Roti & Chai’s Sandesh Rampersad on a quest to take street food to the world

The founder of Roti & Chai, Sandesh Rampersad. Picture: Supplied

The founder of Roti & Chai, Sandesh Rampersad. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 28, 2023


Sandesh Rampersad, an entrepreneur with a flair for the culinary arts, has made his mark as the brand originator and creator of Roti & Chai, an authentic South African street food concept.

Rampersad was unemployed and desperate to put food on the table for his two daughters. This is how the gourmet street food phenomenon was born.

We got to engage with him to delve deeper into the secrets behind his industry leadership and phenomenal success.

After opening his first store at Florida Road’s Florida Exchange in 2018, Rampersad has founded two more stores at Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World and another in uMhlanga.

He said Roti & Chai started from humble beginnings, with just the tastiest tandoori chicken, created in his grandmother’s kitchen, with his daughters and a dream.

“My daughters and I ventured into the food industry by default actually in 2015 as a means to make ends meet and put food on the table.

“I was working as a representative for a medical company, after having been recently divorced, and foreclosed on my home and business.

“I was grateful for a friend's dad who offered me a job in the interim. He was kind enough to allow me the liberty to carry on my part-time Roti & Chai mobile set-up during weekends,” Rampersad said.

Before the opening of the restaurant, Roti & Chai started as a food truck business in 2015, operating at markets in KwaZulu-Natal.

It garnered a cult following from day one.

Rampersad said the idea stemmed from reminiscing on the tastes of the food he grew up eating, particularly by his grandmother and mother.

“I tried recreating the nostalgia of those moments and hence, came up with the tandoori naan wrap. I love driving the food truck. Also, the buzz and energy of a market is what I enjoy, especially interacting with patrons.”

Born and raised in Durban, the founder of the business said he created all the recipes and food offerings which then had to be approved by his daughters.

Rampersad said they were always innovating and pushing boundaries with their recipes. He said he loves the creative freedom he enjoys especially in creating new dishes and then showing the world through his creative social media handles.

When it comes to the menu, each store has a slightly different offering due to the demographic and location. There is an express store, a fast-casual dining store and a fully seated restaurant concept.

Over the years, it increased its menu offering from wraps to street biryanis and tikka masalas to cater for the growing demand for a tandoori-based curry and biryani.

One of the Roti & Chai stores. Picture: Supplied

On the challenges of running a business, Rampersad said: “Escalating costs and load shedding have been an issue at our Florida Road branch. However, a small group of restaurants banded together and created a ‘We Love Florida Road’ initiative to empower all tenants and make the road attractive and relevant again.

“We have got Durban Tourism on board as well in our efforts to market the precinct internationally.”

As for the future of the brand, he said he wanted it to be available outside Durban and beyond South African borders.

“In 2015, I plotted the course of the brand to become the McDonald’s of Indian food, therefore I created a systems-based operation that does not need me in it.

“We plan to expand nationally. We have had many franchise offerings prior to Covid-19 internationally.

“Dubai may be an option for our first international store,” said Rampersad.