Brampton-based cafe Daniel’s Chai Bar opened a 1,236 square foot location at Vaughan Mills near Toronto, taking over a vacated Starbucks location for a proof of concept pop-up.
This is the second location for the quick service beverage concept, which opened its first store at Bramalea City Centre in late 2021 under the branding of ‘Daniel’s Chai Bar’. The founder’s former brand was called ‘T by Daniel’ and that was retired during the pandemic as a shift towards the new franchise model.
“Daniel’s Chai Bar Vaughan Mills is a unique conceptual blend of our classic delicious menu, experienced in a new, upscale environment,” said Founder Daniel Lewis.
“We felt that we could really offer our customers something special if they could experience the warmth of our humble tea shop beginnings in Downtown Brampton, where they were first introduced to drinks like: The Famous Lion Chai latte, The Frozen Arctic Lion or the Fudge Fantasy, but in a clean and minimalistic designed space that would make for some aesthetically pleasing photos and an overall cool and relaxed vibe.”
The Vaughan Mills location gave the team an opportunity to create a concept that could be rolled out into more coffee shops that closed during the pandemic.
“When I first walked into the former Starbucks space, I immediately could see what needed to be done to completely evaporate the warm, cozy atmosphere once enjoyed by Starbucks lovers (a title I shamelessly identify with myself). It also gave us the opportunity to create a design that would allow us to stand out as an in-line store that offers beverages in a section of the mall that is well-distanced from the food court.”
Design conclusions were made throughout the process, with Lewis providing the breakdown of the two major areas of focus.
“Lighter and Brighter. The only way we could dissolve the wooden oaks, dark browns and dim lighted cafe vibe of the former Starbucks, was to go fully white and very bright. We painted the entire space brilliant white and left the black tiles as a bold contrast to the now cloud-looking space and I had the counters custom built with shiny oak countertops tying our store theme of white, black & oak right into the space. The green plants and wall accessories added the warm and friendliness that we wanted to display so we didn’t end up looking like a hospital that sells tea and we decided that the taupe brown ceilings also gave a sense of warmth to the space that complimented the oak countertops and still made it feel like you were in a place that you could feel relaxed in and enjoy something tasty.”
“The second conclusion I came to in regards to the design was that we wanted to create space. Less bulky furniture and counter space and more islands and walkable areas. When I looked at the previous Starbucks counters, I noticed that it took up half of the floor space and the barista’s and staff were all locked inside with one flap door exit leading to the customer area. I imagined what it might be like if we opened up the entire counter space and made the front more like an island that staff can freely walk around and even bend down to welcome small children or engage in a more intimate conversation with customers. An open design like this would even be a strong statement to our core beliefs as a brand that always seeks to be transparent and open with what we do, how we do it and who we are. I really believe our design achieved this.Vaughan Mills provides an opportunity for Daniel’s Chai Bar as the business is set to take on the next level of expansion, transitioning into a franchisable concept.”
Franchising quick-service restaurant concepts in 2022 is increasingly popular, with expansions being announced daily with existing brands going into new markets and spaces. Lewis shared that the idea behind the pop-up was to see where the momentum could lead.
“The opportunity to open up in Vaughan Mills was really a confirmation to me that as a brand we are headed in the right direction. We are really starting to iron out a franchisable model that can be simple, minimalistic, attractive but at the same time energetic, delicious and fun bringing that sense of magic and entertainment to any space we occupy. We fit in, but we stand out and I think we really proved that with our concept and design at Vaughan Mills. Since December of 2021 Daniel’s Chai Bar has gone from one location in Bramalea City Centre to three additional locations (Vaughan Mills, Upper Canada Mall and Square One Pop-Up) in only 4 months, I think this is strong evidence that we have found a model that is simple, desirable and poised for healthy growth. All factors that will be important when offering our franchise opportunities in the near future.”
With hundreds of vacated Starbucks locations across the country and a changing of direction at the top, with Howard Schultz returning as interim CEO, the brand is in a reinvention mode. This gives brands like Daniel’s Chai Bar the opportunity to create community and culture during an expansion where many cafes currently sit empty.
“When I started Daniel’s Chai Bar, I made a post on Instagram announcing the launch of my new, reimagined tea bar concept and I asked my customers, friends, followers and really myself, “Can we build the next great Canadian company? Can we be what Tim Horton’s & Starbuck’s is for coffee? Or what McDonald’s is for fast food? I concluded that although these thoughts may seem like colossal dreams… Nobody ever achieved anything colossal without first daring to ask. Opening Daniel’s Chai Bar in a former Starbucks is another good reason for me to believe that it’s possible and I can.”