The Chai Dhaba Culture in Karachi

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A few years ago, no one would have thought that a group of youngsters or whole families would sit on the streets of Karachi till midnight or even later, having a cup of tea or coffee. This is because of the excessive street crimes that were taking place in the streets of Karachi. People felt threatened to be out after dark, not just on the streets but also in their cars.
It has just been a matter of years that people have started feeling safer in the largest city of Pakistan and Karachi is again proved to be the “City of Lights” for its citizens mainly because of the chai dhabas that are set up on the streets of Karachi. These dhabas are quite lively and crowded, transforming the dark, quiet streets of Karachi to a fun and happening place.

When we hear of the word “Dhaba”, it is not just a mediocre, roadside café. The dhabas that are trending these days are a perfect outdoor restaurant setting, with streetlights or fairy lights, bringing the barren area to life and adding to its beauty. These dhabas have good quality and standard, which they maintain for their food. As long as prices are concerned, you must not expect the costs, which come into your mind by hearing the word “Dhaba”, as these places quickly empty your pocket by Rs.500-600 for a proper meal and a beverage.

Business Ideas:

These chai dhabas initiated as business ideas by students who have completed their secondary education or have just got through with their board exams. This is because these dhabas need less capital and easy to set up. The major cost that the entrepreneurs incur is the furniture, rent of a small shop that acts as a kitchen and a plot where the customers have their seating area. The ingredients that are needed to make their food are also cheap, as they need essential ingredients such as flour, meat, tea, milk, and sugar. Therefore, these businesses are considered to be the best and the most successful at the moment as they are easy to operate and manage, have less costs, and are also quite profitable and rewarding for the owners.


No one thought that chai dhabas would become one of the most successful businesses in the financial hub of Pakistan. With this business, ideas came creations and innovations, which probably are the reasons of success for these chai dhabas.

The first innovation, which was the reason for the success of these chai dhabas, was the “Nutella paratha.” We have all heard of the aloo paratha and qeema paratha, which are spiced potatoes or minced meat stuffed in a paratha. Still, no one ever imagined that they could have a paratha as a desert when warm Nutella is generously spread over the paratha. Therefore, this innovation drew the attention of the customers to these chai dhabas because of the unique food options, which led them to change their whole perspective of a simple Pakistani dish.

These restaurants revolve around innovations and creations so much that a Dhaba called Cloud Naan is based on unique innovations. All they do is stuff the traditional naan, or tandoor bread like it is done with a paratha, with spices, flavors, meat, vegetables, cheese, and Nutella. When this came out, absolutely no one would have thought that this could be done to an 8-10-rupee naan. These innovations also provide a decent profit margin for the owner, as customers are ready to pay Rs.450-600 for the naan, which may initially cost 100-150.

The customers:

The chai dhabas are very popular amongst the young crowd as they now have a suitable place to sit, gossip, and chat and have a cup of tea in the evening or at night when they get free from their schools, colleges, and tuitions. They like the outdoor setting of the dhaba, and also it is budget-friendly on their pockets as the total damage would not be more than Rs.700-800 as compared to a high-end café, which probably costs Rs.1200-2000 for one person. Moreover, the parents feel safe to let their children have a cup of tea or coffee with their friends as now the street crime rate has gone pretty low as well as there is no chance of any looting in such a crowded and illuminated surrounding.

Another group of customers that are attracted to these dhabas are families, including women and children. Previously, women or children would not feel comfortable in such outdoor surroundings. However, the chai dhaba culture has provided a great source of entertainment to the families as well. These places are more inundated with families than a group of men. The families usually come here after dinner at a restaurant or a family gathering.

Bukhari Commercial Street:

Bukhari Commercial Street is where the culture of chai dhabas started. A Dhaba named “Chai Wala” opened first, and then several chai dhabas opened and closed in this street. This is where Cloud Naan is also located. This commercial street has become a food street and is often crowded at night. People have difficulty in finding a table and parking for themselves. The rent for the property is so high in this area that people are ready to give a price, which is double the value of the property because of the popularity of the area due to chai dhabas.

With the pace at which these chai dhabas are running, that too successfully, we don’t see a stop in their growth. With winters hitting Karachi this month, they are set to run even more as Karachites crave for chai in chilly weather.

Afshan Riaz Bhayani
Afshan Riaz Bhayani