By Kate Malin
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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Brooklyn-based Dona Chai makes just one product, Chai Tea Concentrate, and they make it well. Founder Amy Rothstein started Dona Chai while she was a graduate student at NYU after noticing a gap in the New York market for high quality chai concentrate. She perfected her recipe, working with a local spice purveyor to import the freshest, best quality spices, which she then grinds and steeps into a rich, flavorful, and warmly spicy tea concentrate, ready for mixing.
Each small batch is made using fresh ginger, ground cinnamon, green cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns, organic black tea, and organic molasses and is steeped for an extended time, so that the tea is naturally concentrated without being made into powder or needing additional reduction. Amy recommends mixing Chai Concentrate with almond milk for a latte, either iced or hot. Chai is also a great addition to French toast, buttercream frosting, pumpkin bread, or any baking recipe that calls for liquid.
Dona Chai Tea Concentrate is available at www.donachai.com and in stores across New York. Dona Chai is part of the Good Food Awards, a project to honor food and drink producers making the sort of food we all want to eat – tasty, authentic and responsible, and a proud member of the Good Food Merchants Guild, national association uniting American craft food businesses to connect, convene and promote Good Food businesses of all sizes.
From her grassroots work at the Good Food Awards to her continued education at NYU’s Food Studies Master’s Program, Kate Malin brings an unparalleled passion for great food and good people.
More Good Food Finds:
Girl Boss: Amy Rothstein, Dona Chai
Amy Rothstein is the founder of Dona Chai (pronounced “Donna”), a chai tea concentrate brewing company based in Brooklyn, New York. We sat down with her at a local cafe for–you guessed it–a chai latte and a chat about a college class that changed her life, her mom’s creepy childhood doll, and what it takes to run a company that stocks across the country.
PP: What inspired you to start Dona Chai?
AR: In college I was an environmental studies major and took a class about the ecology, politics, and ethics of food. I didn’t realize that there was more to food than just cooking or eating it, and I was intrigued. I decided I wanted to study food further, and entered a graduate program at NYU for food studies. I went to a lot of coffee shops in my first semester to do homework, and noticed that while there was a strong culture of locally-roasted coffee, there was no parallel focus on locally-blended teas. That’s when the idea for Dona Chai came to me.
PP: What sets Dona Chai apart?
AR: For one thing, the recipe. I spent the summer between my first and second years of graduate school wholly devoted to perfecting the tea recipe. “Chai” is actually a very broad term that simply means tea blended with spices, so there is no set recipe. After three months of experimenting, I settled on a blend of molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, green cardamom, black peppercorns, cloves, and black tea, that I was absolutely confident in. [Editor’s note: the Dona Chai latte I sipped while talking to Amy was hands down the best chai latte I’ve ever had.] The other thing that sets Dona Chai apart is that I am relentlessly critical of the company and product. It sounds negative but the constant evaluation helps me make sure that the product is the absolute best it can be.
PP: What is the hardest part of running a company?
AR: Well, I can tell you what the easiest part of the company was for me–the name! My mom had a creepy childhood doll named Dona who sat in my grandmother’s living room. I wasn’t allowed to play with her somehow Dona is the first name that came to mind when I was thinking of a name. I know that the story doesn’t make sense to most people, but the name is perfect to me. Another thing that is easy is waking up in the morning. I am eager to get to work! [For more about Amy’s daily life, check out this article about her on Forbes.] Keeping up with the fast pace of a growing company is always an exciting challenge. Thankfully, my brother is on the Dona Chai team. His degree is in business, so his analytical skills complement my skill set. We’ve grown to 6 employees, so I’m not doing everything myself.
PP: How has being a woman affected your business?
AR: I’ve been lucky enough to meet fellow female entrepreneurs. I went to a women’s summit hosted by Forbes called 20/40 it matched up female entrepreneurs in their 20s with those in their 40s for mentorship advice. I’ve learned that the more people you talk to, the better that’s something I’m working on as the company grows. Women are supportive of each other.
If you can’t resist a good tea photo, the Dona Chai Instagram is your new happy place.
PP: What have you learned about yourself in this process?
AR: I’ve discovered a bunch of new interests. I’m getting more interested in the graphic design, photography, and marketing elements of the business. I’ve also started developing recipes that use Dona Chai–it’s not just for lattes!–so that’s been fun.
PP: Have there been any surprises?
