Sure, turmeric chai will be served over in Logan Square when Chiya Chai opens next month. But these teas aren't a passing fad for the Nepalese family who will run the restaurant. Sisters-in-law Rajee Aryal and Nadine Schafer have experience that comes from Nepal where their family runs a tea company and will supply their leaves. Chiya Chai, which pledges to lean on sustainable ingredients, plans on opening on June 7 at 2770 N. Milwaukee Ave.
"Rather then just treating this as a trendy, exotic thing, this is where we have knowledge and expertise," co-owner Rajee Aryal said. "We know what we're doing here...this is what we grew up drinking."
I think now the scene has completely changed and people are more conscious of what they eat and what they drink. They don’t want boxed chai, they are looking for better options.
Chai will take centerstage at Chiya Chai. "Chiya" means chai in Nepalese, and Aryal said she liked the alliteration. They'll brew 15 different types of chai. That includes a version of the infamous turmeric blend Westerners are only now getting excited about. But what's more exciting is a signature masala chai and accessible varieties like vanilla-nutmeg. They'll grind and process the spices in-house, making fresh tea with flavors that can't be matched by a mix that comes out of a box. They'll also sell loose leaves for home use.
The family runs a restaurant, Namaste Cafe, up in Minneapolis, which opened in 2006. The Chicago restaurant will be different, perhaps more fun, Aryal said. Schafer said she wants to be part of the Logan Square community and while they're waiting to open they've sold tea at the neighborhood farmer's market. Namaste Cafe is popular among the vegan crowd, and similar options will be available in Chicago.
The family tea company, Himalayan Island, started in 1994, Aryal said. They exported tea to Germany, Italy and Japan. Schafer's husband eventually arrived in Texas to bring the business to America. Work eventually brought them to Minnesota before Aryal moved in 2010 to Chicago to earn her MFA in painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Chicago has a few Nepalese restaurants, including Cumin and Chicago Curry House. Often, the cuisine gets swallowed up in other South Indian offerings, lumped in with Indian and Pakistani food. The Chinese influence in Nepalese food sets it apart, especially with momos, the dumplings which could pass for dim sum. Chiya Chai will serve a variety of dumplings, plus curry chips, savory pies and offerings made with bison. They'll also offer some sandwiches with cold-salad fillings and even a curry sausage. Weekend brunch with paratha wraps with eggs are also in the works. Aryal vows they won't dumb it down when it comes to heat, but those into milder flavors will have plenty of options.
They'll serve alcohol at Chiya, mixing some tea cocktails they serve in Minnesota. There's the Chai Butterfly, which combines chai with Bailey's Irish Cream and Kahlua. There's also a riff on the Long Island Iced Tea. The Himalayan Iced Tea mixes black tea with triple sec and rum. They'll also have local canned and bottled beer. Meanwhile, Schafer is excited about her wine list.
The space takes up about 1,600 square feet, and there's seating for about 100, with plans for another dozen on the sidewalk. The front room will be counter service, but there's also a back room that will have wait staff after 5 p.m. Aryal says they'll offer different dishes in the future special for the back.
Aryal said she wants to start a "chai revolution" in Logan Square, and hopes the concept is scalable. Schafer sees parallels between tea with hip coffee roasters, like Bow Truss and Intelligentsia. Does this mean in 10 years that hipsters with long beards and flannel will pour fresh chai?
"Maybe in a year," Aryal joked. "We'd want it to happen faster."