On a Sunday afternoon in July, the Kingfield Farmers Market bustles with people browsing the various offerings. Even as rain clouds loom overhead, one of the busiest tents belongs to Red Wolf Chai, founded by Mowafag Mohamed, Mohamed Yousif, and siblings Mayzer Abdusebur, Azhar Abdusebur, and Sumeya Abdusebur two years ago.
Through their tea business, they strive to introduce traditional and authentic chai tea to the Minneapolis community and also aim to make a positive impact on the city. The founders are from Sudan and the Oromia region in Ethiopia where chai tea is prevalent.
In an interview with Mohamed Yousif, he mentioned, “Essentially we all grew up on some form of chai. It’s really big for us in East Africa. We drink it every day. We watched our parents drink it every day.”
Yousif explained that he and his partners wanted to share their knowledge about chai because “what we’ve experienced here with chai is not that good. What people are used to drinking, whether it’s in a big chain coffee shop like Starbucks or an independent one, it’s not that good because even though it’s from an independent coffee shop, they use a syrup that’s made by some big factory. So we just wanted to introduce people to a new way of experiencing chai.”
Red Wolf Chai endeavors to establish a tradition of chai drinking in America where such a custom has not existed before. Yousif emphasized that the business wants to reach “everyone in a way” with its chai. Yousif described, “We have everyone from five-year-old kids to grown senior citizens who like all of our chai… There’s different types of chai drinkers, whether you grew up on it or you were introduced to it by Starbucks. And then there’s people who have never tried chai. There’s people who may have tried it once and they hated it because it was a bad experience and then there’s others who have been wanting to try it, either for health reasons, to leave coffee, or for the antioxidant effects.”
Yousif illustrated the ways Red Wolf Chai has been working to establish chai in Minneapolis. “Reframing and redefining what chai is in the minds of people, that’s number one. Introduce people to what we’re used to in our parts of the world, give people a healthier alternative for caffeine (chai and tea itself has a lot of antioxidants and really healthy properties)...
“There’s some cinnamon, some cardamom, and a range of other spices, but ultimately it’s in the brewing technique. A part of it is the spices, another part is the brewing technique, how long we let it marinate and simmer to let the flavors infuse into each other.”
Red Wolf Chai also seeks to positively impact the community that it serves. Yousif described how “a big part of what we do is community work, so every once and a while we’ll take some money and we’ll donate it to charities. That’s something we regularly do. So it’s a little bit about introducing people to chai, but also making a difference in our communities. Sometimes we’ll have high schoolers and middle schoolers that come, and we let them work in that environment in the farmers market so they can get communication skills and learn a little bit about businesses and how they operate.”
Red Wolf Chai not only creates positive change in Minneapolis, but also focuses on sharing the story of the founders, from their love of chai to their East African roots. Yousif emphasized, “We bring [our story] into how we talk to people, that hospitality we have with people, and even through the logo. The logo is a wolf that stretches through East Africa; that story of connecting different cultures. Even the wolf we’re highlighting: It’s a red wolf that’s specific to the Oromia region that’s endangered and we wanted to bring more awareness to it. But it also ties nicely to where we are in Minnesota and the Timberwolves.
“So it’s a story that connects both cultures which we feel embodies us as people.”
Starting a business has brought its own particular challenges, because although each of the founders had worked in businesses before, none of them had run their own business. Yousif added, “There’s a lot of learning, from simple things like how much we should order to more complex things like what’s our long-term strategy. So, there’s a lot of stuff that we’re learning as we’re doing. The other thing is juggling this and our day-to-day job. All of us have a day-to-day job so juggling the two projects has been difficult. Sometimes we’re making chai in our commercial kitchen space, we’re up until 2, 3, 4 a.m. making the chai, and then we’re up after four, five hours for our normal day jobs.”
COVID-19 luckily did not have as big of an impact on Red Wolf Chai when it was founded in 2021. The pandemic, in fact, motivated Yousif and his partners to begin the business. He explained, “A lot of us had a lot of time to think during COVID and it just made us want to start… a new project… We had a year or two of reflection during COVID when everything was shut and by year two-and-a-half of COVID, we were like ‘you know what, we want to start something.’ So it actually gave us the reflection we needed to kickstart us and try something new.”
Red Wolf Chai has garnered popularity throughout Minneapolis and the business has been successful since its inception. But the founders at the moment are content with continuing to share their chai through farmers markets, and emphasize that potentially opening a standalone restaurant is a long-term dream. Yousif stressed, “I’m more focused on our strategy of getting our chai mixture into coffee shops… The idea is that if we have our chai mixtures in a bunch of different coffee shops, then it’s more accessible for people… As opposed to having one central location that everyone has to go to, it’s more accessible for people.”
Find Red Wolf Chai on select Saturdays at the Mill City and Fulton Farmers Market, and select Sundays at Kingfield Farmers Market.
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