AR: There are always surprises in running a small business. One thing I certainly wasn’t expecting was meeting my boyfriend through work! I walked into his cafe to sell him some chai, and we’ve been dating for two years. We’re both small business owners, so we understand what the other goes through each day.
PP: How will you know when you’ve achieved success?
AR: When I feel like I can go on a vacation and things will be ok in my absence. I’m looking forward to that day!
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The Girl Boss series celebrates women business owners who are making their dreams happen.
Food Lover Gift Idea: Dona Chai Tea Concentrate
I was so tired and groggy from the gym one night and when I was walking past the mailboxes to get to my apartment, I saw a beautiful glass bottle with a note on it. I wanted to keep walking, but curiosity got the best of me because it just looked so pretty, so I squatted down to see what it was. It was a lovely bottle of Dona Chai tea concentrate from Brooklyn, with MY name on it. Definitely a good night.
Before I get to talking about the actual tea concentrate, there are some great things that you need to know about this company.
-Dona Chai is local for me and made in Brooklyn. Love supporting local companies.
-They compost their ingredient waste. Yay, for the environment.
-It’s made in small batches, which is great for quality control.
-The ginger is cold-pressed, which preserves the ginger in its natural state as much as possible.
-Their spices are ground fresh.
When I got upstairs I cracked it open to smell it, and it was so wonderful. It was just the right level of intenseness and there was everything from cold-press ginger and cardamom, to cinnamon bark and cloves. There’s a lot more goodness in there that makes for a cozy scent that wins you over right away. At first you aren’t sure what it is you are smelling, but then slowly, each note comes to mind as you let it seep in a bit.
After I refrigerated it and it was nice and cold, I tasted the concentrate directly and it was wonderful. It just makes you feel so cozy. I know you’re suppose to mix it with soy milk, milk, etc, but I could have been pretty happy just letting it melt a bit over ice and sipping it like that.
This morning as a treat for myself (as you know, my trainer has me on a strict meal plan), I decide to make a small Chai tea latté and it’s pretty amazing how easy it is to make one at home. All you really have to do it simple mix equal parts of the concentrate with your mixer and serve hot or over ice. I like to get a little froth going, so I shook mine up with ice in a martini shaker. Also, I love the flavor of the concentrate so much that I prefer a 2:1 ration of concentrate to mixer.
Purchase a bottle for yourself at any of these locations, and get a bunch to give out as holiday gifts!
Food and Stuff Like That
Exceptional cheese deserves an exceptional cracker to go with it. It was this realization that led the mother-son team of Nancy and Peter Potter to start Potter’s Crackers and give the cheeses of their home state, Wisconsin, the quality crackers they deserved. With Nancy’s background as a bakery owner and Peter’s training in food science, the pair began making whole grain, handmade crackers from local ingredients, experimenting with flavors and textures for a line of both sweet and savory crackers with serious crunch. Today, Peter bakes in Sacramento, CA where he lives while Nancy bakes in Madison, WI, where the business started.
The powerful flavors of their Caramelized Onion crackers are worth the tears cried in the production kitchens when chopping the heaps of onions that go into each batch. The ingredient list is short, featuring mostly organic and local produce and are made using whole wheat flour with cracked wheat added so they are loaded with healthy fiber. Nancy recommends pairing the Caramelized Onion crackers with a ripe gooey Brie cheese for a perfectly bold bite.
Potter’s Crackers Caramelized Onion Crackers are available at http://ift.tt/237g40C and in stores across the country. Potter’s Crackers is a proud member of the Good Food Merchants Guild, national association uniting American craft food businesses to connect, convene and promote Good Food businesses of all sizes.
From her grassroots work at the Good Food Awards to her continued education at NYU’s Food Studies Master’s Program, Kate Malin brings an unparalleled passion for great food and good people.
How This 26-Year-Old Founder Plans To Take Chai Mainstream With Her Artisan Brew
Amy Rothstein, 26, started her chai business with one 70-gallon kettle. But even though she’s quickly expanding her business in the U.S. and abroad, she has no plans to upsize. “We’re not going to have a 500-gallon kettle,” she says. “Our product and quality will never change.”
That conviction is at the heart of her vision for Dona Chai, the artisan chai company she founded in 2014. It’s how she plans to set her business apart from dominant competitors in the space and win over coffee converts.
