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Boss Lady: Tyra Banks Is Going All In On Her Entrepreneurial Persona With Her Ice-Cream Venture, Smize & Dream Smize & Dream is the result of Banks' lifelong love for ice-cream, with her first memory of it being a hand-churned vanilla variety that her great-grandmother used to make for her when she was a young child.

By Aby Sam Thomas

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Smize & Dream/Brunch & Cake
Tyra Banks, founder, Smize & Dream

At first glance, you may be inclined to dismiss Smize & Dream -the premium ice-cream brand launched in 2021 by supermodel, television personality, producer, writer, and actor Tyra Banks- as yet another celebrity-driven vanity project- but I'm here to tell you that you shouldn't be so quick to judge! As I found out during my conversation with Banks amid her visit to the UAE in January this year, there's a lot of heart and soul behind the brand- and while it may have been founded only last year, this is a business that has truly been years in the making.

Smize & Dream -which was formerly called Smize Cream- is the result of Banks' lifelong love for ice-cream, with her first memory of it being a hand-churned vanilla variety that her great-grandmother used to make for her when she was a young child. Banks also remembers that as a schoolgirl, she and her mother would have a weekly ritual in which they'd get together, enjoy a bowl of ice-cream, and chat about their dreams and aspirations for the future. "Every Friday, it was ice-cream, and talking about dreams," Banks recalls. "And so, for me, ice-cream is so nostalgic, and it connects to dreams."

Banks goes on to say that she had wanted to start an icecream business about 18 years ago- but that was also when she was embarking on the launch of her eponymous talk show, The Tyra Banks Show. "I know that you can't start two businesses at the same time, and have them both be successful- they're both going to fail!" Banks says. "So, I had to make a choice, and I said, 'Let me put this ice-cream business plan on the shelf.'" Banks thus concentrated all of her attention on her talk show- and it paid off. The Tyra Banks Show ran successfully for five years, during which it won two Daytime Emmy awards as well.

Image courtesy Smize & Dream/Brunch & Cake.

It wasn't until the COVID-19 crisis struck that Banks returned to that idea she had for an ice-cream brand. At the time, she was stuck at home owing to lockdowns, and many of her planned business undertakings were being put on hold owing to the pandemic. And while people were barred from many of their day-to-day activities then, Banks noted that they still could go out for food- and that reminded her of her aspiration to create an ice-cream brand. Banks pulled out the business plan she had made 15 years ago, and while she thinks she ended up using only 2% of it to create Smize & Dream, it still served as the foundation for the brand's launch in 2021.

With a flavor portfolio made up of names like Butter Pecan But Betta, Salt & Peppa Sweet Cream, Strawberries & That Salted Cream, Purple Cookie Mon-Star & Me, and lots more, Smize & Dream's offerings are decadent and luxe, and besides their characteristic creaminess, these ice-creams come with a surprise as well: a gourmet cookie dough truffle that is located at the bottom of every serving. Banks has called it the Smize Prize, with the effort one does to get to it being a symbolic representation of digging for one's dreams, and working hard to make them come true- just like her mother taught her many years ago.

It becomes apparent here that Banks doesn't think of Smize & Dream as just another ice-cream brand; indeed, for her, this is very much a purpose-led business. "I don't know if it's my mother that has put this inside of me, but I feel like everything that I've done is always for a reason, even when I was modeling," Banks says. "Yes, I wanted to be on the covers of everything, but then it went from being about 'me, me, me', to 'we' and about understanding what I represented as a Black woman. Understanding what it represented, me as a Black woman on the cover of a magazine, and a little girl seeing me and being, 'Wow, I didn't know I was beautiful, or that I could be anything [that I wanted to be],' I realized it was bigger than me.

Image courtesy Smize & Dream/Brunch & Cake.

"So, there were a lot of things with my career where it was always like, okay, how can we give opportunities to others?" Banks continues. "So, with Smize & Dream, I knew I didn't want to create just an ice-cream company- that's boring to me. There's a ton of ice cream companies. So, it became about, well, what can we do to make dreams come true? And so, I have four tenets for the company, which we're just launching and just onboarding- these are four pillars for dreams, and three of them are actually internal; only one is for guests and customers."

Here, Banks lists out the four pillars -which are essentially four questions- that are meant to govern how each person working at Smize & Dream goes about their work. The first asks: "What are you doing as a Smize & Dream employee to make your dreams come true?" The second: "What are you doing to help your colleagues' dreams come true?" The third: "What are the bosses doing to help their direct reports' dreams come true?" And the fourth: "What are we, as a team, doing to help our customers' dreams come true?" Banks once again highlights here that three of the company's four pillars are focused inward- as for why, she replies, "Because I feel that if our team is strong and feels fulfilled, it's going to be natural that the customer is going to be taken care of."

