Since opening its doors in August 2018, Asma Dabbek's gelateria, Pop Ice, has become a hotspot for locals, especially students. The large vitrine is filled with numerous delicious flavours of Italian style ice cream, made from natural and local ingredients. While the machines in the kitchen mix a fresh batch of melon ice cream, Asma serves a chocolate sundae to two young students.
“A year ago, I would have never imagined that my business would become such an instant success,” says Asma.
Asma was 25 years old when she decided to start a business. After studying engineering at the Higher Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology (ISSAT) in Gabes, she struggled to find a job.
"When my husband and I found ourselves unemployed, we decided to launch a business together and the idea for a Gelateria in Gabes was born," she says.
By starting a business in a complete underexploited agri-food sector in Gabes, Asma and her husband bet on a market full of potential and opportunities. And choosing a location next to two high schools in the city center of Gabes, has helped turn Pop Ice into a booming business.
"Like all little girls, I loved cakes, ice creams and sweets. But growing up, pastry became a passion for me. As soon as I had free time, I was baking cakes," she says.
Despite her passion for baking, Asma was lacking technical skills in making ice cream. So before launching Pop Ice she enrolled in a vocational training program to learn all about the profession.
In 2014, she applied for a bank loan at the BTS (Tunisian Bank of Solidarity), but faced several refusals for the amount requested. However, Asma didn’t give up, and after three years she finally got a credit for a total of 128,000 Tunisian Dinars.
In March 2018, Asma discovered the project Mashrou3i, a public-private partnership between USAID, the Italian Cooperation, the HP Foundation and UNIDO. Through Mashrou3i, she was supported in administrative and fiscal procedures by the project’s regional expert as well as in the preparations for the opening of her gelateria. The regional expert also facilitated access to additional funds, enabling her to purchase a new fleet of ice cream making machines.
"Mashrou3i opened a lot of doors for me while I was launching Pop Ice,” explains Asma. “For every problem I faced, the regional expert was there to help find the solution.”
Asma also received support from the Mashrou3i expert in marketing and access to markets, who helped prepare attractive promotional materials to raise awareness of the business.
"After the opening of Pop Ice, we worked non-stop, day and night for several weeks to meet the daily demand of our customers," recounts Asma. “All our ice creams are based on 100% Italian products. We like to innovate using local ingredients and to offer new flavours such as flowers or cheesecake."
Supported by the project, Asma is currently refining her business strategy to meet the needs of her clients during the low season. She is planning to add pancake and waffles to the menu and use flash promotions for ice creams.
"We are approaching the winter season, and of course, our flow of customers has gone down. But we are adapting our business strategy and I am confident about retaining year-round customers with the help of Mashrou3i,” Asma says.