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Meet Summara Nawaz and Sania Ahmed of LA Chai Cart in Torrance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Summara Nawaz and Sania Ahmed.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Summara and Sania. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Hi I’m Summara. I was born and raised in a LA suburb and am a certified pastry chef who has been helping clients create special experiences for their events with my wedding cakes and elegant dessert tables, through my company Minis by Mara. I love baking but always wanted an opportunity to align my creativity to my South Asian culture and tradition. My partner Sania, had recently moved to LA and was trying to find job opportunities while helping me with my dessert business. Sania is from New Jersey, where I met her during my college years at Rutgers University. One of the perks of befriending her was having access to an unlimited supply of her dad’s fragrant and creamy chai. There was something unique and special about her dad’s chai. Having visited Pakistan a few times, drinking his tea quickly transported me to the streets of Pakistani bazaars, where the Chaiwalas (tea makers) pour piping hot tea into petit cups and serve it with tea biscuits.

One evening last Spring, we were having nostalgic conversations about her dad’s famous chai when Sania brought up the idea of opening a Chai Café with me. We both decided to do some research on a store front. However, every great idea needs capital and like any South Asian daughter, I hit up my mom for a loan. Then like any great South Asian mother, she amusingly declined, but then causally suggested I should start offering chai as an accompaniment to my dessert tables and wedding events. At first, I dismissed the notion, but the more I thought about it the more I started to fall in love with idea. It was simple yet elegant and the concept for the chai cart was born!

Growing up South Asian, chai was a staple after every evening meal – our version of a night cap – but this chai was hands down the most flavorful cup I had ever tasted! Sania and I decided to align our ideas to bring this traditional treat to the masses. Including chai as a menu item would not be enough; we needed a way to enhance the experience our clients had when we catered their events. We also wanted a way in which we could create a bridge to a cultural experience. After some research, we kept coming across market carts in Pakistan and India filled with Chaiwalas who sell their tea to shoppers in bazaars (market places). Tea is also a major part of European culture and some of our research led to places like England, Australia, and Germany for inspiration.

We wanted a contemporary design to the old bazaar carts. We loved how the market carts were fashioned to incorporate the large bicycle wheels to create mobility and a vintage look to a stationary table element. We updated the look by adding a four-post altar with gold accents and curtains. In my experience, servicing South Asian weddings, I knew the modern take on the chai cart would be a popular idea to elevate the chai experience at these events.

Most South Asian wedding packages offered the mundane tea options with just hot water and teabags. I realized no one was offering traditional gourmet chai and I wanted to fill that gap. We knew our chai cart would be a much sought-after event option. My partner Sania and I were so excited to be offering this new experience to our clients. We needed to take the new cart on a test spin before we made it official. Our first wedding event was a runway hit! The party guests loved the chai cart experience, which connected them to a long-standing tradition, but in a trendy style. They started to follow us on Instagram and we started to get a small but loyal following. We knew we had started something unique and special. We have been very lucky to have the most loyal chai squad (#LAChaiSquad), my friend Maheen being one of the first members! She connected me with Instagram make-up influencer, Irene Sarah. Maheen took the initiative to reach out to her and Irene fell in love with our concept immediately and invited LA Chai Cart to be one of the collaborators for an epic birthday bash she was planning for her daughter. Irene’s support and encouragement has been priceless!

The cross-collaboration with her propelled us in the IG sphere. Because of this collaboration, we gained over 1,000 followers overnight and we are now 6,000 strong a year later. Since then our bookings have flooded our calendar and we started getting franchise inquiries from all over the globe! Though we are still only stateside, I am happy to announce that Sania decided to move back to New Jersey and officially launched LA Chai Cart on the East Coast!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Our first hiccup was finding someone to make our chai cart a reality. We found a craftsman to make the cart to our specifications and needs. It was a challenging task but the results have been phenomenal! Like any new venture, our challenges also stemmed from wanting to provide our clients/customers a high-quality product in a cost-effective way. The cart itself has many components and transporting it was going to be difficult. Catering in itself can sometimes be grueling work, with days starting at 5 am and not ending until past midnight. But with some creative problem-solving and tenacity, we overcame these challenges and have been booked almost every weekend, often with two events in one day!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about LA Chai Cart – what should we know?
We are America’s Original Chai Cart! Everything is made-to-order using only the highest quality ingredients. Though we offer 4 different types of chai, our Classic and Kashmiri options are definitely the most popular! Chai is made in millions of kitchens across the globe and as a South Asian kid we learn to make chai for our elders at a very young age. I first tasted Kashmiri Chai during a trip to my dad’s hometown in Pakistan. It was love at first sip. I knew I wanted to incorporate the pink creamy beverage to our menu. We use traditional chai biscuits and customize the color scheme of the chocolate to our client’s request. We wanted to combine the authentic tradition of chai with our twist on the biscuits, because everything is better with chocolate!

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and we are proud that our concept has inspired and empowered others, especially South Asian women, to use their skills to start their own versions of this concept. We love seeing new chai businesses popping up on Instagram and are so grateful to have started a movement.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
For us, creating connections to our cultural background has been a key component of our success. Growing up in America, we were surrounded by other South Asian kids who shied away from their cultural background. As you get older and gain perspective on who you are and where you come from you can truly appreciate your culture. Weddings provide a great opportunity to showcase cultural traditions and values! We love that we have been able to take the tradition of chai time and make it a centerpiece during a wedding event.

We also think small businesses, especially woman owned and operated, need to support one another. We are so proud to have helped built a network of small businesses and find ways to cross-collaborate and support one another.

Whether you are relaxing alone or with a group of friends, drinking chai is a long-standing tradition that every generation has come to love in their own way, building their own memories around it. Helping create those memories and staying connected to your heritage is the success of LA Chai Cart.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Amber Hutsell, Thanh Lai

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