Mangaluru: The COVID-19 lockdown that first came into effect in March left many people helpless and at a loss. At the same time, some saw an opportunity and decided to make the best of the situation. Cloud kitchens, specifically, have been on a rise with many people putting their cooking and baking skills to good use to earn a living.
One such cloud kitchen that emerged during the lockdown is The Chai Place. Based in the coastal city of Mangaluru, this cloud kitchen was started by Neil Noronha, a Hospitality Management graduate from Manipal University.
The 26-year-old started The Chai Place in order to close the gap in income as he, along with many from his company, was put on sabbatical leave owing to the financial constraints. An Assistant Sales Manager working at a prominent hotel in Mangaluru city, Neil decided to make use of the lockdown to get started on his long-time dream- opening a tea cafe.
However, considering the situation, he put off opening a shop and instead, adapted his dream to the circumstances and started a home-based cloud kitchen.
Since the start of The Chai Place on May 23 this year, Neil has had to change and develop a lot about the business, especially the menu. While this might seem like a daunting task to many, the young entrepreneur has used his skills and ingenuity to quickly change and adapt to the situation, reading the market and experimenting with the product, something he thoroughly enjoys.
Under the banner of The Chai Place, Neil serves a variety of tea, burgers, omelettes, and other snacks and desserts.
The son of Percy Noronha, a finance officer working in the Gulf, and Janet Noronha, a teacher at St Theresa's School, Mangaluru, Neil runs the cloud kitchen with the support of his father, mother, and sister, Andrea Noronha, who is the Assistant Editor at NewsKarnataka. While Neil handles the tea, burgers and other items, Andrea, who has been baking since her college days, handles the desserts.
Asked why he chose the lockdown as the time to kick-start his dream, Neil told Newskarnataka.com, "When life gives you lemons, you make lemon tea. I have been a hotelier for three years now, and it has always been a dream of mine to open a chai cafe. I love making and drinking chai and I want to share this with others."
About the challenges faced while starting up a cloud kitchen in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, "Many people are afraid to order from hotels and are concerned now more than ever about hygiene and safety. Since this is a cloud kitchen, they are not able to see a physical place and therefore, have a lot of doubts. This is something I understand because this is not something that is very new. No one likes finding a stray hair or an insect in their food, but this desire for hygiene has only been heightened due to the current situation. I continually try to inform my customers that our process is hygienic and that we take the utmost care when it comes to their food."
He added that another worry of many people is contact with delivery persons. "I deliver the food by myself or my customers come and pick the food. I don't work with a third party for more reasons than one. This way, my customers know that there are minimal points of contact and that their food is coming, quite literally, straight from the kitchen," he said.
Regarding the volume of business, Neil said that considering the current economic situation of the market, things have been relatively good. "We have regular customers. They seem to love the burgers and omelettes. Some also like my sister's pastries because she tends to prepare items you don't often find in your local bakeries."
At The Chai Place, items the ABC (Anda, Bacon, Chicken) Burger, Fully Loaded Bacon Cheese Omelette, Masala Chai, Milk Maggi, and Hot Chocolate are best sellers.
When it comes to desserts, the items change from week to week. "So far, our Chocolate Eclairs and Mini Cheesecakes have done exceptionally well. But we keep changing the desserts to keep things lively. Plus, my sister likes to bake different things and experiment."
Speaking to Newskarnataka.com, Andrea said that she started baking in college because the food she wanted to eat was never available in the bakeries. "I remember wanting to at least taste things like apple pies, eclairs, and some other baked goods, but I never really found them. I had always had an interest in baking, something I probably picked up from my mother as she used to bake and cook a lot when we were younger. I realised that since recipes are available online, I could pick one out, buy the ingredients and make the items myself. Whether or not the ingredients were available in Mangaluru at the time is a completely different story. But, that is how my interest in baking grew and I kept it as a hobby till now."
Asked about looking for investors, Neil said that he is on the lookout, however, he will actively start his search in due time.
For the time being, however, The Chai Place runs out of Neil's home in the city and is open from 11 AM till 8 PM. You can follow them on Facebook: /thechaiplacemangalore and Instagram: @the_chai_place
To place orders, you can call or WhatsApp them at +91 9113527691. You can place orders till 7.30 PM.
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