Taj Ice Cream, situated in the bylanes of Mohammed Ali Road, Mumbai, is a century-old joint known for its hand-churned ice creams.
It dates back to 1887, when Valilji Jalaji from Kutch arrived in Bombay and started selling fruits and milk mixed in an earthen pot. The man, was totally unaware that he was inadvertently laying the foundation for a rock-solid business — Taj Ice Cream would go steady for over a century.
Today, the same place in Bhendi Bazaar, albeit small, still draws a huge crowd on a daily basis. The man at the counter is 29-year-old, soft-spoken, Aamir Hatim Icecreamwala, the sixth generation at the helm of affairs. He says his father Hatim Sharifali Icecreamwala still visits the shop daily.
“The brand got its name from my grandfather’s best friend Tajuddin, who used to come from Kutch to eat our ice creams. My grandfather thought it was to befitting to name the shop after a loyal customer like him,” reveals Aamir. “Even our surname — Icecreamwala — is something conferred upon Valilji, as people referred to him as that.”
What started off as a means to eke out a living, soon became a passion. Valilji scouted for ice and started making hand-churned ice creams with fresh fruits, full-cream milk and sugar. The response to his dessert was phenomenal, and gradually, his chilled treats grew in popularity.
Aamir shares, “Although the shop was started in 1887, it was only later that ice creams were made. When Valilji started the place, procuring ice was not possible because it was a luxury item and was expensive.”
It runs in the family
For years, the business has been run successfully by family members. In 2016, Hatim Sharifali and his brothers parted ways, leaving Hatim and his son Aamir now solely in charge of Taj Ice Cream.
From just six flavours that were always available, the menu today boasts of 16 varieties, including the popular sitaphal (custard apple), mango, strawberry, litchi and guava. Furthermore, the brand, which was previously low-key, now has an active social media presence. The credit for these changes goes to Aamir, who returned from Dubai after giving up his job to take the family business to the next level in 2016. “Changing with times is important. Hence, I created a logo, brand identity and ensured we are on delivery platforms and active on social media too, as that is the need of the hour,” explains Aamir candidly.
Besides branding and a bit of marketing, Aamir admits they have changed nothing.
“Valilji was a visionary and had everything chalked out meticulously. Even the copper canister or sanchas, in which we churn the ice cream, are from his time. All we have to do is maintain them every year,” says the man with a smile. He adds, “Our staff too is third-generation and are familiar with the quality requirements. The business is almost on an auto-pilot mode.”
The other plus is they use fruits and the ice creams are said to have no softeners, colours, preservatives or additives.
“That is the first thing I learnt from my father. We never compromised on quality. The fruits are purchased personally by one of us and the milk has been coming from the same place for years now, as we are sure of the quality and hygiene,” informs Aamir, who assures us that every batch of ice cream is tasted by him or his father for quality and consistency.
From actors like Madhubala, Suraiya and Johnny Walker to the popular director-duo Abbas-Mustan and politician Farooq Abdullah, Taj Ice Creams has hosted many celebrities over the years.
“Once upon a time, we used to even cater to the prestigious Radio Club during the British era. But my father tells me that the moment the Shah of Iran, when he visited Mumbai, stayed at Taj Mahal Hotel and asked for our ice creams, was the high point in his life,” shares Aamir.
Apart from working on new flavours like jackfruit and tender coconut, Aamir is keen to get an organic and natural certification for his brand. He has also opened a new outlet in Bandra East and hopes to expand further.
For now, it is just another day, when he is busy tasting the next batch of ice creams, before they go out to customers.
In this fortnightly column, we take a peek at some of the country’s most iconic restaurants