Social dining has been at the epicenter of every family gathering since Pooja Bavishi can remember. “I was always drawn to the food, and specifically the desserts. They always made people happy. I made that connection very early.”
Pooja discovered the same spices of her childhood–-ginger, rose petals, saffron, and cardamom could robustly flavor ice creams in a way that had never tasted before. “I was looking for this concept that combined the two most important constants in my life, social dining and a love for my heritage.” It all came together at a Friendsgiving event where guests marveled at the flavor combinations she used to create an ice cream dessert.
Malai started participating in New York City’s local street fairs and food markets to introduce its flavors to a mainstream audience, first at the Hester Street Fair in the Lower East Side, then smorgasburg, and eventually a pop-up space at Gotham Market at The Ashland. As the business grew, Pooja focused on selling to grocery stores and setting up distributors. Opening a storefront was the last thing on her mind until she participated at a trade show alongside household brands that changed her perspective. Pooja experienced the impact Malai had on the consumer, as attendees sought out her booth to share their ice cream experiences. “There’s a power of knowing who your customers are and having a relationship with them, and that’s what drove me to build out the concept of a storefront.”
Pooja opened Malai’s flagship in Cobble Hill in 2019. “It was a very powerful moment deciding to create a space where people can connect to the brand and the person behind it.” Everyone has an ice cream story from their childhood, a place they remember going to every Saturday night with their family. Malai is positioned to be both a store and a retail space in the community that sparks joy and creates memories for someone else. “We’re trying to create a store exclusive, where the customer’s tasting experience is as much a part of Malai’s culture as the ice cream. Our retail store is a necessary part of our business. Perhaps my most favorite, really, because it brings people joy, and I want to be in the business of delivering happiness.”
In addition to its ice creams, the store also features ice cream cakes and recently launched a line of baked goods (only available in-store). Malai is distributed in grocery stores in California, New England, and throughout the Northeast. It is also available for nationwide shipping by Goldbelly, an online artisanal food marketplace.
In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (celebrated on March 8), the Colliers National Retail Services team is shining a spotlight on incredible women in retail whose tenacity and talents have made an impact on both their careers and their communities. A huge thank you to Pooja Bavishi of Malai for sharing her founder story. We look forward to making a trip to Brooklyn to try more of Malai’s flavors, but the Sweet Roti and Ghee will remain the current favorite until then. In our final installment, we’ll hear from my personal mentor, Prem Solanki, a pioneer in the female-owned business who will share life lessons from her career in retail signage.