Shafna Shamsuddin, 40, Founder & CEO
For Shana Shamsuddin, loneliness prompted her to pick up ice cream making. That hobby turned into Elaka Treats, her business offering all-natural ice creams and frozen treats inspired by the flavors of her childhood.
It’s her gift. “I love feeding people. I love watching people eat,” she says. “I’m telling stories through these flavors. That is what really inspired me. What story do I want to tell next?”
Shafna, 40, grew up in the Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, the daughter of northern Indian immigrants.
At 18, she was matched with her husband and immigrated to the United States for college – a dream her parents had for she and her siblings. She went to Perdue University and then UNC-Charlotte, studying earth science and psychology.
After college, she struggled to find her path. Her husband had finished his residency and was working in his field, and she couldn’t get her footing.
“I wanted to be a psychologist. There were so many things that I didn’t expect in my personal life that detoured me, I didn’t get the opportunities to pursue it after I graduated from college,” she says. “Things were not going as I hoped and dreamed or sacrificed. I started feeling lonely.”
She missed the small pleasures of home with her family, the tastes of Indian cuisine. She found her first ice cream maker while wondering the aisles of William Sonoma, and used it to make kulfi, a rich frozen dessert from India. Shafna’s recipe calls for saffron and cardamom (“all the most expensive spices”) plus a little vanilla and pistachios.
“People loved it,” she says.
She generated recipes inspired by sweet treats of her youth, including plantain-based frozen treats flavored like a favorite deep-fried dessert. “Usually, my recipes just click to me,” she says. Soon she started dreaming about turning the hobby into a business.
Her trainer at The Club introduced her to another local food entrepreneur. She turned Shafna on to the Piedmont Food Processing Center, a nonprofit that provides management of shared use kitchens. There she got advice on what it would take to start her business.
“That is when the journey of discovery started,” she says. In 2019, she made her first official batch of frozen desserts as Elaka Treats, named for the word for cardamom in Shafna’s native language.
Her goal was to become a wholesale business. She market tested her produce by handing out samples at the gym. She did research on the best pasteurizing machines. She had to learn all the steps and process of working in a commercial kitchen for the very first time.
“I had no experience working in a commercial kitchen. I am a very good cook in my kitchen but it’s a whole new ball game in a commercial kitchen,” she says.
She was ready to do an official launch of the business as a vendor at the River Run Film Festival. She had her state inspection scheduled and the event booked.
“Then as luck would have it, COVID hit. The pandemic came. Everything was shut down. The inspection was canceled. The festival was cancelled. I started to cry.” She says she thought, “The whole world is shutting down because you started a business.”
While the pandemic raged, Shafna changed her strategy. She started attending farmer’s markets in the Triad and the Triangle to get business rolling. She learned how to pitch her product to shoppers. She took every chance she got, including a pop-up at the Durham Hotel that created a little buzz around her treats.
In December 2022, she got her first wholesale account, Vimala’s Curryblossom Café in Chapel Hill. The cafe sells six Elaka Treats flavors, which now include rose, a vegan pineapple hibiscus sorbet, date, plantain, and vegan sulaimani sorbet, a spiced tea beloved by Shafna’s mother.
Shafna’s currently pursuing a new Greensboro location for manufacturing – and underutilized kitchen in an office building that just needs a slight up fit to suit her needs.
If you can’t make it out to the farmer’s market to meet Shafna, you can buy her frozen goods online at www.elakatreats.com.