Summer coolers in Delhi and across many Indian cities are synonymous with Kwality ice creams. A part of Delhi’s tradition for almost eight decades now, Kwality was the first brand that brought ice creams into the mainstream Indian food culture. The story of the genesis of this frozen delight is very interesting.
It was the year 1940, pre-Independence era, when India joined World War II, and American GI troops were posted in Delhi. While the non-combat GIs and the Britishers frequented the Regal Building in Delhi’s Connaught Place area, two Indians from Lahore, hit on an idea: to sell handmade ice cream. A US Army officer got friendly with Iqbal Singh Ghai and Purshottam Lal Lamba − the two ice cream sellers − and familiarized them with the commercial aspect of the business.
Buoyed by such knowledge, the Ghai-Lamba duo built the iconic brand ‘Kwality’. The odd name was a marketing gimmick to attract people. Ghai and Lamba were doing brisk business when around this time, an American patron encouraged them to keep up with the late night show at Regal Cinema. The American GIs would emerge from the Regal Cinema, after watching the latest Hollywood films, and binge on ice-cream bought from Kwality; the Americans would buy blocks, and not slices of the frozen dessert.
Improvising on the go, Ghai-Lamba picked up Western flavours like the Sicilian Cassata and the American tuttifruitti. As their icecream business roared, the two friends opened a fine dining restaurant under the same name in 1947, and it became famous for serving soft Pindi chana and bhatura.
In 1956, they came up with a grander plan, and opened another restaurant in Connaught Place – Gaylord – where Delhi’s finest people dined during the 50s. The naming of the restaurant has an interesting back story. Ghai-Lamba put up a contest in the English daily The Statesman. A Bengali man, who coined the name Gaylord, won a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label, especially because it had a ‘G’, for Ghai, and an ‘L’, for Lamba.
Gaylord was a status icon of the mid-20th century. It was Delhi’s first restaurant to have a wooden dance floor, where the city’s elite danced to the music played by foreign musicians. Nobody in casual get up was allowed to enter. In 1956, the food entrepreneurs made big expansion plans, and became the first in India to import machines for the mass production of ice creams. They set up ice-cream manufacturing units in Delhi and Mumbai. Meanwhile, Gaylord spread outside India, and set up shops in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Trinidad.
The business was split between Ghai and Lamba’s family in 1979, with the agreement that the holding rights of the ‘Kwality’ brand would remain with the Ghais. In the post-split process, while Lamba got hold of the regional rights for Kwality in northern India, regional rights for south and east India were shared by two people.
And in 1994, Hindustan Unilever bought the Kwality frozen confections brand. It entered into an agreement with the global company, and assumed its current name Kwality Wall’s. Today, the brand is found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei and Nepal.