took the plunge and figured ‘If I don’t do this now, I never will’.

I learned how to cook from YouTube videos, and Chit Chaat Chai became a side project for me, starting as a weekend food-market stall, while I still kept my full-time (and stable!) job at Stack Overflow. This was a critical period during which I market tested (literally) consumer appetite for chaat (Indian street-food). Do people even care for it as much as I do? I quickly found out the answer to that question was a huge HELL YEAH! As the demand grew, I knew it was the right time to cut the apron strings and in 2016 I remortgaged my flat, quit my job and opened Chit Chaat Chai as a restaurant in Wandsworth Town.

I’m not sure if there is anything else I would be doing other than working in food or running my own food-related business. I come from a family of restaurateurs so you could say I was born to do this!

What would be your last supper or your last meal on earth be if you could choose?

BIRYANI – Made by the Don of all Biryanis, my Dad, Papa Rahman. Growing up (and still to this day) I know when my Dad is in a good mood when he’s got a large pot of Biryani on the go. It›s the perfect time to declare those awkward statements that don’t go down too well in a Asian family household e.g. “I’m quitting my job and spending my life savings to open a Restaurant!”

Who would you love to cook for (past or present)?

My entire family. I come from a pretty large family I’ve lost count how many of us there are as we’re scattered all over the World from America to Japan. I’d love to have them all in a room together around a dinner table. It’ll be truly priceless to see the look on everyone’s faces while they watch me cook every dish on the table. I’m pretty sure they are all still scratching their heads and wondering how on earth I learned to cook, let alone open a restaurant! 

What is your foodie guilty pleasure?

Ice cream. I’m lactose intolerant, which is particularly challenging in the Summer. The sound of a Ice Cream van jingle still gets me giddy with excitement. Who doesn’t love a screwball?!

What’s been the hardest thing so far?

Where should I start! The restaurant has been open for a year now (we celebrated our 1st birthday in April 2017) and over that period the hardest thing was actually making it through the year to begin with. Any restaurateur knows the dreaded statistic that keeps them awake at night ‘90% of restaurants fail within their first year’, so making it into the 10% of survivors was a huge sigh of relief. It’s like being in the restaurant version of Hunger Games ironically! 

Now the challenge I’m personally facing is managing the art of work-life balance and dodging the dreaded burn out. Serious company building requires a huge amount of energy, something that is in short supply but has a huge impact on the growth of any business. I’m yet to figure out what that looks like for me but I know working 100 hour weeks is not the one! If anyone else has any tips I would love to hear.

What’s been the highlight so far?

The incredible team at Chit Chaat Chai. I couldn’t have done any of this without their hard work, dedication and belief in, not only my capabilities as their leader, but also the business. It’s one of the first things you notice when you walk into Chit Chaat Chai. Sure, many people comment on the visually attractive décor, but it’s the infectious energy from the team that brings customers back time and time again.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking of starting their own street food business?

Speak to people who are doing what you want to do; ask them how they did it, what their challenges were, what they wish they would have done differently.

Before I started Chit Chaat Chai as a market stall, I volunteered on other food market stalls to really get a feel for what I was getting myself into. 4am starts and 9pm finishes while standing all day in the temperamental British weather is not for the faint hearted! I definitely recommend figuring out whether the street-food business suits your personality, lifestyle and long-term life goals before ploughing all your savings into it.

If you’re starting a business, regardless of whether it’s food-related or not, it’s important to remind yourself why you started and where you want to be. The foodiepreneur road isn’t as smooth a ride as it seems to be to the outside world – you’re constantly pushed emotionally, physically and mentally to the brink of ‘What the f*** am I doing? When those times hit, always make sure you have your favourite hype song on hand playing loud and proud. My hype song which I’m playing daily at the moment is NWA, Straight Outta Compton – always puts a spring in my step!

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Find Chit Chaat Chai at Street Eats on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th July 2017. Register for your free ticket here.

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