Local chai vendor exceeds own expectations of success


Hayden Bailey

Colin Wiseman, founder of Chai For, prepares a drink at West Asheville Tailgate Market.

Hayden Bailey, [email protected], Arts and Features Writer

Grad school moved Colin Wiseman to New York City where cafés became a frequent meeting spot for him. His no-coffee drinking self tried chai for the first time, sending him on a journey through the history of the drink. 

To Wiseman, $2,500 presented itself a small enough risk to take, either landing him as a successful small business owner or leaving him with the satisfaction of knowing he tried. 

“I was envisioning just being in one farmers market every other week, end of story,” Wiseman said. 

Since the startup of his business in April, affectionately named Chai For, things have exponentially grown for this chai lover. 

“I am now in three farmers markets every single week and I have an online store where I’ve sold to 13 different states and abroad,” Wiseman said. 

The success doesn’t stop here. Wiseman creates a DIY chai kit for his customers to purchase so they can enjoy his hand-crafted chai from their own kitchens.

“That DIY chai is now sold in three, soon to be four, stores around Asheville. I have also started to form partnerships with local cafes so that my chai will be the chai that is on the menu,” he said. 

Just this week Gospel Ice Cream, one of his partnerships, released a chai flavored ice cream sourced from Wiseman’s chai. There are a few other exciting partnerships in the future for Chai For.

“I’ve formed partnerships with Edible Asheville and Taste of Charlotte, which is going to be a massive 120,000-person event,” Wiseman said. 

According to Wiseman, this is a charity event raising awareness for breast cancer. They want Chai For as their featured vendor, giving people their morning beverage as they raise money for the cause.

“In the next year, I want to expand the DIY product to more stores around Asheville and I would like to enter the Charlotte Market. I have specific relationships with New York, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay so I’m trying to expand into some of those markets,” Wiseman said. 

In the next 18 months Wiseman said he’d love to open a storefront. Currently, Chai For remains a leading vendor at markets around Asheville.

“I would love to open a brick and mortar. It doesn’t have to be a big one but I’m looking into that,” he said. 

A typical market day for the founder of Chai For starts with him picking up his product from his commissary kitchen and then returning to his home where he stores his stands, tents and products. At the market, his setup takes around 30 minutes. 

“Once I’m here I just get to hang out and talk to people and tell people about really delicious chai. Honestly, something that is part of every single market and almost every interaction is that moment where I’m doing exactly what I said I wanted to do,” Wiseman said. 

His ultimate goal lies in bringing people to a better understanding of what actually embodies a cup of chai, beyond just a sugary drink. 

“When people try the chai, there is just this moment on people’s faces where you can see they’ve just tasted something brand new and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do,” Wiseman said. 

Behind the scenes, Wiseman puts in a lot of work, making sure his business runs efficiently.

“I put meticulous care into making sure when I’m brewing, I’m honoring the tradition of chai brewing,” Wiseman said. 

This looks like the opposite of simply throwing all of the ingredients in a pot, getting them hot and selling them. There’s an art to the entire process, allowing Wiseman to produce the unique flavors in his chai. 

“In order to do this, I have to brew a small batch. It is a very meticulous, detail-oriented process. I do that because I believe that it distinguishes chai and achieves that flavor one might experience if you were to get chai from a chaiwala in India,” he said. 

Chai For gets its name from Wiseman’s desire to enlighten and arouse curiosity in his customers to learn what chai really means with the idea of “Chai For is For You”. 

“It’s that moment. That moment where someone sips on their chai,” Wiseman said. 

A few different missions color Chai For and what Wiseman seeks to accomplish. As a white man, making a traditional Indian drink, there are steps he desires to take. 

“There are things I need to know how to talk about and certainly honor, kind of put my money where my mouth is on some of those things,” he said. 

Wiseman said he exclusively buys his ingredients through Indian-owned companies, and only buys tea from the Ethical Tea Partnership, an international non-profit organization which seeks to protect women and children from being abused in the process of harvesting tea. 

“I recently formed a partnership with Radha Indian Grocers and I exclusively get my spices through them,” he said. 

The second part of the mission behind Chai For brings protecting the environment to the surface, something Wiseman said he’s been committed to from the very beginning. 

“I want to prove that you can be a small business and still do your absolute best to take care of the environment. I actually pay extra money to use recyclable cups and in my shipping process, I use  compostable packaging,” he said. 

Inside of his kitchen Wiseman upholds strict rules like not leaving water running even though  he will be back to the sink in a few seconds. He also uses all plant-based milks, only occasionally using cows’ milk. 

“I actually upcharge for the cows’ milk rather than the plant-based milk; I do the opposite of what you see inside cafes,” he said. 

Vinny Bonanno, Executive Director of the West Asheville Tailgate Market, sings nothing but praise for the founder of Chai For. 

“A piece I feel is a connection is that he built his own booth, drilling it together every market. It’s gorgeous and made of wood, not plastic. It’s the little touches that feel like lots of care has gone into the business and the product,” Bonanno said. 

He recommends Chai For to others, all the time he said. 

“He has been the founder and the face of his business. It shows a lot that he’s representing his product,” Bonanno said. 

As the director of a market, Bonanno said value-added products, ready to consume, present themselves as something sought after and Wiseman  brings that to the table with Chai For. 

“He knows about every ingredient in his product, he knows where it comes from and he is an advocate for other local businesses where he is sourcing his products. He’s very transparent in his mission,” the director said. 

Shane Sullivan, an Apartment Life Coordinator at the District Apartments in Asheville recounts his experience with Chai For during its startup in April. 

“Colin saw the events we were doing at the District, reached out to us and wanted to partner with us. His very first event was with us,” Sullivan said. 

Shane and his wife, Amy Sullivan, were serving muffins while Wiseman  gathered an audience with his chai that tasted different than what most people were used to. 

“He was super easy to talk to and he’s pretty sincere. He is a creative, curious guy,” Shane Sullivan said.

Shane names Wiseman as a creator but also an entrepreneur. 

“I think he has found a niche,” Sullivan said. 

Amy Sullivan, also an Apartment Life Coordinator, said Wiseman’s passion causes him to stand out. 

“Even ordering something, I was getting an education. Sometimes you go for what tastes good but he tells you the why behind it,” Amy said.