In 1978, an 18-year-old Rambabu Ramraj Sharma, a native of Rajasthan made his way to Belgaum.

Currently a part of Karnataka, this was the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. The purpose of Sharma’s visit was an Army recruitment interview.

Despite clearing all the requisite stages, he did not get permission from his father to join the services and was asked to look for some other job.

This left Rambabu so disillusioned that he decided not to return.

After moving around and working several odd jobs, he decided to make a thriving business out of one of the most beloved desserts — ice cream.

This was the start of Old Mumbai Ice Cream Company, which has over 25 stores across India today.

Netrapal Ram Babu Sharma (40), his son who is currently running the business, spoke to The Better India about his father’s journey.

When Rambabu headed to Mumbai life was anything but easy. “He took up various odd jobs to survive in the city. The only thing that kept him going was his desire to make himself a success,” his son recounts.

In the one year he spent in Mumbai, he saw ice cream vendors carry large pots on their heads. This intrigued him and he took up the job of selling ice creams at the Gateway of India.

Netrapal says, “These were all stick ice creams and even though he did this for more than one year, he found that he wasn’t able to make a lot of money. So, in 1980 he moved to Ichalkaranji (Maharashtra) where he started working at a photo studio.”

While the work at the studio kept him busy until evenings, he would work another job thereafter to make more money.

“Even with both these jobs he did not find the happiness he was looking for,” says Netrapal.

But the idea of selling ice creams recurred to Rambabu when he was watching the crowds one evening at a junction called the Janta Chowk.

“He would work at the photo studio until 5 pm and then take a small mini-van on rent for Rs 5,” Netrapal says. He adds, “Every evening from 6 pm to midnight, he set up the vehicle at Janta chowk and sold the kulfi he would have made in the morning. The kulfi’s USP was its quality.”

Slowly, the kulfi started gaining popularity. Even though it had no formal name, it came to be known as ‘Sharma ji ki Kulfi’.

He started by selling 50 kulfis a day and slowly reached more than 300 a day. That was when he decided to quit his job.

In 1981, he formalised the entire business and called it Old Mumbai Ice Cream. “Since he learnt how to make these ice creams in the old Bombay region, he stuck to naming it just that,” Netrapal says.

He adds that the only true legacy his father passed on was “honesty and the principle of maintaining quality”.

In 1995, when hawkers were banned from setting up their shops along the roadside, Rambabu leased out a small shop in Ichalkaranji. Following this, the family set up a shop in Sangli in 2011.

While the kulfi continues to be a hit, other items like the kaju shake and badam shake, mixed ice cream and kesar kurma, a rather unique flavour that is made with various dry fruits and kesar (saffron) procured from Kashmir, are crowd favourites.