When dreams are to do something different and bigger, then even the difficulties in the way do not stop your way. The story of Rambabu Sharma, who started Old Mumbai Ice Cream (old name – Old Bombay Ice Cream), is also similar. The beginning was small and the ups and downs were huge. But he didn’t give up. He wandered from one place to another and did many different jobs. After trying everything, he started his favorite ice cream business. Today their ‘Old Mumbai Ice Cream’ is a reputed brand in all the three states of Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka. Its turnover is more than 6 crores. The brand makes and sells five tonnes of ice cream daily.
When father refused to join the army
In 1978, Rambabu Ramraj Sharma, a resident of Rajasthan, had reached Belgaum to join the army. Presently this district of Karnataka was part of Bombay Presidency at that time. Even after passing the interview, his father did not allow him to do this job. He was told to look for some other job. This made Rambabu disappointed and he decided not to go back home.
Rambabu Sharma’s son Netrapal said, “He had told everyone in the village about his army job. But after his father refused, he did not join the job. He was upset, he had made up his mind that he would not return to his village until he became something. Like everyone else of his age, he too came to Mumbai, the city of dreams.
His life in the city was not easy. Netrapal explains, “He did a variety of things to make a living in the city. But one thing, which gave him the courage to move forward, was his desire to make himself successful.” At present, his son Netrapal is handling the company. At the age of 61, Rambabu does not participate in day-to-day activities, but he remains present in important decisions related to the company.
How to become Sharmaji Kulfiwale?
He had been living in Mumbai for a year. There people used to sell ice cream by placing big utensils on their heads. He liked this job and then he too started selling ice cream at the Gateway of India. He sold ice cream for a year. But when not much benefit was visible, he left work and went to Ichalkaranji (Maharashtra) and started working in a photo studio.
To earn money, he started doing other jobs as well. “In both the jobs, she did not find the happiness she was looking for,” says Netrapal. One evening he saw a huge crowd at a junction called Janata Chowk. People stood in flocks to eat ice cream. What was it then, once again he made up his mind to sell ice cream, but this time he was making ice cream himself.
Netrapal says, “He would work in the studio till 5 pm. After that, by renting a small mini van for Rs 5, every evening from 6 pm to midnight, he would stand in the van at Janata Chowk and sell ice cream. Taste and quality was the specialty of his kulfi, which would drag people to his van every day.” Gradually Sharmaji’s Kulfi started becoming famous and Sharmaji became Sharmaji Kulfiwale.
Why did Rambabu stick to the name Old Bombay Ice Cream??
Rambabu’s day used to start at 6 in the morning. He would spend two hours making ice cream and then leave it to set and cool. After coming back from work, he would take them to Janta Chowk.
People started calling his Kulfi as ‘Sharma ji’s Kulfi’. Initially Rambabu used to sell 50 kulfis in a day. Gradually this number increased to more than 300. Then he decided to quit his job. In 1981, he formally named his business ‘Old Bombay Ice Cream’.
Netrapal says, “Since he learned to make this ice cream in the old Bombay area. That’s why he was adamant to keep its name. He started this business with an investment of just Rs 2000, where his cauldron was the biggest expense.” Rambabu’s old kadhai and ladle have been preserved for posterity at Ichalkaranji Old Bombay Ice Cream Headquarters.
People demanded this flavor
Started with Kulfi, but then on the demand of the people, Rambabu also started making mix ice cream. It was made from Gulkand, Pistachio, Cashew and Mawa (Khoya). Netrapal claims that their Kulfi and Mix flavored Both the ice creams were huge hits.
He says, “Dad always stressed on maintaining quality and being honest with his customers. This is his true legacy we have got.” There was a time when ice cream used to be a special dessert, which was eaten and served on special occasions. But Rambabu’s ice cream brought a slight change in this trend. Now it was reaching common homes.
“The cost of our ice cream was a big plus point for us. Anyone could have bought kulfi from us for one rupee.”
when business took off big blow
Rambabu was completely engrossed in this business. He used to work continuously. He didn’t mind even taking a day off. But despite this, his business suffered a major setback. In 1995, due to an informal rule, he could no longer set up his shop on the side of the road.
Netrapal explains, “Dad could not sell ice cream for 20 days because of this new rule. This was his only source of income. This dealt a big blow to the business. But it was this setback that forced Dad to think of new ways of doing business.”
Rambabu leased a small shop in Ichalkaranji in 1997. This shop was only 150 square feet, which was always crowded with customers. He later decided to buy another 100 sq ft shop in 2007. He said, “My father did not want me to take over his business. He always advised me to complete my studies and take up a job outside Ichalkaranji.”
Wasn’t comfortable with the franchise model
Netrapal worked for some time outside Ichalkaranji. But when his father’s health deteriorated in 2010, he returned. “This, he says, was the time when people from nearby cities like Sangli and Kolhapur came to their towns to start our ice cream shop as well. The inquiry was started. Then in 2011-12, we also opened a shop in Sangli.”
Although the growth in the business was not much, Rambabu was happy with it. He was not comfortable with the franchise model, but the company slowly started to change over time. Today Old Mumbai Ice Cream (new name) has more than 50 outlets in Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka.
Even today ice creams are made at the same place
Even today all the ice creams are made in the Ichalkaranji kitchen and then sent to different centers from there. According to him, this maintains the quality of the ice cream. The company has also introduced some new products like Evergreen Mix Flavored Ice Cream and Kulfi along with Cashew Shake and Badam Shake.
Netrapal says, “Her favorite flavor is saffron kurma. Its unique taste is prepared from dry fruits and saffron procured from Kashmir. In the early days, Kesar Kulfi was available for Re. Today it costs Rs 30.”
“Pricing has always been based on the reach of the customer. That’s why the cost of our ice cream has never been higher. We do not add any emulsifier to ice cream. These are always made with fresh milk, sugar and fresh fruits.”
The third generation is getting ready
Netrapal says, “It is not that I want to have everything in my life. But I will be happy if my kids take this business forward. By the way, his sons have started taking interest in this business from now on. They have been experimenting with new flavors frequently. Few days back we made tamarind flavored ice cream. It tasted good.”
He adds, “Even today if my father talks to any of his friends, he always says, ‘The above has given me more than I can.’ We are moving ahead with just this thinking.
Original article: Vidya Raja
Editing: Archana Dubey
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