Several large chai producers, like Oregon Chai (which did $25 million in revenue before it was bought in 2002 by Irish food conglomerate Kerry Group) and Bhakti Chai (which has raised $4 million in funding), already crowd the market with their wholesale offerings, sold in cartons, jugs, and cups designed for Keurigs. Brewed in Brooklyn, NY, Rothstein’s Dona Chai is one of the few small batch, locally produced chai brands sold in the U.S. Her product comes in trendy, minimalist glass bottles and is available online and in independent coffee shops. She's working to create a home in the U.S. for the traditional Indian drink by making it more readily available to U.S. customers.
At the time a food studies graduate student at New York University, Rothstein’s entrepreneurial ‘aha’ moment came when she realized what was missing from cafe drink menus. “I was going to a lot of coffee shops and I noticed all the local coffee and pastries, but no one was offering high quality, local chai,” says Rothstein.
From there, Rothstein started experimenting with chai recipes, which combine spices and ingredients like black tea, ginger, cloves and cardamom. She leaned on $350,000 in seed funding from her father, Charles Rothstein, who runs Michigan-based venture capital firm Beringea, and then officially went into business with her brother, Peter Rothstein, 24, to bring Dona Chai to consumers.
Her first step was revisiting the cafes she already knew needed chai. “I went to local coffee shops and asked them to try my chai. Within the first two months of launching I had acquired 10 independent coffee shops,” says Rothstein. Interest from other independent cafes has taken her brand national and international. Her chai ships to small shops from Encinitas, CA, and Kansas City, MO, to Calgary and, most recently, to Harrods in London.
Besides stocking chai at 15 Whole Foods locations, most of her 300 accounts are one shop stores. Many, she says, hear about her product and reach out to her through email. “There was a ‘third wave’ coffee movement. We’re the third wave chai,” says Rothstein. She expects $600,000 in revenue for 2016 and anticipates to at least triple the size of her business in the next calendar year. Her company and other small and large chai makers have formidable opponents in the massive tea and coffee industries, bringing in $11 billion and $48 billion , respectively.
Dona Chai launched with a chai concentrate, meant to be mixed with milked and served hot. The brewer has since added two ready-to-drink products, Dirty chai made with cold brew coffee and chai latte made with almond milk.
Beyond introducing new products and scaling, Rothstein is, more largely, working to bring awareness of chai as a player in the beverage scene beyond dominant peers coffee and tea. “We have to do more to make people aware of chai as a good food product. We have to convince people we matter and are growing to matter in the larger scene,” says Rothstein.
That’s part of the strategy to own her space by producing locally-produced chai while making a greater impact. “I’ve been thinking about how to start a bigger movement or trend to chai,” says Rothstein.
Dona Chai now faces a challenge all artisan companies confront when scaling for demand, increasing production while maintaining consistent quality. “The hurdle for food companies is how to maintain a product while keeping profit margins and costs in mind. It makes it difficult for food companies to produce and maintain the integrity of the product,” says Rothstein. “Our challenge is how do we make our margins by changing anything but the quality of our product.” Her growing team of four has the same mission in mind, but for now she’s sticking with her original kettle.
These Aromatic Chai Tea Blends Practically Scream Autumn
Once the temperature drops, we crave chai flavors. Although there's no formal recipe or prep method for chai tea, it usually involves brewing a strong black tea with warming, aromatic spices like ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg. With interesting ingredients like superfood turmeric, rose petals, fennel, peppercorns, and more, it's a delicious time to start getting into chai. Not to mention chai tea is packed with health benefits, from boosting the body's immune system to aiding with digestion. Here are our current favorite chai tea blends to cozy up with this fall.
Featured as one of Oprah's Favorite Things on Amazon last year, this top-selling VAHDAM Chai Tea Trio makes a great gift for the tea lover in your life. Packed in chic gold tea caddies, these chai teas come in three special blends: spicy Ginger Chai, woodsy Maharani Oolong Chai, and Sweet Cinnamon Chai.
Create your own creamy, spicy, super comforting chai tea or turmeric latte in the comfort of your own home with this DONA Chai Turmeric and Masala Chai Concentrate two-pack. This Brooklyn-based brand makes pre-batched chai tea concentrates to make your morning grind much easier (and more delicious).
We love the earthy and savory blend of ginger, vanilla bean, freshly ground cinnamon, green cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns, and organic black tea in the Masala Chai tea concentrate.
