The Seattle ice cream scene is fierce right now. There are lots of homemade, small-batch, artisan ice cream companies to choose from, as well as some tried-and-true larger local companies who have been around for quite some time. I'm a little biased towards Sweet Lo's at the moment. It is owned by Lauren Wilson, who I recently teamed up with to create a little stop motion video to promote her quickly growing company.
Lauren has, until recently, been hand delivering her ice cream door-to-door around Seattle, often making custom flavors at the request of her customers. She now has a commercial kitchen and has begun distributing to a bunch of awesome local grocery stores in the city. Her ice cream is seriously delicious, one reason being that she makes her own custard base for it. Lots of other companies purchase a base from an even bigger company and then take it from there. Not judging anyone- I don't discriminate when it comes to ice cream- but I have so much respect for how much work goes into her product!
I also did a little interview with Lauren to get a little more info about her personal story, her business experience, and her overall lovely self. Thanks for reading, and scroll to the bottom or check out my YouTube channel for the video we created!
PS- Lauren still does custom flavor orders when she can. I recently ordered Oatmeal Cookie Butterscotch Chip, and she has also made an un-freakin-believable S'mores ice cream for me!
On to the interview:
- How long have you been making ice cream?
Hello! I’ve been making ice cream for almost 4 years. (4 years this June!)
- When did you know you loved ice cream/wanted to start a business around it? Did you try or plan to start any other types of businesses before this?
The moment I tasted homemade ice cream I knew it was my calling. I knew it would become my world. I was living in Vermont, working at a small farm to table restaurant. I don’t tell too many people this, but I was actually living at the restaurant, sleeping on a small twin mattress in the evening. Come day break, I’d wash up in the bathroom, tuck the mattress away in the back hallway, and tinker around in the kitchen until the cook got there in the afternoon. One morning I found a dinky ice cream maker in the basement. Curious, I brought it upstairs, collected one of the owners ice cream books from her cookbook case, and started researching recipes. Of all my ice cream eating years, close to 30 at that time, I had never imagined making my own. I was excited. I cooked up a brown sugar base on the stove. Watching the mixture thicken to a pudding was mesmerizing. As the base chilled in the refrigerator, I sautéed chopped pecans in butter and brown sugar until they were toasty and caramelized. I churned the base in her small machine and added the candied pecans just as it was finishing. The first taste. I can still remember it. I was shocked at how much better it was than the ice cream I had spent my life eating. Appalled, really. I knew it was my job to share this exact feeling with as many people as I could. I moved back to Seattle and started my business a few days later. I graduated from USF with a degree in Hospitality Management, and always knew I wanted to own my own food business. I just wasn’t sure what kind. Until, it fell into my bowl. Just like that.
- Why is your ice cream so delicious? (i.e. what makes your ice cream different?)
I use simple, whole ingredients and keep the process very traditional. Heavy cream, whole milk, sugar and egg yolks are cooked on the stove (or in a pasteurizer) until a custard forms. It’s finished with a touch of pure vanilla extract, aged over night, and churned into luscious sweet cream perfection the following day. We also strive to make a majority of our add-ins from scratch (minus Oreos because they are SO PERFECT as they are) including cookies, cakes, bars, sauces and toppings. -How and from where do you source your ingredients? Our ingredients are sourced from a variety of stores across Seattle, including Uwajimaya and Central Market (as well as Merlinos and Cash N Carry). We use Darigold cream and whole milk and yolks from Wilcox Farm up north. We also use organic vanilla beans and extract from a local producer in Kirkland called LaGrima. We look forward to partnering with local farms to acquire freshly picked berries, hand crafted spices, and other such products. Soon!
- What is the very first step one needs to take when starting a small business?
Find something you’re genuinely passionate about and be willing to ask a lot of questions and do a ton of research on the topic. As a local food business, reaching out to Seattle Public Health was also super helpful to me. Even though I didn’t do as they instructed (because I couldn’t afford to at the time, but still wanted to grow my business) they were super insightful and had a ton of information to give. I didn’t take no for an answer. I didn’t anything stop me from doing what I loved. I fought the good fight every single day.
- There are lots of great ice cream makers around Seattle. What is your favorite (excluding your own)?
I love the folks at Fainting Goat and Sweet Alchemy. They have integrity and both have delicious gelato/ice cream. The owner of Sweet Alchemy talked with me for an hour about her experience with her pasteurizer. It was a very kind of her and that’s exactly how I run my business. I answer every email and question. We all just want to be heard and seen.
- What exactly is invert sugar??
Invert sugar is liquid sugar. It has a higher freezing temperature which enables the ice cream to remain scoop-able straight from the freezer (without using stabilizers). It’s similar to golden syrup and is made in house as well.
- I'm really impressed with the simplicity yet innovative character of your coffee caramel flavor. How did you come up with it?
Thank you! I wanted to highlight our homemade caramel and knew it would pair super well with coffee. We cook the caramel longer than usual, so it has a more robust flavor, almost burnt.
- What is one thing you were surprised to find out about starting a small business? What was the most challenging part of the process?
I don’t remember being surprised. I remember feeling joyous at times and disappointed at others. I remember feeling genuine awesomeness, anger, hope and regret. The most challenging part was securing my commercial pasteurizer. It’s a 24K machine and thanks to my awesome customers, via GoFundMe, I was able to purchase it earlier this year. Without the support of my community, I’d still be in my apartment churning ice cream illegally. I am so grateful.
- What advice do you have for someone else starting a small business?
Don’t be afraid to break the rules sometimes. Also, if you put your heart in your business, your customers will see
- What's your favorite flavor (of your brand)?
I am a huge fan of chunks. I love my Cookies N Cream because it is so nostalgic. It brings me back to growing up in LA, on a dead end street, playing all afternoon in the sun with my sister. I love my Oatmeal Cookie Chunk because it is reminiscent of my favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor. I also really enjoy my Texas Sheet cake flavor because that cake embodies my family, and I love my family with my whole heart.
- Who do you look up to as a mentor/examples of great businesses/ business owners?
Rachel Marshall of Rachel’s Ginger Beer. I admire her business sense and strive for her success. She is so kind and humble and hardworking and wonderful.
- Where can people find your ice cream? Are you still doing custom orders and deliveries?
People can find my ice cream at the following stores: Home Remedy, Stockbox Groceries, The Feed Store, Leschi Market, Ken’s Market QA, Ken’s Market Greenwood, Lunchbox Laboratory, Naked City Brewing and Makeda Coffee so far. I’m bringing samples to Metropolitan Market on Tuesday! Yes! I still make custom orders that people can pick up at my commercial kitchen in SODO. Anyone interested can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org