Crème de la (Ice) Crème

Pooja Bavishi combines her business school acumen with a love of desserts and a passion for flavors and fragrances to create one of the most popular ice cream brands in Brooklyn.

Photo by Sasha Turrentine

For Pooja Bavishi, entrepreneurship runs in the family. Her father is an independent businessman in the textile industry, and her mother has worked alongside him for as long as Bavishi can remember. Making the the jump from undergrad studies in North Carolina, to fair housing and social enterprise work in DC, to business school in Manhattan, to making and selling ice cream in Brooklyn may not be a small feat—but Bavishi is pulling it off.

Describing Malai, her gourmet small-batch ice cream brand, just as original—or delicious—would be an understatement: her flavor profiles are transcendent. Rose with cinnamon and toasted almonds, sweet milk (described as “condensed milk in ice cream form”), golden turmeric and ginger, masala chai, and smoky palm sugar with tamarind caramel are just a few of those flavors, inspired by the aromatic Indian ingredients of her childhood. In less than three years, Bavishi has taken her passion and made it into a smashing success in the artisanal epicenter of Brooklyn.

It’s prime time, too: the high-end dessert market has exploded over the last few years. “We think of ice cream as kid-friendly and something you grab on a Sunday afternoon,” says Bavishi. “Malai is those things, but also has something a little bit more special about it.”

Now in her third year of producing Malai ice cream—yes, she still makes it herself, in shared kitchen space at Brooklyn Foodworks—Bavishi also wears other hats. She is in charge of the company’s marketing and social media, though she hopes to hire other passionate people to take on those roles in the near future. It’s clear from the rapid growth, voluminous press coverage, and popularity of Malai that there could be bigger things to come, and Bavishi knows that.

“I have an operations manager who joined last April, and she’s definitely the workhorse behind Malai,” says Bavishi. “And, we have really amazing market and pop-up people. Malai is not just about selling ice cream, it’s about believing in the product, loving the product, and knowing where I want to take it and believing in that mission. It’s very exciting!”

Malai is currently serving at Smorgasburg on both Saturday in Williamsburg and Sunday in Prospect Park, and at Gotham Market at The Ashland every day until November 1. Malai also offers local pick-up and delivery, online sales through the brand’s website (www.malai.co), soon (if not already) availability via Postmates, and in just a few weeks, wholesale as well. The brand’s retail product will launch at the Whole Foods opening in Metuchen, NJ, in October. And, Bavishi says there will be special occasion offerings through the holidays, such as unique boxed sets for Thanksgiving and something incredible (!) for Diwali in October.

An extensive search for a brick-and-mortar location, to open in summer 2018, is also part of Bavishi’s expansion plan.