Startup business finds unique niche 1

Jennifer Dudek, Malu co-founder, uses grassroots marketing techniques to grow her startup — without touching a marketing budget.

Small business owner Jennifer Dudek’s grassroots marketing strategy is taking off.

On June 20, 2011 Dudek and her husband opened the Long Island City ice cream shop Malu, named after their two sons, Mateo and Luke.

Her husband, Sergio Garcia, who has a background in banking, saw many people lose their jobs in 2008, Dudek said. As a result he wanted to create a small business to contribute to the economy, but decided to do so without loans or a big budget.

“We don’t have a budget for advertising. We are trying to get this off the ground,” Dudek said.

Instead they created a market strategy that aligns them with nearby projects and companies they believe in.

Many of those projects focus on children. Malu’s branding centers around being family-friendly. The artwork is from neighborhood moms and Dudek is even sensitive that the music playing over the radio doesn’t talk about sex and drugs. Additionally, the shop hosts Thursday story times and popup craft shows selling items by mothers in the LIC Mom group.

Next, Malu collaborates with LIC businesses for its ingredients. For example the store’s chai ice cream is made from Vernon Boulevard Communitea’s product. Malu’s churners also add coffee concentrate from the neighborhood shop Sweet Leaf and biscotti from Manetta’s, which is around the corner.

“We’ve seen business go up,” Dudek said.

Another strategy is putting emphasis on fun and unique products. When their red velvet flavor turned out more baby girl pink than lipstick red, they rolled with it and named it pink velvet.

During last November’s election the Malu crew experimented with the idea of ice cream as the next ironic straw poll with two new flavors “Obama’s From Hawaii and FORWARD” and “Romney’s Boston COMEBACK Cream Pie.”

Obama’s treat was a mix of roasted pineapple, chocolate and macadamia nuts for his Hawaiian roots, while Romney’s flavor was a homage to his time as governor of Massachusetts, with Boston cream pie custard, a fudge ripple and vanilla cake pieces. Customers voted all November and “Romney won by a landslide,” Dudek said. “The night of the election we were a little nervous.”

The Romney flavor will be served at Malu in the future, but without the Romney name.

Dudek and Garcia have fully thrown themselves into cross marketing. They made a tomato basil ice cream for Alobar’s tomato festival in September, a lavender mascarpone for Floresta, a neighborhood flower shop, and last summer her crew made an olive oil ice cream for the Sculpture Center’s block party because they wanted a white ice cream to represent raw materials.

All the inventions are named after the businesses they represent. Some are served both at Malu and at the collaborator’s location.

“It’s a community endeavor where people help each other grow their business,” Dudek said.

Now Malu has teamed up with We Heart Astoria, a neighborhood-centric blog run by Mackenzi Farquer, the owner of Site in Astoria, which sells adorable home accessories; “Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens” author Meg Cotner and popular author of the Fooditka blog, Judith Klein Rich.

We Heart Astoria readers are posting suggestions; search Malu at So far people like chocolate-peanut butter, cardoman, rainbow sprinkles, blood oranges and baklava.

Like the baklava suggestion, Dudek has Astoria’s Greek and Middle Eastern community in mind.

“Maybe figs or greek yogurt-inspired,” she said.

All suggestions must be made by the “Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens” book signing at Malu at 12-09 Jackson Ave. on March 27 at 7 p.m.

Post more ideas using the twitter hashtag #whaicecream.