This sultry Golden Chai Tea from Numi is made with a blend of certified organic Assam black tea, organic cinnamon, cardamom, anise, and ginger. It's rich and spicy with a slight licorice flavor and has a medium amount of caffeine.
A blend of black tea from India, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom seed, cardamom pod, and vanilla, this chai variety from London-based brand Teapigs is fragrant and comforting.
This is a great tea to brew when you have guests over to make your entire home smell like warm baking spices (without having to actually bake anything).
Made with a base of rich, full-leaf Assam tea, this masala chai tea blend gets a bold, slightly spicy flavor from ginger root, cassia, black pepper, cloves, and cardamom. The brand recommends bringing filtered water to a boil and then steeping the tea bags for 5 minutes to bring out this chai's rich, full-bodied flavor.
Made with a base of naturally caffeine-free South African red roobois tea, this fragrant chai tea from Yogi gets an earthy warmth from spices including cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. Add a few teaspoons of your favorite raw honey to a hot mug of this chai tea for an aromatic mid-afternoon treat.
This caffeine-free golden chai tea is made with a combination of aromatic spices including ginger, cardamom, and cloves, plus superfood turmeric for a sweet, spicy, and super smooth sipping experience. Reviewers find this blend particularly soothing and calming on the stomach and use this tea as a digestive aid.
A top-selling chai tea made in San Francisco, this rich and savory blend is made with black tea and fragrant spices, including cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. Reviewers love sipping this chai tea hot or over ice for a mid-afternoon treat.
Made with black tea and spices including ginger root, ground cardamom, powdered cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves, this medium-caffeine chai tea is based on a traditional masala chai recipe. Reviewers love adding hot water and a few teaspoons of their favorite nut milk to this blend for a creamy and delicious beverage.
Oh My, It’s Chai: A Chai Tea Ombre Popsicles Recipe for Fall
Lately, I’ve bene drinking chai lattes like it’s my job. I think its all the spices…it just smells and tastes like fall and the holidays. You know? And since it’s been a while since my last popsicle recipe, I thought it would be fun to turn my favorite fall drink into popsicles.
I tried a few different recipe options (coconut milk, cream, etc) and finally landed on the perfect combo. Chai and ice cream! Aside from the ice cream part though, I think a lot of the reason why it’s so good has something to do with the chai I used. And what chai might that be?
I partnered with Brooklyn company, Dona Chai, to make these bad boys and their chai tea concentrate is seriously the best I’ve ever had. Not to mention, they have amazing packaging. So, it looks like I’m hooked at this point and you might be too. If you don’t know about Dona Chai already it’s a (super) delicious chai tea concentrate, made with whole spices that are ground fresh and steeped in small batches to ensure consistency and quality. More info here.
And that’s the chai that went into these popsicles! Sounds pretty good right? Here’s the ingredients list…
Ingredients: (makes 10-12 popsicles)
– 16 oz Dona Chai chai tea concentrate
– 4 cups of vanilla or french vanilla ice cream
Measure 4 oz of Dona Chai and evenly distribute the concentrate into the bottom of each popsicle mold. *This step isn’t required, but it’s how I was able to achieve the ombre look you see in the photos, so I thought I would mention it.
Then, measure out your ice cream and allow it to soften at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. You want it to be soft / melty enough to go into the popsicle molds without any trouble. Then in a large bowl, mix the ice cream together with remaining 12 oz of Dona Chai.
Pour the ice cream chai mixture into individual popsicle molds and freeze for 45 minutes. Then, remove from the freezer and insert popsicle sticks. Put back in the freezer for 4-6 hours or until completely frozen.
Once the popsicles are ready to eat, you can easily pop them out of the popsicle molds by running them under warm water for 30-60 seconds to loosen them up.
You should totally try these for Thanksgiving (or even Christmas). Definitely a unique way to serve up some festive treats for the holidays.
P.S. In case you’re curious to try Dona Chai in another way, you can make a chai latte with equal parts Dona Chai and milk (serve hot or cold). Love this stuff! Can you tell that I’m obsessed?!
Photography by Rachel Brewer
Recipe and styling by Brittni Mehlhoff
Are you a chai tea drinker? Think you’ll give this popsicle recipe a try?
This post is in partnership with Dona Chai. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep Paper & Stitch running.
Carrots Three Ways: Roasted + Soup + Salad
I wanted to think outside the box, Chopped! style, I was on season 12, when I got my first bottle of Dona Masala Chai concentrate. I came up with three recipes that will make the most delicious carrots!
