Daniel Lewis of Daniel’s Chai Bar on How to Brew the Perfect Business
Former Canadian rapper and songwriter Daniel Lewis believed that his future would revolve around music, but a near-death experience in 2009 forced him to rethink his purpose.
Today, he is an international speaker, author, and mastermind behind Daniel’s Chai Bar – a delightful spot that serves up a highly curated menu of chai and cold drinks and one which has garnered praise from Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Lewis, 34, and his wife and business partner Renata, currently operate three chai bars in Toronto and they’re set on expanding across the country.
In a candid interview, Lewis spills the tea on that Royal encounter, on the highs and lows of building a business, and reveals what he would change if he had to do it all over again.
Daniel Lewis: After a nearly fatal stabbing which caused me to ponder the brevity of life, I wanted to find a way to live with purpose and impact. I tried tea one day, was hooked, and it led me down the path of learning. I wanted to bring that knowledge to the masses.
How did you raise capital for your first location?
Daniel Lewis: I actually used some of my own savings. I kept the cost to build and open the chai bar as low as possible by sticking to a minimalistic design and a limited product offering – only two products to start.
Some would argue that you could get a decent chai latte at a local Starbucks. What’s unique about Daniel’s Chai Bar?
Daniel Lewis: We use tea as a tool to impact lives and our passion and excitement to create a personalized, memorable experience. We’ve had someone walk into our store with a guitar on their back and we’ve turned down the music and let them play for our customers. You’re not going to get that anywhere else. On the product side, we’re known for our lion chai and our non-dairy coconut creamer.
You have a loyal local following, including fans within the Royal family. Can you expand upon how that came to be?
Daniel Lewis: We were invited to serve tea to Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at a Canada Day celebration. Prince Charles was so impressed – he said it was the best tea he’s ever had – and placed an order with us. Two months later, we received a letter in which he shared how much he enjoyed it.
How did the pandemic impact your business?
Daniel Lewis: The pandemic has put a strain on our supply chain and made it difficult to import products. As a result, we were forced to limit our product offering in order to have a more substantial inventory supply of a few focused products. The pandemic has also opened up some prime real estate spaces as a result of many businesses having to close their doors. It’s unfortunate that these businesses did not survive, but we are thankful for the ability to occupy prime retail real estate that would otherwise be sitting vacant.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Daniel Lewis: Hiring and staffing are two of the biggest challenges with opening stores. I wish I would have given this some more thought and made more strategic plans to handle it. It’s extremely difficult to find, train, and keep staff in this post-pandemic world, but for the time being, we are doing our best to find amazing people and build a magnetic culture that helps us retain employees.
What’s next for you?
Daniel Lewis: We want to add more stores and eventually, explore franchising. It’s exciting to think about spreading our mission across the country.
The secret to your success?
Daniel Lewis: I think that openness has moved me along in business. People respect transparency, they’re willing to go along on a journey with me and let me figure things out. The secret to succeeding as an entrepreneur is in the first two letters of the word ‘business,’ so be you.
Your advice to other entrepreneurs?
Daniel Lewis: Always have a ready answer for the ‘why?’ in your business and never despise the days of humble beginnings. It will keep you grounded when you start to succeed.