Combining flavors from her home with well-loved basics, Pooja Bavishi’s ice cream company and shop, Malai, transforms ice cream into a new type of dessert.
Stern alumna Bavishi began her company after graduating in 2015 and defines it on her website as a brand of luxury ice cream with Asian-inspired flavors. She opened her Carroll Gardens shop in Brooklyn at 268 Smith St. in March.
Malai is different from typical ice cream shops because Bavishi incorporates her Indian heritage into every flavor. Examples include Masala Chai, Orange Fennel and Carrot Halwa. Bavishi credits her inspiration for this unique spread to her background.
“My parents immigrated here from Western India, and a lot of the flavors that I grew up with weren’t really represented in the mainstream market,” Bavishi said. “I also noticed that ice cream had not really reached a luxury scale the way that other common desserts have. I saw a gap in that market and I was excited to showcase these flavors.”
During her last year at Stern, Bavishi initially found herself stuck. She wasn’t passionate about the jobs during on-campus recruitment and sat down to talk with one of her professors.
“He kind of took a step back and he was like ‘Tell me what you want to do. Do you want to be in marketing, do you want to be in strategy, do you want to be in finance, what do you want to do?’” Bavishi recalled. “And I said, ‘I want to do it all.’”
What gave her the final push to start a business was when she hosted a Friendsgiving while still in her masters program at NYU and made Indian-inspired ice cream for dessert. It was a hit.
For Bavishi, one of the most rewarding aspects of opening Malai is rooted not only in the way her food connects strangers, but also in the emotions her one-of-a-kind flavors evoke when first sampled.
“What’s really cool about food, in general, is that it really connects in a way that other things don’t,” Bavishi said. “We often get that from many of our flavors.”
Romy Raad, a customer at Malai, was enjoying a rose cinnamon and sweet milk cone while sitting down at one of the wooden benches inside the store. Raad lives in Brooklyn and she says that Malai is the perfect walking distance for a sweet treat.
“Pooja is actually a close friend of mine,” Raad said. “It’s so amazing to see all her hard work come together here as a storefront.”
According to Bavishi, the most popular flavor is the rose cinnamon roasted almond. She says that her favorite part of being in the food industry is being able to surprise her customers with unique flavors.
“Combining her culture with an economic ambition to create a unique flavor of ice cream is really inspiring because it shows that anything can be achieved if you set your mind to it,” Stern first-year Emma Lin said. “It gives me encouragement to pursue my interests so that I can share my passion with others, just like Malai is doing.”
With success, challenges are inevitable. Bavishi emphasizes how with any business, goals are going to be constantly changing, as are the ways to achieve them.
“I wasn’t in any kind of culinary field when I started this business, so the learning curve is super steep and it doesn’t shallow out,” Bavashi said. “You do have to learn things and you have to surround yourself with people who know a certain field or area that can help you out.”
A version of this article appears in the Monday, April 15, 2019, print edition. Email Bella Gil at [email protected]