EVERETT — During her senior year at Malden High School, Pillar Desouza had to balance writing college essays with writing business plans. Desouza was only 17 when she and her father traveled to his native country and opened their first business together, a milk shake shop in Serro, Brazil.
Now 20 and a sophomore at Gordon College in Wenham, Desouza has brought the business to the United States and owns I Love Milkshakes, an innovative shop in downtown Everett.
The business combines the concepts of an old school ice cream parlor with today's frozen yogurt trends and a touch of Brazilian delicacy. despite the New England winters, it draws customers year round.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” says Desouza. “That's what makes it different. You have my younger perspective combined with my dad’s ideas, and of course our Brazilian roots.”
Desouza's parents, Jose A. Desouza and Selma DaSilva, are both native to Brazil and moved to Massachusetts in 1998. Her family often visits friends and family back home, and in 2010, Desouza and her father noted something that sparked their first business proposal.
“We noticed milk shakes and frozen yogurt are really common here in the US,” says Desouza. “But in Brazil you can only find milk shakes at McDonald’s, and they only serve three basic flavors.”
So that year, Desouza’s father established the first I Love Milkshakes in Brazil. Desouza was listed as a co-owner because her father thought it would be a great opportunity for her to learn how to run her own business. But Desouza was no idle observer. She quickly helped create a youthful style for the shop centered on American culture.
“Brazilian youth are obsessed with anything American,” says Desouza. “It’s cool and it’s different, so just by getting this ice cream they feel like they’re getting part of that [American] culture.”
After the success of the first business in Brazil, the father-daughter team opened a second shop in Everett — near their home in Malden — and Desouza was listed as the official owner. It was a two-year process establishing the newest I Love Milkshakes, and Desouza was involved in every step.
“Lots of times I would miss class in order to go on trips to study different ice cream shops,” says Desouza. “We went to Canada, California, and just about every little town in New England, just tasting and testing what works best.”
The preparation paid off and last November, I Love Milkshakes opened on Main Street in Everett, a city with a large Brazilian community (about 4,500 in the latest Census estimate). Desouza has reworked some of the menu to include Brazilian specialties. One of the top-selling shakes is the brigadeiro, a Brazilian chocolate truffle.
Desouza, though, says she does not intend the Brazilian community to be the shop’s sole focus.
“My dad really specializes with the Brazilian aspects,” says Desouza, “but I love focusing on the younger generations.”
Even the name and logo design for the shop was based on input from her friends.
“I always ask my friends and roommates what they think,” says Desouza. “Talking with friends is like studying our customers.”
Desouza’s friends also help her stay on track with social media, including Facebook and Instagram, as marketing tools for the business. Sometimes they’ll like the pictures, says Desouza, and other times they'll leave a sassy comment. The pictures are taken with Desouza’s in-store iPad. Smiling customers, dancing employees, and milk shake creations are constantly being posted online.
“Just be careful if my dad’s in the shop,” says Desouza. “He can be kind of annoying with that thing. Typical dads.”