Brook Eddy is America's own 21st-century master chai wallah (Hindi for chai merchant). She founded Bhakti Chai, a B Corp with projected 2018 revenue of $7 million, whose cold-drink product can be found on Whole Foods, Costco, and Target shelves across the U.S..
In 2002, after listening to an NPR story on Swadhyay, a social change movement originating in India, Eddy packed her bags for South Asia. "Swadhyay seemed like this really cool movement that 20 million people were practicing but no one had heard of," says Eddy, who has a master's in social policy. "At the time, I was asking myself questions like, how can we make our nonprofits stronger? Can we make businesses more like nonprofits?"
Her research brought her to villages across Western India, where she quickly fell in love with the flavors and aromas of the country's favored drink: chai. She soon became an aficionado, able to distinguish one varietal from another, noticing no two cups were the same.
Back home in Boulder, Colorado, she formulated an original chai brew when she was unable to find an authentic version at her local cafés. In 2007, she began selling mason jars of her one-of-a-kind infusion out of the back of her car and soon gained a following, often coming home to find $10 bills on her kitchen counter from friends and family for the missing jars in her fridge.
"I realized the recipe I had crafted for myself, a fiery fresh ginger chai, could be produced for cafés and retailers to bring people not only 'India in a cup,' but build a mission-driven company on the tenants of bhakti," she says, using a Sanskrit term that means devotion. An entrepreneurial journey had begun.
She was in a good spot for it. Boulder has long been an incubator for natural foods and is home to Pinnacle Foods, a $3 billion public company whose nationally recognized brands include Evol, Udi's Gluten Free, and Glutino.
Since launch, she's raised a total of $10 million through angel investors and private equity firms. In 2011, Eddy launched the ready-to-drink cold box sets, which helped secure national distribution. Now, 26 employees brew, package, and market chai concentrates, which are natural, organic, and fair trade. All the ingredients come from outside the U.S., including her "special sauce"-- 300,000 pounds of organic ginger delivered annually from Peru.
And in 2015, in keeping with the company's original mission, Bhakti Chai launched a social-change initiative called GITA (Give, Inspire, Take Action) to award financial grants to causes that range from feeding the homeless to providing access to clean water. To date, the company has given away $500,000.
India continues to be Eddy's muse and she returns frequently for fresh ideas. "I'm a white girl born of hippie parents in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and then raised in Michigan, right? I shouldn't really have this pulse for India, but I do. I love the chaos and vibrancy. Every time I come I'm introduced to something new. It's just real."
It's early February and we're in the majestic state of Rajasthan, India, attending the annual Jaipur Literary Festival, the largest gathering of its kind, to listen to Amy Tan, Tom Stoppard, Pico Iyer, and hundreds of other writers discuss subjects as varied as nationalism in India, politics in Afghanistan, and the creative process in poetry. With a little pluck and endurance, it's easy to get inspired here, and this festival is clearly getting Eddy in the mood. She's cultivating the characteristics that Ron Rentel, author of Karma Queens, Geek Gods and Innerpreneurs, says define an innerpreneur: a high need for achievement, a keen sense of independence, and an obsession for risk taking.
"I think the inspiration piece is getting out of the Boulder bubble then going back and feeling more energized for my company," Eddy explains. This time she's looking for ideas to transition from a drink line to a lifestyle brand. What's the Boulder bubble? It's eating healthy, lots of yoga, meditation, all in an environment where everyone you know has run a marathon or is training for one. And don't forget the legal pot. Bhakti Chai fits right in, with over $35 million in total revenue since inception, and is part of a swelling industry valued at $3.7 trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute. Healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss make up $277 billion alone.
Expansion won't be without its risks, though. Reaching more customers means becoming a serious competitor in the beverage space with a national marketing campaign, more products, and a plan for international development. "We still have to be very cautious around growth," she says.
Turning Indian spices into conscious dollars, Eddy has become a principal translator in this industry. "I want customers to say, 'Whatever Bhakti does it's amazing because I trust them. It's going to have soul,'" she says. "So maybe someday it's sauces or chutneys or snacks or food or a brick-and-mortar concept. And maybe the pulse and the vibration of India will come through somehow. I want that to be the legacy."