As owner of Tipu's Tiger Restaurant in Missoula, Bipin Patel cooked, waited tables and washed dishes for 10 years. It was a tough job, but the task Patel dreaded most was balancing the books.
"There were a couple of years where we were hit really hard," he says. "That's when we started incurring pretty serious debt."
To help dig out of that debt, Patel sold his house in 2005. In 2007, he was relieved to find a buyer for the restaurant. Yet a pile of bills still lingers today.
"Unfortunately, I still have debt on the restaurant, which I'm trying to manage," Patel says. "That's the hard thing."
But Patel's prospects are beginning to brighten. When he sold Tipu's Tiger, he took with him his grandmother's chai recipe and began focusing solely on selling the aromatic beverage. Soon he spun the product into a stand-alone enterprise.
That business got a significant boost last year when the Frontier Angel Fund, comprised of a group of investors based out of Polson, backed expansion of Patel's fledgling operation with cash and marketing expertise.
Angel Fund coordinator Elizabeth Marchi says fund investors simply love Tipu's Chai and remain committed to growing Patel's business.
"We think with the expertise within our group and Bipin's coaching and desire to grow a world-class company that over time we'll see some great successes," Marchi says.
Patel already sees results. After hitting distributor trade shows in Canada and Mexico last summer, Patel's product is receiving rave reviews from international food and beverage connoisseurs. Between the second and third quarter of this year, Tipu's Chai sales doubled and Patel's product recently caught the eye of New York City-based gourmet food purveyor Dean & DeLuca, which is now selling Tipu's Chai at six of its 14 retail stores. In fact, Patel just returned this week from a trip to New York, where he handed out free chai samples at Dean & DeLuca in SoHo.
"We're actually seeing some real growth," Patel says. "I think by the spring we should probably double again in sales. We're on our way."