In India masala means spice, and chai means tea. Masala Chai is a black tea infused with fragrant spices, typically served with milk. I love the flavor that the masala brings to the carrots.
Note: If you don’t have tea on hand you can use 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.
PS: I just launched my SHOP! Get my favorite tools, equipment, books and more HERE.
These carrots are GOOD. I mean, really good. Not like when someone boiled them for you when you were a kid. Be careful, as you might eat the entire pound in one sitting.
Store-bought carrots work. Carrots from a farmers market are a game changer. They’re delicious on their own, with chopped pistachios, or in a salad or blended into a soup.
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
1 pound carrots, any color will work, in 1/2-inch half-moon pieces, rough dice also works*
1 Tbsp. butter or preferred fat*
1 Tbsp. avocado oil or preferred fat*
2 Tbsp. Dona Chai Masala Concentrate, or 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice.
3–4 cranks of fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place all ingredients on a rimmed baking sheet lined lined with parchment paper.*
Cook for 35–45 minutes until carrots are cooked through and have slightly brown edges. The butter will have a brown color and smell nutty.
Chef Carla Notes:
- You can cut the carrots how you like. To get half moons, slice the carrots in half and then cut them in 1/2-inch slices. If you have smaller carrots, you can also cut in half and have large carrots halves. These will take longer to roast.
- Fat is really up to you. Avocado oil has a really high smoke point. You can cook up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. By adding the butter, it lowers the smoke point a bit, but you get these amazing brown butter flavor. Play with the fats and see what works for you.
- I use parchment paper because I don’t want to clean up. You can cook directly on the cookie sheet too.
I can’t stop making this dressing!
Pro tip: Make this the day before because the chai is more pronounced the second day. If you want to learn more about dressing and how to prep greens, see my Insta worthy salad course.
Ingredients (yields serves 2-4)
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard or whole grain mustard
2–3 grinds freshly ground pepper
Add apple cider vinegar, Dona Chai, honey, and mustard to a medium bowl.
Drizzle olive oil into the vinegar mixture while whisking to create an emulsion (brings them together). Season with salt and pepper.
Store in a mason jar with a lid or glass-lock container. Dressing lasts up to one week in the fridge.
Chef Carla Notes:
- The difference between Dijon and whole grain mustard is texture. If you want a creamier dressing, use Dijon. If you want the crunchy texture from the mustard seeds, use whole grain.
- Depending on how much acid you like, or how vinegary you want your dressing to taste, you can add more or less olive oil. I love a really acidic dressing, so I use less olive oil. The traditional ratio is three parts olive oil to one part vinegar.
- This goes well with all salads, like kale or spinach, and with bitter greens, like radicchio, endive, or arugula. It’s also a great match for carrot and beet salads—the dressing’s tangy brightness wakes up the earthiness of the beets and plays off their sweetness. Cheeses like goat cheese and Parmesan also go well.
This is a perfect recipe for leftover roasted carrots. It’s a quick weeknight meal. Just add stock! You can add as little or as much stock as you like. I like to add toppings to my soups, like radishes herbs like dill, cilantro, and scallions and crunch, like pepitas or sunflower seeds.
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
1 pound roasted carrots with Dona Chai recipe, cooked
1–2.5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, depending on the consistency you like*
1/8 tsp. of salt taste before adding*
3–4 cranks of freshly ground pepper taste before adding*
In a blender or food processor, add the carrots and 1 cup of stock, and blend.
Add additional stock by 1/4 cup until you achieve the consistency you like.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Amy Rothstein
Amy Rothstein is an accidental entrepreneur. After moving to New York to pursue a degree in food science, she noticed that most coffee shops in the city were using box chai concentrates. This led her to start Dona Chai, one of the leading chai producers for coffee shops and home chai drinkers across the United States. We sat down with Amy to talk about her beginnings, what starting her business was like, and how to approach future growth.
Ashley D. Rodriguez: Tell us about your first experience with coffee that you can remember. Did you family make coffee at home? Did you ever spend time in cafés? Do you drink it?
Amy Rothstein: I always drank coffee—but growing up, it was as a substance (caffeine) rather than as a delicious, high-quality drink.
Five years ago, I moved to NYC for grad school in food studies at NYU. It was shortly after my move that I began exploring the many third-wave coffee shops of the city. I developed a love for unique and independently owned coffee shops. I began to take note of coffee roasters, local bakeries, and milk options. Soon after, I realized that these shops were completely lacking in options for high-quality and local chai concentrate. So, it was through this coffee exploration that I realized I needed to start my company.
