Wednesday July 24, 2024

Chaiwala Arshad Khan opens iconic cafe in London

Arshad Khan also plans to visit London soon to meet his fans and brew karak chai for them

By Murtaza Ali Shah
July 17, 2023

LONDON: A young Pakistan boy, chaiwala Arshad Khan, who rose to fame after his picture went viral while serving tea has now opened his iconic café in London on a busy street.

Khan’s brand Café Chaiwala has officially opened its doors to customers on East London’s 229 Ilford Lane — an area populated by Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis.

Not to be missed, the billboard outside the café clearly mentions the brand name — “Café Chaiwala Arshad Khan” — so that the customers are not confused and clearly know they are headed inside the café popularised globally by the Islamabad street chai-vendor-turned-global-celebrity Arshad Chaiwala.

The Chaiwala brand has been brought exclusively to London by three investor brothers Bahadar Durrani, Nadir Durrani and Akbar Durrani. The brothers are planning to open and franchise several franchises across the United Kingdom, Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

Khan’s brand arrival in the UK is a true rags-to-riches story. Just seven years ago, he was a poor teenager selling chai at an Islamabad roadside stall (dhabba) with no prospects of a prosperous and luxurious life given the circumstances he was in. Not in his wildest dreams he would have imagined that one day he will become a social media sensation at the global level, a fashion icon, a brand and a franchise owner with footprints in a place like London.

The chai seller was 16 back in October 2016 when photographer Javeria Ali made his casual picture while he was serving tea to a customer and she put it on her Instagram with the caption: “Hot Tea”.

Arshad Khan’s striking looks, blue eyes and haunting seriousness on his face shot him to overnight fame. He found out that he had become a sensation when children, men and women started swamping the dhabba where he worked to make pictures with him and soon he was all over social media, on the magazine covers and television crews started airing his story. After going viral, Khan, who is originally from a conservative Pashtun family living in Mardan, was nicknamed “Chaiwala” and that’s where the brand name comes from.

In an interview, Akbar told The News that he plans to open up 50+ franchises in the United Kingdom. “Café Chaiwala Arshad Khan has gone international and London being the capital of the world is the beginning. We are planning to make this an international brand. We opened the first outlet in London after a lot of market research and business planning.”

Café Chaiwala in London boasts traditional and cultural Pakistani elements, from truck art and a hand-decorated Vespa, desi paintings on the wall and the interior that is modern and dhabba at the same time.

Khan plans to visit London soon to meet his fans and brew karak chai for them. The chaiwala said: “My visit is being planned and I would love to brew tea for my loving fans. I have received thousands of requests for a London visit. Our first international chai shop is now open on Ilford Lane and the response is massive already. With the Durrani brothers, we decided to start from Ilford Lane due to the fact that it’s home to a large number of Pakistanis and Indians who love chai. I will be in London soon in person.”

While Akbar travels internationally to focus on the family’s vast array of businesses, it's Nadir who is practically running the Ilford Lane Chaiwala. He said the Café Chaiwala is set in a proper design and style to promote Pakistani culture and to give the real feel and look of what chai cafes should look like.

He said: “We have demonstrated on the café’s front that this is the only authentic chaiwala in Britain. Lots of people have been coming in and asking about Chaiwala Arshad Khan and whether this is the same person who had shot to fame while pouring chai in an Islamabad market. We are selling in the UK everything that chaiwala in Pakistan sells: traditional desi street food, several kinds of Pakistani teas including karak chai, gurr chai, honey malai chai, badami chai, Kashmiri chai, doodh patti, fresh in-house chicken tikka paratha, fresh malai boti paratha, fresh Afghani paratha, special breakfast menu with fresh in house made Lahori channay paratha, desi omelette, sujji halwa, papri chaat, samosa chaat, beef paratha roll and malai boti."

Nadir Durrani said that since they opened their doors for business, people from across London and outside have been coming to the Café Chaiwala to take pictures and videos.

Akbar Durrani said that they had agreed contract for international rights with Arshad Khan Chaiwala in 2021 but there has been a delay in finding the right place to suit the image and potential of the brand.

He said: “We have been in the food business for over 20 years and have enough expertise in scoping a business and having it at the right place. There is no place in London better than Ilford Lane, to start with, and that has already become a unique point for us as it’s in the centre of an Asian area. Literally, thousands of people will get to see the brand. We are planning to open nearly a dozen cafes across London and work has already begun in this respect.”

After Khan became a hit, he initially did some modelling and soon he decided to capitalise on his fame, realising that fame is short-lived and his interest would be secured if he became an entrepreneur.

For Arshad Khan, it’s been a remarkable journey of success based on hard work, determination and dreams coming true in a fair style. He was around 12 years old when he started working at a tea stall to support himself and his family of 17 siblings. His family was so poor that he spent only a few days at school and had no resources or time to get a proper education. When his picture went viral, he didn’t have a phone or the internet to see the sensation his attractive looks had caused globally.

Akbar said that the rise of Arshad Khan from a tea vendor to a fashion model to an entrepreneur showed the power of social media. He said: “Social media has transformative power and it yields wonderful results when used positively. The arrival of Arshad Khan in the UK through Chaiwala is a testimony to that fact and the journey has just begun.”