In the streets of Chicago's Logan Square, amidst the tantalizing aroma of spices and the comforting allure of a perfectly brewed cup of chai, unfolds a tale of resilience and community spirit. Meet Swadesh Shrestha, the mastermind behind Chiya Chai, a cherished gathering place for chai aficionados and a cultural cornerstone for the neighborhood.

Swadesh Shrestha, an immigrant from Nepal, embarked on her entrepreneurial voyage in 2001, driven by a deep-rooted connection to her family's tea traditions. With a background steeped in tea cultivation and export, she recognized an opportunity to introduce the warmth and flavor of chai to the American palate. For Swadesh, Chiya Chai wasn't just a business venture; it was a tribute to her South Asian heritage and a homage to the communal spirit of her grandfather's chai shop.

The road to success was fraught with challenges. Swadesh faced setbacks, from the arduous task of renovating a café in Minneapolis to personal hardships. Despite the obstacles, she pivoted and transformed Chiya Chai into a beloved neighborhood haunt. Relocating to Chicago presented fresh opportunities, and with unwavering determination and unwavering support from loved ones, Swadesh turned Chiya Chai into a beacon of chai culture in Logan Square

Amidst a competitive landscape, Swadesh finds strength in her love for tea and her commitment to social responsibility. “I believe that providing sustainable work is much more effective than charity—I see my business as a means to practice that belief,” she quipped. Grounded in a belief in ethical practices and a desire to support small estates and workers in Nepal and South Asia, Chiya Chai serves as a conduit for positive change.

Reflecting on her journey, Swadesh takes pride in Chiya Chai's milestones, from pioneering Chicago's first chai-focused café to providing employment opportunities for over 50 locals. More than a business endeavor, Chiya Chai is a testament to Swadesh's vision and the determination of immigrant entrepreneurship. “Our chai is very close to the source of its ingredients and that is a matter of great pride for me and my family,” she said.

Behind every triumph stands a mentor, and for Swadesh, it's her father—a trailblazer in the Nepalese tea industry. His teachings on tea cultivation and ethical business practices have shaped Swadesh's entrepreneurial path.

Swadesh's advice for budding entrepreneurs is straightforward: believe in your product, persevere through adversity, engage with your community, and uphold ethical values. Success, she emphasizes, is not solely measured by financial gain but by the positive impact made along the journey.

As the aroma of chai envelops Chiya Chai, Swadesh's story serves as a reminder of the power of passion and community spirit. In a world driven by commerce, Chiya Chai stands as a symbol of authenticity, bringing people together, one cup of chai at a time.

May 2, 2024

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