Amy didn’t set out to start a chai company. While a student at NYU, she’d go to coffee shops and noticed that they were using cheap chai concentrate, so she saw a gap in the market.
Once I began peddling my chai, I truly began to taste coffee. Every barista I talked to (sampling chai or delivering to accounts) would offer me a coffee on the house. I loved it and would always accept, but could not drink that volume of caffeine—in a given day, I’d end up visiting up to 10 cafés. So, unintentionally, I began sampling/cupping different coffees. I’d accumulate a collection of cups in my car and discard the ones that I cared for less. This is how I learned the nuances of coffee and how much of a difference it makes to have a skilled roaster and an amazing barista.
ADR: What interested you about chai? When did you start making your own, and when did you realize you could start a business from it?
AR: I did it backwards. I had never made chai before. It wasn’t a family tradition or my drink obsession. Instead, I saw a gap in the market. I couldn’t believe that in NYC, the biggest city in the country, no one was making chai on a small or local scale. Instead, shops were using the boxed concentrate (often not made with real spices and heavily sweetened), not offering chai, or using teabags (veering from the Indian tradition—creating a quickly steeped, less strong latte).
I then decided that I needed to start a company. I began learning about chai—the history, the traditions, and recipes.
And throughout the process, I have become fascinated with spices for their versatility, growing conditions, and benefits. (More projects in the works!)
After Amy noticed the gap in the market, she began brainstorming, learning about chai and the traditions that surround it.
ADR: At the time you started conceptualizing Dona Chai, what were you doing? If you didn’t do Dona Chai, what would you be doing instead?
AR: I was in grad school at NYU for food studies. I wasn’t sure of my exact direction. I kind of jumped directly from undergrad to grad school—wanting to examine the food world a little more. Before grad school, I was in Boulder working on a nonprofit farm that worked with educating kids. I also had experience working as a server and a baker, so I was very eager to do something hands-on.
ADR: Talk about starting a business—what was that like? What were some of the most difficult aspects?
AR: Oh god—it was every emotional. It was very strange, empowering, and exciting in the idea phase. The ability to plan out a company and control every aspect was really creative and surreal.
Once I launched, I felt a fierce competitiveness and confidence in my product. And I got really reassuring feedback. The initial interactions I had with coffee-shop owners and baristas is still something I truly value.
It’s been really cool that we have been able to grow so rapidly (doubling our volume every year). But, this is the stressful part. We’re dealing with the problem of growth, sourcing new machinery, a new space, figuring out how to continually improve on all aspects (from sourcing ingredients to our process to our people and our customers). It’s enormously stressful and scary.
Starting a business is difficult, but Amy has been able to double her business every year she has been in operation.
ADR: What were some of your earliest successes? What kept you going?
AR: Hmm, just the initial and immediate positive feedback I got from customers and cafés. Even still, getting a compliment along the lines of, “Dona Chai is the best,” or seeing a café advertise “Dona Chai Latte” on their menu, is one of my greatest successes.
At this crazy stage in my business, it’s easy to feel jaded, but it’s a pretty cool accomplishment to realize that I created something that is living out there in the real world.
ADR: What’s your future like? What is the future of chai like? Do you think this is a business you’ll run forever?
AR: I have no idea! We just signed a five-year lease on our new warehouse space in Brooklyn, so I at least know we’ll be there brewing tea for five years. Really excited to see what this new space and location (and larger capacity) brings.
ADR: What have you learned about yourself starting a business? What advice do you have for folks thinking about starting their own thing?
AR: That I put too much pressure on myself. I want to do everything and I want it to be perfect—not realistic. My advice is to not be too hard on yourself. Be brave enough to attempt everything and find successes even in your failures.
Amy Rothstein, founder of Dona Chai
It was two years ago during graduate school at New York University that metro Detroit native Amy Rothstein began to notice a void in the Big Apple&rsquos food scene: chai tea.
&ldquoI realized that local food mattered, yet no company was producing a local and high-quality chai concentrate,&rdquo said Rothstein, who was enrolled in the food systems graduate program at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development .
After six months of planning, her company, Dona Chai , launched in March 2014.
