By Ben Wiese | Apr 04, 2022
Kaurina's Kulfi is the culmination of community myth-making, a keen entrepreneurial spirit, and of course, a knack for crafting high-quality desserts.
Offering traditional kulfi -- "the ice cream of the Indian Subcontinent," according to the company's website -- the frozen dessert brand first came to be as a beloved family recipe that was perfected and served by Jas Singh in the late 1970s as she and her family moved to the Dallas area.
"Our story starts at the kitchen table," says Kaurina's Vice President and COO Aman Singh. "The product is my mom's recipe for kulfi, which was passed down from her grandmother to her mother to her. It's something that she would make on occasion when we had guests or family over for dinner."
Made by hand, using half-and-half, cane sugar, and natural flavoring ingredients, then frozen into dense and delicious bars on popsicle sticks that are adjacent to ice cream and frozen custard, Jas' decadent desserts were fawned over by many throughout the years.
For many, Jas' homemade kulfi was as much a delicacy as it was time travel. "People used to rave about it," says Aman. "They'd say, 'Man this stuff reminds me of home, reminds me of being a kid back in India.' The nostalgia factor combined with how creamy and tasty it was really resonated with everybody."
The kulfi legend even became a point of negotiation for social gatherings. "It was so popular, people began to request that she make it when plans were made. They'd ask, 'Are you making kulfi this time? you gotta make kulfi or else we're not coming over,'" Aman says with a laugh.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, North Texas experienced a burst of growth in its Indian population -- an influx Aman attributes to the IT work beginning to blossom within the area. With the growth came accompanying businesses: Indian grocery stores, Pakistani grocery stores, Bangladeshi grocery stores.
In 2000, the kulfi was officially taken to market. For Hari Singh (Aman's father) and Jas, it felt like the time was perfectly ripe. "At that point, we figured it might be the opportunity to bring the kulfi to market. There was no kulfi in that market -- you could find all your spices, mixes, ready-made frozen items, and things like that coming through, but not anything like kulfi.
"We were local, so we thought we'd make it at home and distribute it ourselves. We were kind of a scrappy bootstrap startup, so we made it at home and took some kulfi bars that came on a stick to a local Indian grocery store nearby and gave them 30 to 40 bars and said, 'Let me know what you think.'"
It didn't take long for an answer. "One or two hours later, he called, saying, 'I gave them all out. Everybody loves them and wants to buy more. I need a standing order. This is good stuff.'"
Within a year, Kaurina's had maxed out its home kitchen capacity. A year after that, they officially hopped into a commercial kitchen, and began to scale up. Aman joined the family business full-time in 2004.
In the years since, Kaurina's Kulfi has skyrocketed into a new stratosphere of growth -- including securing a deal with the wholesale store Costco in 2011. They operate out of a 30,000 square-foot manufacturing plant in Dallas, where they employ nearly twenty on the production line as part of a semi-automated manufacturing process. They use a 1,000-gallon vat to cook the milk, and produce between 50,000 to 60,000 snack-size pops per shift.
The catalog has likewise grown over the years: Kaurina's Kulfi bars are now available in six flavors, including mango and pistachio almond, and pints are coming soon.
Challenges: Currently, Kaurina's is experiencing some growing pains. The delicate dance between growing and funding growth is a common concern for small businesses -- even those as accomplished or veteran as Kaurina's.
"I think right now, the challenge is managing the growth," says Aman. "Like any business, the challenge is managing your cash flow with the growth. We're growing pretty rapidly and it takes a lot of capital and investment. That's a challenge we're facing right now."
Opportunities: With their official launch in the Texas grocery store powerhouse HEB underway, Kaurina's is on the cusp of multiplying their audience exponentially -- by 100 stores to start, to be exact. For the Singhs, it's more than getting their product to more people, it's about creating a new space in the minds of dessert lovers.
With the HEB launch, "We're trying to introduce kulfi, Kaurina's Kulfi specifically, as a new category of frozen desserts," says Aman. "We're a local Texas company, we're a family-owned company, and we've been around for a number of years -- I think all of those things helped the decision to bring us into HEB.
"Hopefully, we can expose the Kaurina's brand to a new type of audience and customers through that. Hopefully, this opportunity can springboard exposure into other retailers as well. We want to be available in as many places as possible."
In addition to HEB, Singh also sees the potential for kulfi simply from the demands of the American tastebuds, as well as its impending ability to ship kulfi directly to customers nationwide via the company's website.
"I think the American palate is evolving very quickly. People are wanting more flavor, people are wanting more unique products. I think our family story really resonates with a lot of folks because of the whole 'American dream' ideal -- which I think a lot of us are either a product of or are aspiring to be."
From creating in the home kitchen to a coveted seat at the Texas dessert table -- what's not to love about Kaurina's Kulfi? "We started with doing everything by hand, with no expertise in manufacturing. We had to learn on the fly. And it's been a long journey, but it's been worth it."
Needs: Dovetailing between its challenges and opportunities is Kaurina's need for a business partnership. With the aforementioned 30,000 square-foot manufacturing space in Dallas, Kaurina's is set up to be home base for more than just one dessert.
"We're actively seeking potential partners to help us with that growth at this point, so we can fully realize the vision and dream of what we want Kaurina's to be," says Aman. "We're one of the few brands out there that own their own manufacturing, so we're actively looking how to leverage the fact that we have this 30,000-square-foot plant that we can utilize -- maybe not just for our own products. If there are people out there looking to manufacture novelties of their own brand, we might be able to help them with that."