Twenty-eight-year-old Nirmal Raj’s love affair with tea started as a child when he would sneak into the tea factory his mother worked at, and rest on warm gunny bags filled with tea leaves. He dreamt of a career in the tea industry, but those were the dreams of a six-year-old enveloped in the aroma of tea.
Life, though, had other plans for Nirmal. Having lost his father when he was very young, his mother Arockia Jothi had to shoulder the family’s responsibility on her salary as a clerk in INDCO 6 in Ooty, the same factory where his father worked as a tea maker.
Following his graduation, Nirmal entered the corporate sector as a business development executive but stuck true to his passion in his free time, supplying tea dust to local shops in Coimbatore. Here, his biggest challenge was to find the best quality tea for his customers at the lowest possible rate.
Consulting with some dealers, much to his surprise, he saw that tea leaves that could be procured at Rs 40 to Rs 60 per kg, were being sold at Rs 150 to Rs 220 per kg, and several samples were treated with chemicals. This is when Nirmal decided to change things, and set up his own tea room.
Set up in 2012, Buddies Cafe in Coimbatore serves over 70 varieties of tea. Nirmal says, “We serve white, green, Oolong, black, iced teas, fruit-based and herbal infusion teas, as also some snacks.” At present, he has one Buddies Café outlet, three Buddies Tea Point, which are express delivery outlets, and a high-end Buddies Cafe Lounge.]
The shift from coffee to tea
Nirmal also owns an in-house tea brand called Danjo Teas, which is exclusively available at Buddies Cafe.
Talking about the challenges of setting up and scaling the business, Nirmal says, “We started Buddies Cafe with a lot of hope. But nothing went as per our initial plan. Being first generation entrepreneurs, we made a lot of mistakes – our calculations did not reflect in our revenues, and it took many years for us to be profitable.”
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