According to the description accompanying the product, Dona Chai is Brooklyn's first chai tea concentrate. &ldquoOur tea is handcrafted in small batches using cold-pressed ginger, vanilla bean, freshly ground cinnamon, green cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns and organic black tea. The slow steeping process builds complexity of flavor and preserves the purity of our ingredients.
&ldquoThe result is a cup of bold and flavorful chai tea &ndash fresh, natural and Brooklyn-made.&rdquo
Rothstein said her Detroit roots provided great value during the planning of Dona Chai. She used bottles from a Michigan packaging company and sought advice from her father, Charles Rothstein, who runs a venture capital firm in Farmington Hills.
&ldquoHis guidance has been invaluable,&rdquo Rothstein said.
When Dona Chai launched, Rothstein was on her own. But soon after, her brother, Peter Rothstein, moved to New York City to join the team. Equipped with a business degree from Kalamazoo College, Peter now heads Dona Chai&rsquos finances and operations.
&ldquoI was finishing my last year on the tennis team when my sister started working on her business plan,&rdquo Peter Rothstein said. &ldquoWhile I always had a lot of confidence in my sister, I never expected it to take off as fast as it did.&rdquo
Today, Dona Chai is sold at about 55 New York City coffee shops and markets.
While moving to New York was never part of his post-graduation plan, Peter Rothstein said, it was obvious his sister needed help.
&ldquoShe&rsquos good with food and the creative part but not as good with finances and operations,&rdquo he joked. &ldquoShe's good with the left side of her brain, and I have the right side covered."
As director of operations, Peter is responsible for finances, bookkeeping and accounts receivable.
&ldquoI am also involved in production (lift heavy things) and recently helped us land a major distribution agreement with a leading natural foods distributor,&rdquo he said.
&ldquoNo two days are alike or ever go according to plan. This is as entrepreneurial as it could get. Both Amy and I do whatever needs to be done to keep the Dona Chai train rolling.&rdquo
Dona Chai&rsquos first big break arrived quickly during its launching day at a trade show in Manhattan. Two clients signed on that first day, Amy Rothstein said.
Although the growth has been fast for Dona Chai, it didn&rsquot arrive without difficulties.
There are &ldquononstop challenges when you run a business,&rdquo Amy Rothstein said. &ldquoLuckily, we haven&rsquot faced any disasters. I think the main challenge is figuring out startup details: How to find suppliers, what type of insurance is needed, how to gain accounts, et cetera.
&ldquoMy advice to future entrepreneurs is ask a lot of questions and make as many industry friends as possible.&rdquo
Peter Rothstein described the success simply &ndash it&rsquos a solid product.
&ldquoThe taste of Dona Chai is our top-selling feature,&rdquo he said. &ldquoServed with hot milk as a latte or chilled as a cold latte, the freshness of the ingredients is unmistakable.
&ldquoBars are even mixing it into craft cocktails, and food bloggers are sharing recipes using it in baked goods. It&rsquos a really remarkable product, all due to its amazing flavor.
&ldquoI would also say our look and our branding are really beautiful and help to set our product apart from other beverages.&rdquo
As for the future, Amy Rothstein said she&rsquod love to expand to Detroit. She grew up in West Bloomfield Township and completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan in 2011.
&ldquoI studied Spanish and environmental studies,&rdquo Amy said. &ldquoIt was through the environmental program that I realized I wanted to have a career in the food industry. I then spent a year in Boulder, Colo., where I farmed and cooked. In 2012, I moved to NYC&rdquo for graduate school.
Amy graduated in 2014, two months after Dona Chai had been launched.
&ldquoI&rsquod love for Dona Chai to be a widely recognized brand,&rdquo Amy said. &ldquoI want to remain Brooklyn-based, but I&rsquod love to have a production hub in Detroit and evolve into a Brooklyn- and Detroit-based brand.&rdquo
As for personal goals, she said it&rsquos hard to think even a few months down the road.
&ldquoI&rsquove learned that I love being an entrepreneur, and can&rsquot imagine doing anything else for a while,&rdquo Amy said.
Said brother Peter: &ldquoBecause our mission is to produce locally, once we have grown sufficiently in the New York area, we will establish other production facilities in other major metropolitan cities. When Amy started the business less than a year ago, she said we should first get 80 to 100 accounts and then look to expand geographically. At the time, 100 stores seemed like it would take forever to get to.
&ldquoWell, we are almost there. So a move to Detroit isn't that far off anymore.&rdquo