I don’t remember a time when I did not have a deep relationship with my cultural connection to food. I was always so curious in the kitchen, wondering how my parents knew which flavors would work well together, and how they made it look seamless. I wanted to learn how to make the perfect cup of chai, how to fold in a Diwali ghughra, or how to roll rotis so they would be round. I also made the connection very early on that food that is made with love makes people happy.
I started experimenting with desserts at a very young age and loved everything about it. I loved baking, and reading about recipes, and challenging myself. But I never really knew how to turn that into a business until the day that I infused familiar Indian spices into an ice cream base. I can still recall the very moment that I discovered that the same South Asian spices of my childhood – ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and saffron – could be used to robustly flavor ice creams in a way that I never tasted before. That was the product I was waiting for because it completely encompassed who I was – a first-generation Indian American preserving tradition that my parents experienced while balancing my own childhood flavor memories in the States. I wanted the product to showcase Indian spices in the most beautiful and elevated way, so I made sure that I was crafting flavors with premium spices and local dairy and that each told a unique story.
In 2015, I launched Malai and called upon a lifetime of inspiration from South Asian ingredients. From the very start, I knew that ingredients were the foundation of this business. I carefully chose spice purveyors who ethically sourced premium spices that would represent a culture and deliver authentic flavor. I thoughtfully chose to not include eggs in our ice cream base. My parents are Gujarati Jains, whose sizable population often holds a vegetarian diet, but does not eat eggs – much of my family falling within that category. I did not want to pull from my culture and traditions to create these delicious flavors, and then make my products inaccessible to them; I’ve made the commitment that everything that comes out of the Malai kitchen – ice cream, cakes, toppings, cookies, or any other treat – is eggless. From a flavor perspective, removing eggs allows every subtle spice and ingredient to pop even more and express complex flavors that would otherwise be hidden by the taste of eggs.
Because these flavors were new to the market, I focused on the slow, intentional growth of my business. I started out by taking a chest freezer filled with my creations to street fairs across New York City. I would offer to do taste tests of my products in exchange for filling out surveys so I could collect as much information about my customers as possible. Slowly, I grew the business to include a retail presence in grocery stores, as well as an e-commerce line. Finally, in March of 2019, my very first storefront opened. This incremental growth allowed me to keep focusing on the product to ensure that it was maintaining its integrity and continued to tell a story. It also allowed us to establish the ethos of the brand and the brand values so that our customers always knew what we represented.
Malai represents my experiences as an Indian American woman. Malai tells my story. Each flavor and each ingredient are a piece of who I am. As I grow and expand the business, I always check in to ensure that I am still continuing to honor the culture and traditions of my childhood, but also the magic that I felt in the kitchen at that young age. Desserts bring people joy, and I am grateful to be in the business of delivering happiness each and every day.
Malai is a Brooklyn-based ice cream company that draws inspiration from South Asian-inspired whole ingredients and unexpected twists on classics. Our eggless ice cream has purer, more robust flavors, as well as the lightest, creamiest textures you can find. Malai was founded by Pooja Bavishi in 2015 as an homage to the nostalgic, aromatic spices and flavors of her childhood. Malai ice cream is available at our Brooklyn scoop shop, for nationwide shipping, and in select grocery stores.
Pooja Bavishi is the Founder and CEO of Malai, an artisanal ice cream company with flavors inspired by nostalgic, aromatic spices and South Asian ingredients, based in Brooklyn, New York. Pooja continues to craft all of Malai’s flavors and distributes them through various channels, including a storefront in Brooklyn, selling pints nationwide in grocery stores, and online. She has claimed the title of “champion” after winning a battle on Food Network’s Chopped Sweets in March of 2020. Pooja holds a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill, an M.S. from the London School of Economics, and an M.B.A. from NYU. She is a 2018 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow, was named one of Inc. Magazine Female Founders 100 in October of 2020, and is a board member of the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship at UNC.