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Founder and CEO of Malai

Pooja Bavishi ’02, founder and CEO of Malai, has created a unique and fast-growing ice cream company with flavors inspired by aromatic spices and global ingredients. Based in Brooklyn, New  York, the company grew from a beloved hobby and the courage to take a new path.

Pooja Bavishi '02

After earning a BA in public policy from UNC-Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in urban planning  from the London School of Economics, Pooja began her career in fair and affordable housing through the nonprofit sector. In her free time, she nurtured a dessert-making hobby by blogging and throwing parties as an excuse to try new recipes.

“The truth is that I pursued these different interests, because, just like most people, I have various interests,” she explains. “I have always been motivated by making the world a fairer place. I have always loved learning about my Indian culture and my family’s traditions. And I love making desserts! My business provides me an outlet to pursue all these interests, and it’s my cumulative experiences that have prepared me for what I am doing today. I have learned that you don’t have to be just one thing or choose one path.”

Last spring, she returned to campus to share secrets of success with Cum Laude Society inductees. Pooja described to Upper School students the three things she had to accept before shifting her career.

"First, since starting my business, I have come to accept that the future is not finite. There isn’t just one goal, which, once reached, will mean that everything is done. Second, failure is a fleeting moment—and is necessary. Finally, education is never complete. I make it a point to constantly look  out for opportunities that help me build skills and exposure that will be valuable to advancing my  current venture—whether it’s a class on ice cream making or something less obvious, like small business financing."

Pooja also earned an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business; and she is a 2018 Fellow of the Tory Burch Foundation, which supports women entrepreneurs.

Q & A with Charlotte Agenda

While on campus, Pooja met with a Charlotte Agenda writer to share her story of success.

Q: Why the name Malai?

A: 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.

Q: Who do you look to for inspiration?

A: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is a definite brand role model for me and so many other ice cream makers. 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.

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

A: 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. 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.

Q: What’s your 50-year dream?

A: 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.

Learn more about Malai at malai.co or follow on Instagram @malai_icecream