This fast-growing ice cream brand has Charlotte roots. Meet the founder of Malai.

This fast-growing ice cream brand has Charlotte roots. Meet the founder of Malai.
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This paid content was created in partnership with Charlotte Country Day School. 


Charlotte Country Day School alumna Pooja Bavishi ’02 says that she “always wanted to make people happy through desserts.”

If launching a successful ice cream business and taking it global doesn’t make people happy, what will?

Pooja is the Founder and CEO of Malai, a Brooklyn-based ice cream company with flavors inspired by international ingredients and aromatic spices like ginger, rose petals, saffron and cardamom. The brand transformed in three and a half years from a dessert hobby to an artisanal pop-up favorite to a widespread (and quickly growing) direct-to-consumer product.

Charlotte Country Day School alumna Pooja Bavishi ’02 returns to campus to speak with students

Malai’s first brick-and-mortar shop just opened this month, and the company has garnered accolades from The New York Times, Eater and others. Pooja is also a 2018 fellow with the prestigious Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program.

Country Day students were in for a treat this week when Pooja returned to her alma mater to speak at the Cum Laude Induction Ceremony. She stuck around for lunch with students from an entrepreneurship class and a few other student groups, and we got to drop in for the Q&A. Here’s a sampling of their questions and her responses, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Why the name Malai? What does it mean?

I really wanted to introduce these flavors to a new audience and have ice cream enter the luxury space. The name figuratively means “cream of the crop,” in my family’s native language of Gujarati, so it’s about the ice cream but even more special.

Photo via Instagram

Who do you look to for inspiration?

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is a definite brand role model for me and so many other ice cream makers. Also Jeni [Britton Bauer] is so accessible. What I love most is that it’s not just about growth but quality – she’s willing to pull back if her quality is ever compromised.

My parents [who still live in Charlotte] are also entrepreneurs and are a daily part of the business. I talk to them almost every day to bounce ideas. They’re my unofficial board of directors.

What is your vision for the brand and for its physical location?

From the first conversation with my designer about a logo, I wanted the brand to be luxurious, global and approachable. With the physical shop, I wanted it to feel unlike most ice cream shops: upscale, on brand, while still being comfortable and just being a place where people want to be. We’ve definitely made sure there are some “Instagram-able moments” throughout the store.

There’s a real power of direct-to-consumer beyond just buying ice cream on a frozen shelf at a grocery. There’s a nostalgia about going out for ice cream, so I wanted to capture that.

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Will you ever try to go on Shark Tank?

I’ve definitely thought about it! Even though there has been much more investment in food companies, food has to prove itself before being investable, unlike other industries. We have had one round of investment and for the next round we’ll be looking for longterm strategic partners.

Being here on campus, is it crazy thinking about that “what do you want to be when you grow up” question, and reflecting on what you thought back then?

It is so strange. We think we know exactly what we want to do in the future when we are younger, and we try to choose what we love, but it still changes. But I loved making people happy through desserts back then, and I still want that now.

I was able to try so many things at Country Day to see what I liked and what I was passionate about. There are so many more electives now and so much more support for trying new things – I feel like I had that even back when I was in high school, so it’s going to be cool to see what these students can do.

What’s the hardest part of the business?

I don’t come from a culinary background, so I didn’t know the lingo of the food business going into it. I did attend a course at Penn State specifically about ice cream making, where I refined the formula. Being in business is a constant steep learning curve. It doesn’t get easier – just the things that I’m googling changes! My networks have also helped tremendously as Malai has grown.

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What’s your 50 year dream?

I would love for Malai to be an internationally recognized brand. I want every household in the world to know that if they have a special occasion, they can choose Malai and have it available to them. But – I hope to achieve that a lot sooner than 50 years.

Will Malai come to Charlotte?

Yes, I hope so! We ship nationwide, so we can already get it to your doorstep. We also hope that it will be on store shelves within this year.

Keep up with Malai’s growth at their website or on Instagram. When it hits Charlotte, we’ll be sure to let you know. #CountryDayProud


This paid content was created in partnership with Charlotte Country Day School.
Cover image by Morgan Ione Yeager via malai.co

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