It was love at first sip when we first encountered chai latte during a US holiday to be in Times Square to watch the ball drop on the New Millennium with two million other people.
We were enchanted by this new drink and brought a pack of the pre-mix home with us. The pack lasted a few months and the US owners that we contacted for more told us there wouldn’t be any... unless we wanted to sell it in Australia ourselves. We had our own PR/marketing business at the time, so we thought how hard could it be?!
We soon found out.
Selling an unheard of product with a weird name ("chai what!?") to an industry we didn't know - and that didn’t want to know us - was incredibly difficult, and very frustrating.
But we were convinced it was a great idea and after three years of persistence our US import product began to get some traction.
Then came our next major challenge – our US supplier cashed out and Australia was scratched from the new owner’s plans, leaving us with no chai latte and lots of very upset customers!
It took us about a minute to decide our next step - to create our own brand - but it took another 12 months to get it ready for launch (in June, 2005) much of that time being spent on developing our recipes.
With limited cash, no expertise in food manufacturing / storage and distribution and no real appetite for debt, we built an almost completely out-sourced business model that still serves us well today.
That kept cash flow under tight control, gave us access to vital professional expertise in every area from day one, kept direct employees to a minimum and didn’t saddle us with expensive and complex plant and equipment. Because we managed the whole process via telephone and the internet, it also allowed us to live anywhere in the country where there was mobile phone signal and internet access.
We began our Bondi Chai business in our then home-town of Launceston, Tasmania, but having decided to fully commit to our new business it made sense to be closer to a much bigger population base. We didn't relish the thought of living in a big city and chose, instead to live in Port Stephens in NSW - aka Paradise - 2.5 hours north of Sydney.
Our experience with the US ‘chai latte phenomenon’ helped to us create a very simple business framework which has supported us through every phase of our growth and still does today.
We launched with two varieties - Vanilla Honey and Club Cinnamon - and had to buy the 'enormous' quantity of one tonne of each in our first order - a daunting amount, made even more so by the fact that we sold just 17kg in the first month!
Fortunately, we were either too naive or too self-confident to really notice and just kept going.
By 2014 we had established a nation-wide distribution network and several overseas 'beach head' operations. We also set sail into the FMCG space and launched into Woolworths, Coles and Costco stores nationwide.
All of which caught the eye of the judges in the Telstra Australian Business Awards and we were over the moon when we were named the NSW Micro Business of The Year.
That proved to be a watershed for Bondi Chai... within 12 months we were in Shanghai being recognised in the prestigious Stevie Awards as the Asia-Pacific Food and Beverage Company of The Year and our business almost doubled in size in just a few years.
Today, Bondi Chai continues to grow exponentially and has earned a reputation as the ‘gold standard’ for chai latte in Australia with more awards for taste and quality than any other product of its kind.
Export was always a big part of our growth plans – it’s one of the key reasons we chose the name Bondi Chai – and we’re now well down that track. These days you can enjoy a Bondi Chai Latte in places as far apart as Singapore and Sydney, Amsterdam and Armadale, Launceston and London. It was absolutely amazing for us to visit the Zilte Zoen Cafe, a beachfront cafe near Amsterdam, and hear someone ordering a Bondi Chai Latte in Dutch.
One of the highlights of our journey was the day we sold Bondi Chai into India – where chai latte (or chai masala as it’s known there) has been the traditional ‘national drink’ for centuries!
Every chai latte has a different flavour and consistency, but chai masala is the base recipe for them all.
After achieving our aims in supermarkets, we moved into cyber retail and our international expansion continues with efforts currently concentrated on Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
We recently launched a third variety to meet the growing demands for a 'spicier' blend that could also meet the emerging trends for dairy free and vegan products - so, Ginger n Spice was born - making sure everyone has the chance to enjoy a Bondi Chai.
We’re excited by what’s in store for Bondi Chai, but we’ve never lost sight of the fact that it’s the product that’s the real hero in this story.
We’re grateful – every day – for all the people who help us to make Bondi Chai and distribute it to every corner of the country and many parts of the world. But we're most grateful, of course, for the most important people of all… those of you who have made Bondi Chai your favourite drink!