Nashville's Chai Wallah helps formerly homeless women and refugees

Jun 19 2017
Posted by: Staff
Nashville's Chai Wallah helps formerly homeless women and refugees

By: Brinley Hineman

Following a fateful trip to India in 2012, newlyweds Tasha and Mark Lemley came home with a love for traditional Chai and an idea: to bring a piece of Indian culture to Nashville while pairing it with their desire to bring change to a local community.  

While in a market in Mumbai — a place Tasha describes as “beautiful and chaotic” — athe two were introduced to traditional Indian Chai. 

“That Chai… just cut through all the chaos,” Tasha said. She and Mark began their journey trying to recreate the magical drink from the Indian market. 

After reaching out to Indian friends and learning the secret behind traditional Chai, the wheels began to turn for Tasha. She is no stranger to social enterprises, street sales and breaking down barriers: she helped found The Contributor.  

“I thought, ‘In India, you have impoverished individuals selling Chai on the sidewalk, what if we do that in some capacity here in Nashville?’” 

Together, Tasha and Mark partnered to bring this vision to life in the form of their brainchild, Chai Wallah. Creating this business was a natural fit for the pair, as Mark has over a decade’s worth of experience in the coffee industry and Tasha has a burning desire to help marginalized groups. 

“I’m passionate about street sales and people interacting with each other that think they’re different (from) each other,” Tasha said. Chai Wallah employs formerly homeless women to bring their business to life. 

Creating Chai takes approximately 8 hours to make just one batch, and Tasha says the women are part of the whole process.

In an effort to further the good in the Nashville community, Chai Wallah has recently partnered with Sow Good, “an incubator for civic and social innovation,” according to director Mark Eatherly. The joint effort has founded Greenhorn, a project designed to aid refugees. The idea is to have refugees create the local foods that represent their cultural backgrounds and have those products sold to restaurants and cafes. The proceeds will fund a hospitality training program for the refugees. 

“The hospitality industry is in desperate need of qualified staff, and refugees need jobs when they arrive in Nashville,” Eatherly said. “Since it’s designed to be self-sustainable, the program can continue as long as the food keeps selling.”  

The first food item in development by Greenhorn is called Achaar, similar to a relish or chow-chow from South Asia. The Achaar is being created by Bhutaneese refugees currently in the Refugee Agricultural Program sponsored by the Nashville Food Project. The Achaar will be unveiled at the Tomato Art Festival in August.  


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