"I always knew I would do tea," Waris tells Fast Company. And he finally got the chance when he issued the House of Waris Design Challenge—the winner of which was Swiss architect, Christian Wassmann—and then took over a temporary pop-up space under the New York City High Line and created the House of Waris Tea Room. It serves Darjeeling tea, biscuits from England, and of course hosts Playboy parties. As for the tea itself? "I brought to market a product in three weeks," says Waris, implying just how entrepreneurial the actor really is.
"I want to create an experience," Waris says. "I like the pause that tea allows. I primarily live in New York City, a place that is about constants, not letting up and not stopping. So with the tea room, we've created an oasis." Ahluwalia's House of Waris brand is all-encompassing—it personifies a love of history and romanticism, which is apparent not only in his jewelry designs that come from India and Italy, but also in his approach to tea and the tea room.
"When you're here, you're not a customer—you're a guest. It's this idea of service."
"I don't drink coffee," he says. "And it's not about products or business. My inspiration is love and history."
For Ahluwalia, tea conjures up images of sitting in a garden and eating biscuits, which, essentially, is what the House of Waris Tea Room is. On offer are silver needle, Masala Chai, Assam teas, and of course Darjeeling—and all are from India.
Back in August, I authored a series on tea entrepreneurs, with the premise that tea has become a new status symbol, much like wineries and museums once were. The Violent Femmes bassist, for example, now has his own tea room in Tasmania, where he serenades crowds with Japanese bamboo flute; likewise, Hong Kong finance and private equity entrepreneur, Nicholas Tung, is re-branding tea into a modern, sexy experience and Taiwanese real estate entrepreneur, Vincent Chen, imported 1,500 seedlings of Oolong tea from Taiwan and started Zealong, New Zealand's very first tea garden. Then of course there's Donald Trump's new "Trump Teas." Tea is a product and experience that eludes class and sophistication and is ever malleable to new situations, while always echoing a romantic part of history.
Like many niche artisans and entrepreneurs, knowing where his products come from is of the utmost importance to Ahluwalia. "I know who makes everything," he says, referring to his product lines.
"I also know where my eggs, fruits, and shoes come from. I'm not opposed to consumption—just blind consumption."
Last night Ahluwalia and Playboy threw a party at the tea room, where HBO star, Paz de la Huerta, did a dramatic reading of Madame Bovary. And soon Eric Anderson, who created much of the artwork in his brother's movies, will grace the tea room with his first public show.
"This is sort of our lab," says Ahluwalia, on what the future holds for the House of Waris Tea Room. "We're gonna go back to the drawing board."
Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.
[Top image credit: Norman Jean Roy]