In what she calls a leap of faith, Tanvi Chowdhri left an illustrious career as an investment banker on Wall Street New York to follow her dream of making ice cream, and set up Papacream to sell 15 vegan, gluten-free and delectable flavours.
Swirls of sugary, sweet cotton candy ice cream invoke childhood memories of shopping sprees with the family, ending with a treat of bright pink and wispy thin budhiya ke baal (cotton candy). A fudgy, gooey ice cream provides a surprising salty kick, alongside echoes of a plate of perfectly seasoned nachos and ridiculously thick cheese, a crucial component to almost every movie goer’s cinematic experience in the theatre.
At Papacream, almost every flavour exists to summon reminders of years gone by in the form of a wholesome tub of rich ice cream. It’s the brainchild of 33-year-old Tanvi Chowdhri, a Mumbai resident who left behind an illustrious career in New York to start from scratch and follow her passion.
Comfort in a tub of ice cream
Tanvi’s childhood was spent in Kolkata in a family that thoroughly enjoyed eating together. “We travelled a lot, and one thing that was always on the agenda was to try out local cuisine of whatever region we were visiting,” she recalls in conversation with The Better India. “Food was always an important part of our household, and we were always looking forward to the next nice meal we were going to have. Meanwhile, living in Kolkata, I developed a natural sweet tooth. We’re all hearty dessert people in my family.”
For college, Tanvi headed to the US to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, and eventually began working for a financial company on Wall Street. Her love for food, having not dampened with age, followed her all the way to New York. She embarked on a continuous quest to try whatever delicacy spoke to her.
“As time passed, it only became clearer to me that I wanted to pursue a career in culinary arts. I was sure that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. My weekends were free, so I’d go around meeting different chefs to understand their style of cooking, or what interesting things they were up to,” she says.
In 2015, Tanvi returned to India to follow her dreams. She adds that risk had been an ever-present factor in her career, given the nature of her job. “I always found a thrill in it. It was just about taking a leap of faith,” she says.
Towards the end of the year, she started Papacream with the idea to give customers a “world class experience” and “something different”. This included some quirky flavours like pani puri sorbet, nacho-cheese ice cream, an ice cream sushi, and more. “We wanted to invoke a sense of curiosity in potential customers, while also seeming approachable,” she notes.
At the time, the trend in the industry, says Tanvi, was using exotic French names for brands like hers, so she decided to go with something that stood out, but with a sense of comfort and familiarity. “We wanted the name to take you home,” she says. And thus, Papacream was christened.
Tanvi used her savings from her time in New York to set up an ice cream parlour, and eventually diversified into fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). “We wanted to scale up and move pan-India. So we started selling our ice cream in a packaged format,” she explains.
Swirls of nostalgia
Tanvi says she is a firm believer in the concept of ‘made in India’, and that customers deserve premium ice creams at par with brands like London Dairy or Haagen Daaz, minus the soaring prices. “I want to let people know that you can have quality manufacturing in India as well,” she says.
Today, Papacream has about 15 gourmet ice cream flavours in different ranges such as vegan, indulgent, gluten-free and more. Alongside, they sell sorbets and ice cream cakes. Flavours include French vanilla, vegan chocofudgy cake, vegan and regular raspberry sorbet, salted caramel and more, alongside ice cream cakes such as vegan coffee chocolate, vegan mango vanilla, biscoff, and more.
Reiterating how every flavour is influenced by some memory or the other, Tanvi explains, “We used to have this ice cream called cereal milk, and the idea was to incorporate the flavour of leftover milk after you’re done with the cereal. Cookies and cream aims to replicate the flavour of the entire cookie dipped in milk, and not the simpler variations you find in the market. It’s like having a whole bowl of milk and cookies.”
There’s also the Ferro Crunch, which serves as a reminder of the spherical hazelnut chocolate of our childhood that was the first “premium” chocolate most of us had the luxury to taste. Tanvi has incorporated all the layers one will find when they take a familiar bite — the chocolate coating, the thin wafer, the crunch of the hazelnut and the gooey chocolate inside.
During the COVID-19 lockdown last year, Papacream collaborated with film producer Rhea Kapoor to introduce four new flavours based on Kapoor’s own childhood memories. These include the After School Sundae, Brown Butter Biskut, Hazelnut Cold Coffee and Chocolate Influencer. Ice creams are priced from Rs 375 onwards, while the cakes cost around Rs 1,500 and up.
Papacream’s ice creams are available across 15 cities in India, including Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Dehradun, and more. They are also available both online and offline — in stores such as Foodhall, through their website, or on platforms such as Swiggy Instamart and Big Basket.
Tanvi says that in the last one year or so, their revenue has increased by five times.
‘A Leap of Faith’
Running a business of your own is certainly never easy, and Tanvi acknowledges that there was a very steep learning curve for her, given that she had no prior experience in hospitality. Alongside, managing a business as a woman posed its additional challenges, some she had never imagined she would have to face.
“For things as small as, say, setting up a business contract or a legal agreement, I would be asked to bring along a male, like my father or brother, to complete the deal. It was surprising there wasn’t an instant sense of credibility, given that I was a young woman starting out on my own,” she recalls. “Despite the professional background I had, there was some unwarranted attention that came along during my initial days.”
Tanvi also notes that given her young age when she started out, there was a level of difficulty when it came to authority. “Many people that I had hired were either my age or older, so that was a little challenging in terms of taking charge.”
COVID-19 provided Tanvi a wider opportunity to market her ice creams and further her reach, given that people were visiting grocery stores less and moving to the online world.
As of now, Papacream is working on developing new flavours, and opening new outlets, kiosks and carts around Mumbai.
Meanwhile, to women looking to start businesses of their own, Tanvi says, “It’s always about taking that leap of faith. If you have apprehensions or a fear of failure, remember there will be a silver lining, and just keep at it.
Edited by Yoshita Rao