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#BDM: Daniel’s Chai Bar founder on his mission to become a ‘poster child’ for young entrepreneurs in Brampton

Daniel’s Chai Bar, formerly known as T By Daniel, is home to the brand’s famous Lion Chai tea and now has a thriving location at Vaughan Mills.

#BDM: Daniel’s Chai Bar founder on his mission to become a ‘poster child’ for young entrepreneurs in Brampton
Daniel's Chai Bar owner Daniel Lewis, who was recently named chair-elect of the Brampton Board of Trade, is finding success with his rebranded tea business. Now, he's using his experience to mentor youth and encourage content creators in Brampton and beyond. PHOTO submitted by Daniel Lewis.

It’s hard to catch Daniel Lewis without a smile on his face. His enthusiasm is matched only by his ambition to build one of Canada’s most successful hot beverage businesses.

Daniel’s Chai Bar, formerly known as T By Daniel, is home to the brand’s famous Lion Chai tea, which the co-founder once served to King Charles III — but more on that later.

These days, his beverage bar can be found at Vaughan Mills in Vaughan, Ont. He will soon close pop-up locations at Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket and Bramalea City Centre in Brampton, after testing the waters with multiple locations in the York and Peel regions.

For Lewis, it’s been a long road to get here. His journey, paved with trials and tribulations, took the award-winning entrepreneur from high school dropout — dropping mixtapes in the streets — to the Brampton Board of Trade chair-elect, brewing and serving lattes fit for a future king.

“I think it’s key to have a servant mentality in leadership, which I believe to possess,” Lewis told Black Dollar Magazine (BDM). “I’m always looking to be an effective leader who knows how to make the right decisions, and I’ve really learned how to lead by serving. I do my best to get out there.”

Lewis has transformed his life over the last 11 years, moving from a gang life on the streets to a successful business career. Now, he’s looking to impact people’s lives positively through entrepreneurship.

Humble beginnings and trying times

Lewis knows the struggles that youth face. The appeal toward the streets can get anyone caught up. But unfortunately, the content of his music subjected him to scrutiny. In 2009, Lewis was nearly fatally stabbed.

He survived the incident and used this situation to turn his life around. He quit drinking and smoking and developed a love of tea. Its health benefits and flavours enticed him to learn about teas from different regions and cultures.

In 2011, nearly two years after the stabbing, he started T By Daniel.

Inspired by the David’s Tea concept, he launched an online tea business and marketed himself on social media with quirky YouTube videos and clever ad spots. Over the years, he appeared at many trade shows, including ones with the Brampton Board of Trade, sporting events like the ESPYs, and neighbourhood draws like farmers markets.

At one of those events, he served tea to then-Prince Charles and Camilla, former Duchess of Cornwall, during the royals’ 2017 tour to Canada to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary.

Daniel Lewis, left, with the now-King Charles III during a royal encounter on the then-Prince's royal tour to Canada to celebrate its 150th anniversary. PHOTO by Daniel Lewis.

In 2018, the brand shifted from online only to a brick-and-mortar location at Bramalea City Centre in Brampton. However, after a year, Lewis and his wife, Renata, a co-founder of the business, decided to step back after the birth of their second child.

Then COVID-19 came.

The trade shows dried up once COVID hit. Safety measures and lockdowns closed conference centres and hotel meeting rooms across the GTA and elsewhere around the province.

Stopping the spread became a priority for many Canadians, and businesses struggled with decisions made as a result.

“COVID, just like with every business, came and annihilated business for us. One of the biggest things it did was wipe out our supply chain,” Lewis told BDM. “We were getting a lot of teas from Sri Lanka, Kenya, China and Japan, and sourcing teas from those areas became really difficult.”

The entrepreneur started hosting virtual tea tastings, but he said it wasn’t enough. “I couldn’t ship the products easily because Canada Post was going through it at the time.”

So he went back to the drawing board. He took a pause to work on his professional development and “started reimagining what a tea company could look like in a post-pandemic scenario.”

Dedicated, Lewis focused on coming back stronger.

He went back to high school and got his diploma. Soon after, he enrolled in online university courses at Copenhagen University and Penn State in leadership, operations management and supply chain management to learn how he could do business better upon rebranding his concept.

He also landed a role at Shopify as a content creator, and learned more about e-commerce tactics and strategies. Today, he does private marketing consultations with small- to medium-sized businesses.

“It's important that even in the success, and while growing a business, you find times where you kind of sit back and reflect: ‘What's going to make us last 10 more years or 20 more years?’ And that was that time for me. It was about looking at our business. How we operated, got exposed,” he said.

At the Chai Bar, business is booming. By keeping away from the food court, which he relied on during his first run with T by Daniel, he’s been able to capitalize on high-end traffic in the dense shopping areas of three GTA malls.

“One of our stores is amazing, and I think I found my model,” he said. “The goal is not to operate the stores; the goal is to franchise. I’m focusing on building the franchise system, and in doing that, I need to keep focusing on what’s working.”

Lewis said he plans to complete his franchise program for Daniel’s Chai Bar in early 2023.

A Daniel's Chai Bar store located in Vaughan Mills shopping mall in Vaughan, Ont. PHOTO by Jordan Maxwell

Chai Bar owner bringing ‘P.O.P’ to Brampton’s youth

Lewis credited the power of personality (POP) with being the key to business — and vital to his success. Bringing the energy to attract customers or investors, whether a pitch, sales call or front counter, can go a long way, he added.

Now, the chair-elect of the Brampton Board of Trade wants to bring that POP to his new role in governance, unlock the potential of Brampton’s youth, and make the city more competitive in the region.

“My vision is really to, and this may sound cliché, but to put Brampton in a better light,” Lewis told BDM in an interview. “I said from the jump when joining the board, that I think the narrative of Brampton holds brands and their potential back. I’d love to be a part of changing the narrative.”

While some entrepreneurs view the Chamber of Commerce as more focused on major companies and organizations, Lewis said, he wants young businessowners to feel as though they can make the same connections he did when he was selling tea at Brampton Board of Trade events.

“There's so much talent and potential, but I don't think we're really involved enough. And so, I'm hoping to be a poster child for that.”