The summer of 2020 was an uncertain time as cities across Canada entered second lockdowns. Many sought comfort in hobbies or activities they might not have otherwise to cope with a changing and sometimes scary world. Some baked bread while others read books or took up knitting. For husband-and-wife duo Saad and Seher, this desire for distraction and comfort sparked an idea.
From their locked-down Toronto home, the couple launched a venture in July with the hopes that they might bring warmth to those in their community. Their new business, Cardamom & Co, centered around a simple, comforting activity: making traditional chai.
“We think chai is a very warm and comforting drink. And because of the pandemic, people were really stressed,” Seher says. “We were having a lot of conversations about mental health and isolation.”
Seher explains that many people, particularly those who aren’t South Asian, have never made chai the traditional way, which involves heating a combination of whole spices on the stovetop along with water, milk, and tea leaves. Instead, many Canadians reach for the prepackaged tea bags or concentrates sold in grocery stores.
Realizing this pleasant activity was unfamiliar to so many people, Seher and Saad decided to build a business around it. They packaged all the required spices in one box so people could make their own stovetop chai from scratch. Seher added a recipe card, cute packaging, and personalized handwritten notes.
“We turned it into a gift box that was like a full experience. And that process just happened organically,” she says.
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With so many people unable to see their loved ones in person, the chai kits offered a way to send warmth to those they missed—as a meaningful care package or gift set. With so much time connecting online, Seher was excited to offer a more heartfelt and tactile experience to connect people.
“It’s such a rare experience these days. Most people send gifts that are virtual gift cards,” she says. “So this is a unique, heartwarming and thoughtful gesture. And I think that really resonates with people and it makes them feel excited.”
“I still remember the first sale that we got,” Seher says. It was from a stranger who’d stumbled upon Cardamom & Co’s Instagram. “We were just so over the moon.”
As months went by, sales continued to grow. By the fall, Cardamom & Co was consistently selling out of product.
“We sold hundreds of chai kits in just a few months,” Seher says. “We had to close orders during the holidays. We just couldn’t believe that.”
When asked why the business has experienced such success, Seher stresses one factor: community. Though she and her husband work hard and make products they’re proud of, she emphasizes the business has succeeded largely because of support from others and word of mouth. Most of their sales can be attributed to people sharing Cardamom & Co’s Instagram posts or recommending the company after trying the kits themselves.
“There’s something special about that,” Seher says. “I always try to mention that because our success is very much thanks to other people lifting us up and giving us opportunities.”
Seher says that she never thought much about starting a business before the pandemic—Saad always had more of an entrepreneurial streak than she did. However, she loves the business she started alongside her husband, finding the work meaningful and fulfilling.
“It became a creative outlet to expend all this energy that I had from sitting at home and not seeing anyone,” she says.
Cardamom & Co is still run entirely by Seher and Saad. The couple makes a good team, balancing the work evenly between them. As a non-profit worker with a strong creative side, Seher loves handling the aesthetic and promotional aspects of the business. Her husband, an engineer by trade, deals more with logistics like sourcing ingredients.
Though their emphasis is still on cozy, homey gifts shared between friends and loved ones, Cardamom & Co has expanded and now offers wedding favours and staff appreciation gifts. In all, Seher is proud of building a business that connects people connected through a joyful, cozy activity.
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