How Maryam rebuilt her family’s ice cream business

Saturday November 20 2021
Sno pic
By Nahida Esmail

A little more that sixty years ago - on November 1, 1961 - crowds of excited customers waited to get their free vanilla ice cream cones to mark the opening of the first ice cream parlour in Tanzania, Sno Cream.

Currently owned and run by 32-year old Maryam Zialor, the oldest ice cream parlour in the country opened its doors for business at the corner of Mansfield and Bridge Streets in the-then Tanganyika’s capital, Dar es Salaam.

Maryam’s late father, Yusuph Zialor, and his business partner, the late Wendo Mwapachu, acquired Sno Cream from Tanganyika-raised British artist Paul Mullen in 1986. Sno Cream was initially opened in Nairobi, Kenya in 1958, after which the owners sold it, before opening the Dar es Salaam Sno Cream parlour in 1961.

Maryam, who has a diploma in Paralegal Studies, took over Sno Cream seven years ago, at the age of 25, after the company suffered a decline in income following her father ’s demise.

Her late mother was opposed to her taking over the business as she felt the company had no hope of survival. But Maryam took a chance, with the encouragement of her late father’s business partner, who later became her business partner.

Before Maryam took over the company in 2008, the National Housing Corporation building where Sno Cream was located and thrived for 47 years (at the time) was demolished to be replaced with a new high-rise, the Samora Tower.

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“My late father moved Sno Cream to Shreeji Towers in Kisutu, in the city centre - and, for six years, Sno Cream sustained a small loyal customer base at its temporary location whilst waiting for completion of the Samora Tower, in which we were given the first right of refusal of our old space in the new building.”

Maryam took over running of the company in 2014 before moving to Samora Tower - and used the opportunity of the move to innovate slightly by refreshing the brand to appeal to a wider audience in the market.

“In 2014, I leaped on the brink of a sinking ship that was Sno Cream. Sales were low, staff morale was affected and product quality was on the edge of decline. When I stepped in, I started working on product quality,” says Maryam, adding that this was the hardest part because there wasn’t room to adjust. However, in adaptation, Maryam says she was able to source new suppliers and still respect the methods for making the product without negation on quality.

She restructured the existing management and administrative methods from how they ran their kitchen to services delivery. Maryam went on to train the staff (some of whom had already worked for the company for over 30 years) on the importance of customer care and quality maintenance.

Sno Cream moved back to its old location at Mansfield Street at the end of 2014 and with the aid of social media, print media and a range of offers and promotions, they were able to put Sno Cream back on the map for lost and new customers alike.

“There were many challenging steps in between to rebuild the brand and take it to where it is today,” Maryam shares, proud that today the company boasts two branches in Oysterbay and in the city centre, which are operating successfully, and a team of 29 employees.

Maryam takes pride in making ‘the happiest food in the world’ - keeping Sno Cream’s traditional-old flavour alive, which attracts people from all over Tanzania.

In 2019, she acquired two limited liability companies: Woodberry Cafe Ltd, and Garden Market Ltd. She says the acquisition was made possible by Sno Cream’s renewed success achieved from rebranding.

“I didn’t have to take over these two companies. However, in the face of growth and development, I saw an opportunity to invest and diversify. All three businesses are in the food and services industry and are product, supply and consumer-centred. Therefore, it needed only a little effort to use my know-how and apply my experience gained in the running of Sno Cream for the last seven years.”

Six decades on, Sno Cream continues to thrive by serving traditional soft serve ice cream as sundaes, splits, shakes, parfaits, sorbets - and more - to generations of loyal customers, local and international alike.

“Our ice cream, sauces and a majority of the toppings are made in-house using the same recipes used in 1961. Quality consistency is more like a virtue within the Sno Cream walls, as well as honouring our customers, respecting our staff and understanding that what we serve is ‘happy food,’” she says.

Families of some ex-presidents have stepped in the parlour for ice cream - and continue to do so. Besides celebrities such as Wema Sepetu, Mimi Mars, Vanessa Mdee, Mwana Fa, Lady JayDee and Haji Manara, diplomats and politicians also come to get their happy food here.

Maryam says their customers range from the same generation of Sno Creamers who enjoyed their first soft serve ice cream in the country as children, and who courted their first dates at the parlour - and, later, bringing their young families to Sno Cream... And they still frequent the place with their children and grandchildren decades on.

“We’ve served the last three generations of Tanzanians living in Dar,” says Maryam, who has posted some of the customers’ comments on the walls.

A comment by Husna Roussos, a Tanzanian, reads: “I have been coming here since I was five. Now, I am 50 years old - and still love it! Keep it up!” Another one reads: “As wonderful in 2015 as it was in 1971; the last time I tasted it!” [Alison Nazareth, Toronto].

“The secret of our success is understanding that Sno Cream is a business with a soul. We live well with our team, our customers and our suppliers,” Maryam says, adding: “We appreciate the fact that the world in which we live today is trend-based, and although we continue to respect the notion of tradition with our classic sundaes, we have also been able to adapt to today’s customer demands by providing ice cream sundae options that are Instagram-worthy, too!”

In keeping up with the changing trends, Maryam says they are always looking for new ways to be innovative in the business - and they also collaborate with global ice cream industries.

“We attend global expos and seminars regularly, and we are members of the Ice Cream Alliance. If we can create a timeless memory of happiness and nostalgia for our customers then we would have succeeded,” Maryam gleefully elucidates.