Tee May Yee and Lee Ee Vee couldn’t be further away from their current calling in life in their previous jobs; both were in the corporate world – albeit in different fields – and living away from Malaysia. It wasn’t until their ice cream enthusiast friends commented that KL only had a limited variety of choices – either cheap local ice pops or expensive branded ice creams – that an idea came to fruition. It “sparked an education in artisanal ice cream.”
“We taste-tested our way around ice cream shops in the world, and eventually decided that we would learn to make our own ice cream and make a business out of it in Malaysia.”
Thus The Last Polka was born, a homemade ice cream brand specialising in authentic gourmet ice cream. Different from gelato, the distinction between the two kinds of ice cream is something they regularly have to make known.
“Many ask us why we can’t do this flavour or that flavour or ‘if it’s not imported then why so expensive ah?’, because they think our ice cream is the same as gelato, when actually there is a world of difference.”
Their early memories of ice cream leaned towards the potong variety that was synonymous with local flavours like cendol, durian, and coconut. It is not surprising that their Malaysian childhood went a long way in inspiring their creations.
“We love the local flavours of our childhood, so we have nostalgia-inspired flavours such as Horlicks. We also love the mamak-coffeeshop culture, so we have flavours like teh tarik and white coffee.”
But The Last Polka is not one to indulge in nationalistic pride to the point of corniness – they don’t want to be pigeonholed as the brand that just makes local flavours.
“We do ice cream that we think Malaysians will like, so that includes flavours from around the world.”
Building a business is hard, especially when you are in a field where competitors are international franchises and brands. Yet that very fact isn’t to the detriment of The Last Polka; “everybody loves ice cream, and we offer ice cream that’s not available elsewhere in the Klang Valley.”
To date they have had more enquiries than they can handle. With 6 distribution points all over Klang Valley and a connection to the independent music scene – thanks to the indie credentials of the first restaurant to stock their products (The Bee), The Last Polka is fast on their way to becoming rooted in the public’s awareness.
In fact The Last Polka was at Urbanscapes last month, a sure sign of being well integrated in the hipster consciousness (if that doesn’t constitute pop culture cred, we don’t know what does).
The Last Polka hopes to spread awareness of ice cream culture and educate the public in differentiating between good ice cream and “commercial ice cream” in the process. Maybe even have their own ice cream parlour a few years down the road.
The Last Polka has one piece of advice to aspiring scene makers: “Don’t be one of those people who say they will one day do something â€” one day go to South America, one day own a business. That one day never comes until you make that first step. We need to take some risks in life, even if that means experiencing a number of failures.”
And if you want to get inspired, listen to songs that will make you think “one day I’ll set up a restaurant/business/ice cream shop.” For them it was a song by Ben Folds Five – ‘The Last Polka’.