The main difference between gelato and ice cream is that the former is heavily milk-based, while the latter is cream based. Marie and Tracey were once walking down the cobbled streets of Rome, trying different gelato stalls until one stood out amongst the rest.
Its texture, flavour, clean aftertaste, and huge scoops left the sisters with a feeling they best described as, “I need to bring this home!”
They wrote on their website, “Still studying at the time, a student had capital… from savings and really, not that much. So our method of madness was making do with what we could, hence a mobile shop!”
Fast forward 6 years later, the sisters have since opened up a small brick and mortar store in PJ and have made over 80 different flavours of gelato. Their brand, Waka Waka Gelato (Waka) has even been booked at events by some notable clients that include Topshop, PWC, Isetan, CIMB, DIOR, L’oreal, and the list goes on.
Angpau money brought the idea to life
Marie and Tracey were fueled with a single mission: to spread their enthusiasm for Italian gelato to Malaysians. Both business students, neither had any culinary experience, so the desserts they churned were primarily trial and error.
Despite finally landing on the right taste and texture they were satisfied with, Marie was well aware that just because they liked their product, didn’t mean that everyone else would.
When Vulcan Post caught up with them, Marie confessed that she was terrified at the thought of opening a retail shop, especially when the venture was merely an idea. Bearing the commitments of overhead cost and expensive rentals were just not viable at the time.
“The concept of the mobile shop was to have something small that I could set up where the public was, and see what they would say. Initially, I thought of setting it up at hawker stalls because that’s where many people usually were,” Marie explained. “It needed to be cost-saving, rent-saving, and a low-commitment way to test the product and get feedback.”
So, with an RM4,000 capital from angpao money they saved, the duo started selling their gelato from a small cart at a private event with 3-4 flavours.
“Pity feedback” wasn’t enough
That was the first private event where they conducted the market validation needed for Waka. By asking questions, getting feedback, and studying the facial expressions of customers who tasted their gelato, they gained confidence in their product’s potential.
“I read somewhere that friends and family may give pity feedback, so it’s important to get strangers’ feedback and bazaars were the best place for that,” Marie stated.
Awareness about Waka slowly grew by word of mouth, and they began appearing at universities, bazaars, and small events. The significant tipping point for them was at a bazaar in Jaya One. While many customers consisted of supportive kin, it was the event that opened them up to more public exposure.
The siblings made sure to point out that much of their success was thanks to friends and family who helped connect Waka with interested clients for both private and corporate events.
This was how they’ve attracted big-name clients like Isetan, DIOR, Marc Jacobs, and a couple of Big 4 firms.
But the sisters remain humble, sharing, “Even now we wouldn’t say our reach is very wide, the majority of people still don’t really know about us. We still get people coming into our shop asking if we just started,” they told Vulcan Post.
The MCO put the brakes on their cart
With more companies and individuals booking private events, the Waka sisters needed a central kitchen to prepare larger quantities of their gelato.
In December 2019, they opened up a physical store in PJ—reinvesting the revenue from events—to serve as a hang out spot for patrons and a central kitchen. But the MCO hit not too long after, which put Waka in a tight spot.
“Events had been our main thing, so you could say we were 100% affected by the lockdown,” Marie and Tracey stated. “You can’t exactly call us retail either, because we never had a storefront to be found at, so we didn’t have a retail crowd of our own.”
Waka immediately pivoted their operations to leverage on deliveries, where offering daily menus and delivery promos helped them ride the waves.
As for event bookings that couldn’t be held physically, the sisters allowed their clients the option to redirect their booking fees into in-store purchases or deliveries to attendees. However, most clients simply chose to wait it out until physical events were safe again.
It’s a continuous process to make it work. There isn’t quite a “made it” point for us, even after achieving a goal, there’s always the next. We’re open to opportunities, but for now, we want to maximise what we have going in the retail segment. It would be cool to have Waka Waka Gelato as a novelty, a place [where] hopefully you’d want to bring everyone to try, or tourists to stop by at.Marie and Tracey, co-founders of Waka Waka Gelato
- You can learn more about Waka Waka Gelato here.
- You can read other F&B articles that we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Marie and Tracey, co-founders of Waka Waka Gelato