Bengaluru: “The best time for ice cream is always,” they say. It used to be so easy for someone to eat ice cream before. Just go to the store, buy it and then gorge on it. Five years ago, this would have been easier. It is not more than two or three brands. Ice cream was ice cream. Suddenly, the market is glutted with all kinds of European gelato, water ice, gourmet sorbet, and fruit pop. With or without nuts was the biggest decision back then; you weren’t limited to four or five flavors and brands. Today, you must choose how much but-terfat and air you want in your scoop. Shopping for ice cream requires the same kind of decision-making once reserved for choosing a career because the flavors are so varied, so imaginative, and sometimes so downright weird. So, I decided to get back to basics. After some research, I found the brand “Pabrai’s” which was started by a couple in the year 1985 and is true to their flavors. Mostly fruit based.
Anuvrat and Tulika Pabrai opened an ice cream parlor on Russell Street called Tulika’s. They were initially buying ice creams from Kwality’s, and that was a roaring success. In 1986, the duo got into making their ice creams. Slowly and steadily, they expanded and introduced Italian machinery to improve quality and the business expanded rapidly. In 1998, they commissioned a new state-of-the-art manufacturing unit with a capacity of 1.5 million liters of ice cream per annum. Shortly thereafter, the couple with their son Kunal, who was by then working for Ernst & Young, took a closed factory on rent and ventured into the manufacture of 100% Natural ice creams without the use of artificial colors and flavors under the brand name of Pabrai’s Fresh & Naturelle Ice creams. Presently, the brand Pabrai’s has 26 outlets and 14 more outlets are in pipeline. A new production facility is being constructed and should get operational by 2023. Recently I got to speak to Anuvrat Pabrai for The Balcony Stories and the excerpts are below.
Tell us about you Anuvrat – who are you, and what are your passions in life?
There are 2 sides to my persona. My personal and professional life. On a personal front – Anuvrat is a family person who loves having fun times with the family and now that I have 4 grandchildren, to play with them and enjoy watching them grow. My wife Tulika, whom I met in college, and I had a love marriage – a marriage which has seen us in togetherness for 32 years and we faced successes and failures. I am proud to say that we rode both situations with dignity and holding each other’s hands riding out the good times as well as the bad ones. My two sons and my daughters-in-law form a closely-knit family. I was unfortunate to lose my parents five years back. They were staying with us for the last 8 years of their lives and we took care of them in their autumn years. It was unfortunate that they could not live to see their great- grandchildren, but we know that they are keeping a watchful eye on us all.
My professional side has seen me grow from a hotelier, having done my Hotel Management from Pusa in Delhi, to an ice cream maker. I did my Hotel Management, as did my wife, and worked in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai for two and a half years before getting into the business of running Tulika’s Ice creams. My love for ice creams grew from my business of ice creams and it led me to become passionate about ice cream making. And that’s what I have been doing for the last 37 years- making me one of the most senior ice cream makers in the country and probably the only one who is an owner cum ice cream maker.
I am passionate about traveling across the world and have a lot of catching up to do. I love traveling by road in my car across India and have done a fair bit of travel in this manner. I am very fond of reading books and read every night before going to sleep. I love eating good food and will travel to any corner, even if it’s a hole-in-the-wall place to enjoy good food.
What is Pabrai?
Pabrai’s ice cream is made with 100% natural ingredients without using artificial colors and flavors. We use only natural ingredients sourced from all corners of the globe for making artisanal ice creams.
Pabrai’s fruit range is made with fresh-cut fruits. Since makers do not use canned fruits, our fruit ice creams are seasonal. The summer special ice creams include Alphonso Mango, Jamun, Leechee, Himsagar Mango Watermelon, and Musk melon among others.
The non-fruit flavors are made from only high-grade natural ingredients. For instance, Vanilla ice cream is made from high-quality Vanilla pods, while Chocolate ice cream is made from the highest grade of naturally processed Cocoa which is not only very rare and expensive but the taste of chocolate ice cream made from natural cocoa is radically different compared to the regular chocolate ice cream made from alkalized cocoa which is commonly used by all other manufacturers. We are the only company in India and probably one of the very few in the world to use natural cocoa for making Chocolate ice creams.
Pabrai’s Sugar-free ice creams are made from prebiotic fourth-generation sweeteners which are made from plant sources and leave no lingering after-taste. Pabrai plans to introduce newer flavors in the Sugar-Free range shortly
The Sorbet range includes flavors like Tamarind, Aam Panna, Falsa, and Lime Lemon Sorbet. Also in the pipeline are vegan ice cream.
Pabrai’s latest introduction is Ruby Chocolate ice cream which is the fourth type of chocolate apart from Milk, Dark and White chocolates. Ruby Chocolate ice cream has a fruity taste and is pink in color. Pabrai’s is the first brand to introduce Ruby Chocolate ice cream in India and probably the world.
Our USP is the taste of our product. Our customers swear by our quality and repeatedly tell us that our ice creams taste better than any other brand. We are relentlessly focused on maintaining quality irrespective of the cost of ingredients.
Whom do you target?
