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Sometimes a cup of chai is all you need to bring people together.
For Khalida Brohi and David Barron, that’s exactly how their life together started.
Barron is from an Italian-American family in Los Angeles. Brohi is from a small village in a tribal community in Balochistan, Pakistan, a place where she says love marriages are not something people hear about often.
People are afraid of people they don’t know. And all they need to do is know them a little bit better.
When the two met and fell in love, they weren’t sure how their parents would respond, considering both families were from two completely different backgrounds. Brohi said her parents freaked out.
“The fear that we saw in our parents -- it really scared us because it wasn’t just about them. It was more of a global reaction that made sense to us finally,” she said. “People are afraid of people they don’t know. And all they need to do is know them a little bit better.”
A year later, both families agreed to meet. Because Brohi’s family couldn’t travel to the states and Barron’s mom couldn’t travel to Pakistan, the two families eventually connected in Venice, Italy, where Brohi, an activist and social entrepreneur, was invited for a speaking event.
They met in a little living room in an Italian Airbnb and were shocked at “finding each other human.” The families connected, on the third day of the trip, Brohi and Barron got engaged.
But how did all of this happen? It’s all thanks to Brohi’s mom who made many cups of chai that the families bonded over.
“It was then we realized the power of chai to connect people,” Barron said.
When they are able to touch and feel the stories from that country, they feel like they are more connected to it
Now they hope to bring that message to life with their tea lounge called The Chai Spot, where the couple hope people leave hate at the door. The couple opened the first location in Sedona, Arizona, in 2015 and the then a second location in New York City.
“It’s amazing watching people come into The Chai Spot. A lot of people come in with prejudices or apprehensions about what they’re coming into and we have an opportunity to change people’s perspectives,” Barron said, noting it’s been powerful to see someone's entire world vision change completely over a cup of tea.
The Chai Spot Experience
Upon entering, the colorful shop smells like a blend of spices used in traditional forms of chai.
Venture to the back and guests will find a large and cozy room designed to look like a home where guests can lounge with their friends comfortably around vibrant pillows, rugs, and curtains.
But don’t forget to take your shoes off!
The Chai Spot's menu features hot and iced chais that are inspired by traditional chais from Pakistan and India.
The Chai Spot’s cardamom chai is brewed with cardamom, black tea leaves, milk and sugar. It also introduced its own version of pink Kashmiri chai called The Butter Chai, which has a buttery texture.
The front of the colorful tea shop is filled with clothes, bowls, scarves and bags, some of which are made by Pakistani artisans. The proceeds from sale of products in the tea shop go back to the artisans who made them.
Moreover, 50% of the store’s proceeds are donated to women and children in Pakistan. Even with very little money, the Chai Spot has built two schools in Pakistan, one in Balochistan and one in Sindh. Proceeds are also given to women through grants that they can use to build entrepreneurial skills and even start their own business.
“I grew up in a very small poor community in Pakistan. One thing I learned from poverty was how it took very little to make a huge difference in our day,” Brohi said. Brohi is the founder of the Sughar Foundation USA, a nonprofit that helps tribal and rural women in Pakistan with leadership skills and opportunities. She is also dedicated to fighting honor killings in Pakistan and hopes to redefine the meaning of honor.
The couple said there are tons of cultures that are either not talked about or are made exotic in a stereotypical way. They hope The Chai Spot introduces a culture people can grow familiar with, something Barron likes to call a “peace-building initiative.”
“When they are able to touch and feel the stories from that country, they feel like they are more connected to it,” Brohi said. “We had to find a way to bring Pakistan to America.”