Chai Pani and Botiwalla chef-owner Meherwan Irani is expanding his Indian street food mini empire. Irani has confirmed he is opening three more metro Atlanta Botiwalla locations in the next year, and as many as eight to ten more locations over the next five years throughout the southeast. Irani’s future plans could include as many as 50 Botiwallas.
As for the three immediate Botiwalla locations, Irani says one will be located in Alpharetta, another at the perimeter, and the third somewhere in the city of Atlanta. Two locations should open by the end of the year—the third following in 2019. If all goes well, there could even be a fourth location next year.
Irani says Botiwalla was a proof of concept from the beginning. He wanted to open something fast, fun, approachable, and affordable without being a full, sit-down, “chef-driven” restaurant like his Decatur and Asheville-based Chai Panis.
“I get an email or two a week from people asking me to open another Chai Pani in other locations. Some want us to franchise,” Irani says of his decision to expand. “That’s not realistic with Chai Pani. But it got me thinking—I could do this with Botiwalla.”
The chef put together a business plan and gave it to a close, family friend who also acts as Irani’s mentor and business adviser. The friend was so impressed by the idea as well as the thoroughly developed plan, he told Irani all of it could be funded privately.
Botiwalla ticks all of the boxes for what Irani and his partners want to achieve with this fast and affordable food model. Irani says it’s a service model which can be packaged and easily managed while still presenting his culture and its food to diners.
“When we opened Chai Pani we called it Indian street food, but that is a broad term. Within Indian street food you have chaat (fried breads, snacks); which is what Chai Pani specializes in,” he explains. “There’s sigri or grills from north India for grilling meats or naan. That’s what Botiwalla does. Chai Pani is chaat-centric and Botiwalla is grill-centric.”
Irani’s big picture-thinking doesn’t stop with the sigris-based Botiwalla model. He’s believes it could be applied to street foods from other regions of India like dosas (crepes) or bondas (potato dumplings).
Future plans may include smaller, kiosk locations (like a food court stall) in the lobbies of large office buildings or complexes where good food options are usually scarce. The kiosks would be based on the Botiwalla service model but not be full-blown Botiwallas. They would only serve one type of food. For example, Irani says there could a Burgerwalla.
“We shut down the Asheville Chai Pani to do an extensive remodel. While closed, we did a pop-up called “Chota Chai Pani”. “Chota” means “little”. That might be something we use for these kiosks.”
Irani admits, there’s a lot going on, but he has developed the multi-year expansion plan to be executed in phases. The trigger will only be pulled if the previous phase proves successful. Part of that success, he strongly believes, is hiring people from within the Chai Pani and Botiwalla families to staff and manage the locations. It’s the way he’s always done things.
“Why fix what already works?”
Eater Atlanta will be tracking the progress of the Botiwalla expansion, including where the three new locations will finally land.
Note: Irani confirmed the next “Brown in the South” dinner is set for August 12 in Nashville. The dinner will be held at one of chef Maneet Chauhan’s restaurants. Further details should be released soon.