In Pabrai’s, our target audience is people who love and enjoy food and are passionate about the quality and taste of what they eat. And appreciate it. Since we love making ice creams of the best quality. And people who are passionate about food and ice creams have appreciated our quality, and flavors and have repeatedly told us that we make some of the best ice creams they have ever eaten. That is very satisfying professionally and personally for me as an ice cream maker.
How long has Pabrai been around?
It’s been a long eventful journey of 37 years from 1985 to 2022. In 1985, my wife Tulika and I started Tulika’s Ice cream Parlour on Russell Street sourcing ice creams from Kwality’s.
How did you first come up with the idea for Pabrai?
When we started making natural ice creams in 2008, we called them Fresh and Naturelle Ice creams. However, a lot of people would mistake us for another popular brand based out of Mumbai so we thought of changing our brand name. Our surname is Pabrai and my father suggested our surname as the brand name. Pabrai is a very unique surname and only our family and my father’s brothers’ children use it in the whole world. Our family and my father’s brother’s children totaling about 30 use Pabrai’s surname. It is rare and as unique as our ice creams.
How did you get it started? Please walk us through the journey to date.
It’s been a long eventful journey of 37 years from 1985 to 2022. In 1985, my wife Tulika and I started Tulika’s Ice cream Parlour on Russell Street sourcing ice creams from Kwality’s. Very quickly we become popular in Calcutta (it still wasn’t Kolkata by then), mainly because we had a very innovative range of Sundaes, Ice cream Sodas, Milk Shakes, and Floats. Our Hot Chocolate Fudge was hugely popular and we served a triple scoop Hot Choc Fudge in a beer mug.
In 1986 we started manufacturing our ice creams. By 1990 we started importing Italian machinery and by 1996 were running our plant 24 hours and demand outstripped supplies. In 1998 we set up a state-of-the-art plant capable of manufacturing 3 million liters of ice creams on Bakrahat Road near Joka.
In 1999, labor problems struck us and due to worsening labor relations and the influx of other national brands, we had to shut our plant in 2008
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In 2008, luckily, we got a closed ice cream factory on rent 2008 1 month after the closure of Tulika’s and we started Pabrai’s Fresh & Naturelle Ice creams from there. From 2008 to 2022 has been a journey of ups and downs as we learned about franchising and in 2020, we faced the pandemic which gave a big financial hit to us. In 2022 post the pandemic, we are now looking to expand and grow. The business has been very good and sales have shot through the roof from April 22 onwards.
At what point did you know with certainty that Pabrai had taken off?
When people would come to our shop and ring up their friends and say “We are sitting and having ice creams at Pabrai’s”. They are our ambassadors who recognized our brand and helped us become popular.
Also, when one of our ice creams – the Nalen Gur ice cream was nominated as one of the seven best sweet dishes in South East Asia, India, China, Japan, and Australia by Chowzter- an international group that finds and recognizes the best in foods of all categories across the world. Today, the Nalen Gur Ice cream is our specialty and we are known for this ice cream. Others have tried to copy it but have not been successful.
What would you say is the biggest driver of your success today?
It’s the quality and taste of our product. In food, as also in Ice creams, the quality of the product is very much linked to its success. If the quality is good- and ours is much beyond being good, it becomes the driver of success as more and more people spread the word about its quality and taste.
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Looking back, what were the obstacles you faced in this journey?
As in any business, facing challenges is part of the daily grind. But all challenges are not of the same ferocity and some challenges do shake up the core business and its decision-making. Some challenges we have faced over the years were-
Launch of Metro and reduction of prices by 20% – We expanded the production capacity of Tulika’s ice cream factory in 1998 with a new grassroots factory to cope with the demand for products of Tulika’s Ice-cream. This was done with a bank loan. However few months after our new factory commenced production, Metro Dairy was launched. They reduced prices by 20% across the board, which wiped out our entire profit margins. Our interest and repayment were at their maximum. This was a hit we were unable to face, and the new factory could not cope with the payment of interest and repayment of principal amounts.
Formation of unions in the factory of Tulika’s Ice-cream P Ltd – Despite the company’s very friendly & employee-centric approach, having worked with the Tata group, Anuvrat Pabrai had imbibed the policy of being very employee-friendly and benefits were better than what was legally required of us. However, with CPM being in power, the unions created many problems in the smooth running of operations and ultimately led to the factory’s closure in 2008.
Closure of Tulika’s Ice cream P Ltd- We had to affect a full closure of Tulika’s Ice -cream P Ltd in September 2008. This was necessitated due to violence at the factory. It was a huge blow to us as we had to pay a huge amount to workers as their legal dues. To top it off, we could not recover any money from debtors. And creditors started lining up our home demanding payments of their dues.
When did you discover your passion for ice cream?
In Tulika’s, we used to make regular ice creams using essences and colors similar to other mainline brands like Amul, Kwality, Vadilal, etc. When I started making natural ice creams, I discovered my hidden talent of being able to extract the taste of natural products when the ice creams were being created. It was a revelation to me that I had a hidden talent unknown to me of being able to create flavors that astonished people with their simplicity and the throw of flavor and taste when eaten. And this has kept me going for years and years now.