Coolhaus finds ice cream inspiration in unlikely places
Coolhaus co-founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller started baking cookies, making ice cream and combining them into “cool houses” in 2008. With mutual backgrounds in the design and real estate fields, they began naming their ice cream sandwiches after architects and architectural movements that inspired them. (Rem Koolhaas is a Dutch architect.)
The company got its official start when the co-founders bought a beat-up old postal van on Craigslist and headed out to the Coachella Valley Music Festival in April 2009 to make their debut. They garnered what Case called “a huge social media following.” The company grew from there thanks to word-of-mouth and taking risks, “but calculated risks,” Case said.
Known for its architecture-themed ice cream sandwiches, the company strives to push the boundaries of traditional dessert by creating unique, sweet-meets-savory flavors, according to the company website.
Today, Coolhaus has two brick-and-mortar stores in Los Angeles, food trucks in Los Angeles, New York City and Dallas, a cookbook, and a packaged line of sandwiches, pints and bars in 4,000 stores nationwide, including Whole Foods and Kroger.
Pushing boundaries with flavor trends
Case said some of the trends she sees in artisan ice cream are “elevated classics, re-inventing ethnic flavors (with a twist) and fancy junk food.”
She said, “We keep up with food trends, predict new trends and listen to our customers. Last year we noticed young chefs finding inspiration from traditional Jewish deli foods.”
In response, Coolhaus “ elevated the classic Jewish deli menu with our own Jewish deli-inspired ice cream flavors, like Cream Cheese & Rye, Potato Latke & Applesauce, and even a Reuben ice cream sandwich (pastrami ice cream and marbled Rye whoopie cookies),” Case said.
As far as “fancy junk food” flavors, Coolhaus has made pizza ice cream and “Fast Food,” which is a Tahitian vanilla bean base with chocolate malt balls and shoestring French fries. Some of the company’s most popular flavors are balsamic fig and mascarpone, dirty mint chip, and fried chicken and waffles (a brown butter maple ice cream with maple candied chicken skins and caramelized waffles.)
Savory meets sweet
Many artisan ice cream menus are exploring savory flavors. According to the National Restaurant Association, savory desserts rank number three among dessert trends on restaurant menus for 2016.
Savory examples on Coolhaus’ menu include Peking Duck (duck skin and fortune cookie crumble in a Chinese five-spice ice cream with plum sauce swirl) and maple sweet potato marshie (maple sweet potato flavor with a marshmallow swirl), a seasonal offering.
“I definitely think savory has made its mark and is here to stay,” Case said. “But I view the savory profile more as an element of sweet, rather than a dominating profile. I think if the sweet isn’t married with the savory properly, usually the goal is more of a flash in the pan than a gastronomic direction that has legs.”
Building the business
Case said that part of what helped the company grow was an understanding of the marketplace. Instead of just following trends, the owners trusted their instinct.
“Being genuine about our brand and who we are — keeping the architectural quirks of the brand and the design in-house, creating flavors and products that we know we love,” was important, said Case.
In the early days before the company opened its shops, the ice cream truck was a major marketing tool for them. It still is, according to Case. But she also touts the company’s presence on social media. It has a following of more than 200,000 across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Google Plus.
She added, “We’re pretty active on our Snapchat. We use it to offer secret discounts in our scoop shops, tease new flavors and give our fans an inside look at what it’s like to work at Coolhaus. We do a lot of contests involving entertainment and sports partners.”
Case said the company’s transparency (an important issue to the artisan ice cream community) has helped it grow tremendously.
Read our original report on artisan ice cream here — "Putting the art back in ice cream."