I was back in Seattle working on a chai startup, Chaitheory. The mission was clear -- create instant chai that was as good as mom's homemade stovetop chai. By summer 2019, I had the recipe locked down, packaging ready, website launched and a commercial kitchen lease ready to make 2.5k samples to validate the idea...but then I got an offer to join a startup in SF. The role was involved in sales and marketing, two areas I knew I needed to work on to give myself a better chance at starting any company. So, I decided to pause Chaitheory and focus my full time & energy on the startup.
February 2021 (17 months later)...
I'm laying in bed, it's 2am and I'm nostalgically scrolling through the old Chaitheory Instagram account. I couldn't help but smile as I looked through the posts. As I scrolled, the entire creative journey played back in my head from scavenging grocery stores for spices to learning how to design/print/assemble the chai packets. My eyes lit up that night. They've lit up like that before like when jamming on other side projects (or ordering 3-entree meal at Panda Express 🐼), but this felt different. There was a different attachment to Chaitheory that I couldn't put my finger on, but as I continued to scroll and reflect back, it became clear.
Bring in the identity crisis...
When I moved to Seattle, I was going through an identity-crisis. I felt myself becoming "less Indian" and felt both confused and guilty about it.
What I ate, listened to, watched, spoke and even the festivities I participated in were all "less Indian". Unlike L.A., I didn't have a village around me to help me stay connected to my culture through food, music, and conversation. I realized how much I depended on my family and community back home to keep the "Indian" part of my Indian-American identity standing.
While I made some of my best friends and memories in Seattle, I hardly had any Indian friends there, so the American side of my Indian-American identity started getting more attention. I 100% loved embracing the western culture I grew up with, but it also sucked to see a big part of my identity that I took pride in drift away. My identity was split. The fact that I could be too much of one way or the other left a polarizing effect. I truly just wanted to be both. The imbalance was confusing...
With chai came fusion...
When I was working on Chaitheory, my dual identities began to harmonize. Without realizing it, my daily chai routine kept me connected to my immigrant roots. It reminded me of home, family, India. My passion for crafting the perfect morning chai not only kept me grounded (and caffeinated), but extended into how I celebrated and shared my roots with my Seattle friends. I loved sharing the significance of chai in India, the purpose of each ingredient, different brewing methods, and even how I was merging my Indian-American identity into my own chai blends by including espresso. Chaitheory sparked a fusion between my two identities.
The sun is rising at this point...
I'm still laying in bed. The passion became clear. The adrenaline kicked in. The obsession took over. The laptop came out. The brainstorming started. While I really liked the Chaitheory idea, I challenged myself to think a bit bigger. I wanted to create a brand that helped first-generation Americans like me stay connected to and share their immigrant roots while embracing the cultural influences of growing up in America. I wanted to celebrate the fusion that came from that cultural confusion.
Buuuuuuuut I hadn't slept that night and couldn't tell if the serotonin was talking or me...so I let the idea brew a bit longer (like any good cup of chai ☕️).
Turns out it wasn't the serotonin. My passion and sense of purpose behind the idea only grew. I still wanted to build a brand inspired by my Indian-American experiences. The only thing that changed is that I decided not to start with chai (it started becoming a crowded market making it difficult to differentiate especially as the first product). I reflected back on other snacks & drinks I grew up with to see what fit well with the brand but also had a strong business case. Masala popcorn stuck out.
Growing up, no Bollywood movie night was complete without my dad’s masala popcorn. The combination of turmeric (haldi), kashmiri red chili (mirch) & salt was healthy yet addicting. Once I left home, I took his recipe with me but fused it with my Indian-American palette, one that was obsessed with truffle at the time. I literally was putting truffle in everything, but it eventually found it’s home in my dad’s masala popcorn. A few experiments later, I discovered the unconventional yet tasty fusion of black truffle & traditional Indian spices that made every movie night just that much better.
This was the fusion narrative I wanted to celebrate. Plus, ethnic flavors hadn't made a dent in the snacking isle yet, especially popcorn -- the business potential was also there. I started popping 🍿.
During a family trip to Yosemite, my sister (Hailey), brother-in-law (Gaurav), and sat near the base of El Capitan and started brainstorming names for the brand (while also talking about how crazy Alex Honnold was for free-soloing that slab of granite). Confusion was the winner. It captured my intent -- cultural fusion inspired by cultural confusion.
100+ recipes, cooking methods, taste tests, packaging designs and website iterations later, I'm excited to announce the official launch of Confusion with you all! The feeling is exhilarating 😍
This is the just start of my mission to build a brand that celebrates the cultural fusion of us first-generation Americans.
As I continue to embrace that fusion, I’m excited to share it with you through products inspired by my Indian-American identity. Whether they spark a memory of home or help you discover something new, I’m excited to share them in the most authentic way I know, with a pinch of confusion!
Now let's get popping!