TV star Prithviraj has turned entrepreneur with the launch of a ‘bubble tea’ shop

Prithviraj aka ‘Babloo’ was driving past a shop in Malaysia a few years ago when he saw a long-winding queue. “There were about 200 people standing and talking in excited overtones,” he says, “I couldn’t resist stopping and enquiring what the whole thing was about.”

The whole thing turned out to be tea. “Being from Chennai, which is known across the world for its coffee, it was fascinating that so many people were interested in tea,” recalls the actor.

When he started asking around, he realised that this was no normal tea.

It was called ‘bubble tea’ and was a huge hit among the locals. “I drank a cup and loved it,” he says, “It was not just tasty, but also filling.” For the uninitiated, ‘Bubble tea’ is a tea-based drink with tapioca pearls that add the bubble to the drink.

Even as he was gulping it down, the actor sensed a business opportunity. “When I got back to Chennai, I checked around and surprisingly, there were very few people in the market who were selling bubble tea. I knew that it had all the makings of a sensation if it was done properly and authentically.”

I spend a lot of time in the shop. It gives me a chance to interact with people, and understand their requirements

When he proposed the idea to a few people here, they were taken aback. “Tea shop ah…like a Nair kadai?,” they’d ask him. It took him months of convincing others, and himself, that cold tea could be hot property too.

Today, his tastefully-done Cha Republic is the cynosure of all eyes for people driving around Besant Nagar. Not just for its design and food, but also for a quintessential Chennai autorickshaw, which greets you the minute you walk in to the store. Where did that come from? “The concept is from abroad, but I wanted the setting to be very Chennai. Haven’t we all seen autorickshaw drivers ordering tea and having it in the confines of their vehicle? I wanted to give people the same experience…but in a snazzy way. It was a logistical nightmare but now, when people sit inside the auto and relish their tea, it feels quite good,” he explains.

Being an automobile lover, it’s just not the auto that is part of his store’s setup. Most of the seats here are made of tyres — striving to give a comfortable seating and at the same time, provide an innovative setting for a casual conversation.

But why would an actor venture into such a business? “As actors, we entertain people. It’s just natural that we put the money earned into a venture that will give people some entertainment as well,” he defends, “I personally spend a lot of time in the shop. Thus, it gives me a great chance to interact with people, understand what their requirements are and customise stuff accordingly.”

When he’s not trying to make tea and other bakery products sell at his store, Prithviraj is busy with his tryst with films and the small screen. He has a couple of TV serials up his sleeve and four Telugu films lined up. Also on the cards is an English film, which he plans to script and direct.

But all that will have to wait a bit — for currently, tea has taken over his life. Does he think he will make a mark in Chennai’s already-crowded food scenario? “Let me tell you a secret,” he whispers, “The place where I’ve now set up shop is actually jinxed commercially. Every time I passed this property, I used to notice how businesses kept coming and moving on. Big brands came, stayed for a while but moved on because they didn’t do good business” So, what are his plans? “Well, I’m quite determined to break that jinx. That’s because I know I have a good product at hand.”

TEA TRUTHS

Bubble tea is said to have originated in the tea shops of Taiwan in the 1980s. The term ‘bubble’ comes from the chewy tapioca balls added to it. Bubble tea recipes usually contain a tea base mixed with fruit or milk. It is hugely popular in Malaysia and Singapore.

Bubble tea is said to have originated in the tea shops of Taiwan in the 1980s. The term ‘bubble’ comes from the chewy tapioca balls added to it. Bubble tea recipes usually contain a tea base mixed with fruit or milk. It is hugely popular in Malaysia and Singapore.

Cha Republic is at 5, 2nd Avenue, Besant Nagar.