Following its launch in Los Angeles in July 2021, Smize & Dream has since gone on to have its yummy deliciousness delivered all across the US, and its first international outpost was recently announced to be here in the UAE. This has been made possible through what Banks calls a "residency" at Brunch & Cake, a Barcelona-born and now Dubai-headquartered all-day dining restaurant that has seen not only its popularity grow by leaps and bounds since its launch in 2019, but also its presence, with it now boasting of multiple locations in the UAE, with plans to expand across the MENA region and beyond.

Related: Sophisticated Indulgence: M'OISHÎ Founder Carole Moawad On Building A Bridge Between Japan And The UAE

Image courtesy Smize & Dream/Brunch & Cake.

As a project of Flip International (a Dubai-based consultancy that's launched multiple F&B concepts in the UAE and beyond), Brunch & Cake came on Banks' radar when, on an earlier visit to the UAE, she herself got to dine at the restaurant with her family. Banks remembers having a great time at Brunch & Cake, where she was impressed by not just the restaurant's food and service, but also by its tag line, In Grandmothers We Trust. "Then, a couple of months later, somebody slides into my Instagram Direct Messages (DMs), and it was Brunch & Cake," Banks recalls. "They said, 'We know that you had some ice-cream at the time, and we'd love to figure out some type of collaboration.'"

Now, given that Banks had a memorable experience at Brunch & Cake, she responded to the DM, welcoming the interest from the brand, and then asked it (or rather, its team) to provide a clearer representation of how it thought it could partner with Smize & Dream. Brunch & Cake asked for a little time for it to come back with a response to Banks- and then, a few weeks later, it did just that. "They came back to me on Instagram, and I thought it was just going to be another DM," Banks says. "But it was a 20-page presentation… They had done their work. And, well, here we are now."

In a statement, Amjad Barakat, co-founder and CEO of Innovision Holding (the company behind Flip International), noted the synergy between Brunch & Cake and Smize & Dream as being key to their current allyship. "We've always had a grand vision for Brunch & Cake, and our continuous growth in the region is living proof of this," he says. "Our collaboration with Smize & Dream is our first monumental step towards making Brunch & Cake a global household name- and who better to start this journey with than icon and businesswoman Tyra Banks? Our brands align perfectly, and we're excited to continue building the Brunch & Cake experience, now with a touch of Smize."

Image courtesy Smize & Dream/Brunch & Cake.

As for Banks, she's looking forward to this new chapter of the Smize & Dream journey, and all signs point to its launch in the UAE as being the foundation for its further growth and expansion. "With the business, we go back and forth about whether this is a business that we want to create tons of value and sell, or if this is a business by which we want to create tons of value and then go public," Banks says. "But the plan is definitely to scale, and to scale in a big way."

At the same time, Banks wants to build on the social impact her brand can have on the world at large- she is especially keen on helping other entrepreneurs, especially those who are under-represented, to achieve success with their own businesses. "One of the things that we're going to be doing with Smize & Dream, is helping other entrepreneurs, women, people of color, to understand how to do this, because there is a formula, but there's also some luck. So, you just have to be ready and so correct, so that when and if that [luck] hits, you're ready."

From a personal standpoint though, Banks says that she is hoping to move away from her persona as an entertainer, and instead lean into her other avatars, be it as an entrepreneur, or as a teacher. Now, the latter is something Banks is already quite well-versed in- after all, not only was she essentially teaching modeling for the 24 seasons of her television show, America's Next Top Model, she was also a guest lecturer at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business for three years. "I would love to teach at Harvard Business School," Banks tells me. "I haven't let them know that, but maybe you can let them know that!"

As for being an entrepreneur, Banks says that she is hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Hollywood celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow, in terms of the latter largely moving away from her role as an actor, and now putting all of her energies into her entrepreneurial ventures. In a similar fashion, Banks is now hoping to focus more on her business dealings, and less being on camera as an entertainer. "There's something that just makes me feel like runways and photo shoots and covers, all of that was nice, but I would love for that to be an asterisk on my legacy," Banks says. "The main thing [would be for people] to be like, 'She's an ice-cream entrepreneur. Do you know she used to be a model?'"

Related: Off The Beaten Path: Kinoya Founder Neha Mishra On How She Got To Where She Is Today (And Where She's Headed Next)

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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