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Friday, Jul 12, 2024

The Valley’s Frozen Assets

Two retail frozen dessert chains are trying to squeeze into the crowded Valley food sector with the novel approach of nitro ice cream. And in the $1.3-billion-a-year ice cream industry, the merger of gourmet product with a novelty factor and a little theatrical performance in the shop has emerged as a trend nationally — even internationally — with a presence in the San Fernando Valley. Part convenience and part mad scientist-style performance, liquid nitrogen ice cream involves blasting liquid nitrogen (at -321 degrees Fahrenheit) to solidify customized ingredients right before the consumer’s eyes. Representatives of two major purveyors of this confection — Utah-based Sub Zero Nitrogen Ice Cream and Irvine-spawned Creamistry — have recently opened shops in the Valley, and both say the unorthodox process gives their product a smoothness and quality not achievable through traditional means because ice crystals do not have time to form. Quick-frozen nitrogen ice cream “is not necessarily better (than traditional ice cream), it’s just different,” said International Dairy Foods Association Manager of Communications Audra Kruse. “It’s super, super creamy,” said Creamistry’s Chief Operating Officer Stephen Boud. “The customers do have a little bit of a wait, but they understand that.” Chilly reception At its April 21 grand opening at 23391 Mulholland Drive, Creamistry Woodland Hills offered free scoops, t-shirts, balloons and henna tattoos to mark the arrival of its made-to-order liquid nitro gourmet specialty, which uses all-natural and organic ingredients and offers vegan and non-dairy options. Creamistry sources its base ice cream from private labels while creating their coconut vegan base and sorbet in-store from scratch. Founded in 2013 and groomed into a franchise the following year, Creamistry is an Asian-American success story out of Orange County. Irvine resident Jay Yim first witnessed liquid nitrogen ice cream watching a street vendor during a 2003 trip to Korea. He and wife Katie Yim made their first homemade batch using liquid nitrogen with the help of Yim’s father. After two years of experimentation with countless combinations, the family team boiled down their discoveries to Creamistry’s current menu. Yim expressed confidence in Woodland Hills store owner Bilal Temel and Manager Michael Shangaz, who ran Creamistry Costa Mesa. “We are incredibly pleased with the success (Temel)’s garnered thus far, and can’t wait to see the same level of success in Woodland Hills as we continue to expand,” Yim said in a statement. Previous to Woodland Hills, the latest of 50 Creamistry shops to open across four states, Creamistry set up shop at a Glendale Galleria kiosk. Under the charge of broker Todd Dorn of Murrieta-based Dorn and Associates, the company is currently scouting for more Valley storefronts in San Fernando and Conejo valleys’ most populous neighborhoods, plus vying to become a tenant at Shapell Properties’ pending Porter Ranch town center complex, The Vineyards. Creamistry has also infiltrated Northern California, opening a shop across from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. “We’ll have 100 stores (nationally) by end of next year,” Boud said. Creamistry has 300 additional locations in various stages of development worldwide. The global chain just opened its first China outlet in Chongqing, a city with over 30 million residents, with two more Chinese cities due in August. “They’re obligated to open up 100 stores by the end of 2022,” Boud said of the Chinese master franchiser. “They’re set to open 10 this year, 15 next year. The potential in China is enormous. We’re very optimistic.” Creamistry is also striking deals in Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and South Korea, which will bring the company’s story full circle to that street vendor Yim witnessed on the streets of Seoul. Creamistry Woodland Hills occupies 1,200 square feet – a mid-sized location for a chain with shops ranging as high as 1,963 square feet in Torrance. Shangaz said that Temel began renting the Woodland Hills location in October but it took until early April to open because of building permits related to Creamistry’s customized exterior facade. “I had one customer describe us as if Apple opened up an ice cream store,” Boud said. Since the opening, when the Mulholland Drive store doled out 800 servings, Shangaz said the new location has been “pretty busy. They’re telling me, ‘We’re really happy you came to the neighborhood.’ It’s customizable, that’s why they like it.” Tasty and educational Over in Simi Valley, Rob West said he first saw the future of liquid nitro ice cream in 2010 while visiting an early Sub Zero outlet in, of all places, Boise, Idaho. On the surface, West may seem the unlikely individual to enter the liquid nitro ice cream industry. He spent 30 years as an executive in the corporate world, working for Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Farmers Insurance Group. However, West, a Simi Valley resident since 1990, decided to embark on a new career once his offspring were graduated and married. Sub Zero founders Jerry and Naomi Hancock are the company’s majority owners, along with Jerry’s father, according to West. Initially, the Hancocks opened and ran the since-shuttered New York Burrito in Orem, Utah. However, the couple yearned to run a dessert business, and Jerry wanted to apply his chemistry degree from Brigham Young University. Since the first Sub Zero opened in 2004, the empire is 60 stores strong, with locations in 16 states, from Washington to Florida. After opening “the first nitrogen place in Southern California” in Simi Valley at 2091 Madera Road in April 2012, West has seen how crowded the submarket has become. “We know Creamistry, they know us,” West said. “It’s like burgers. We’re happy to have the competition because it says something about nitrogen ice cream.” Sub Zero’s employees mix ingredients in a bowl and employ a scrape-and-fold process before blasting the concoction with liquid nitro. “We have a patent on our process, so you’ll see (the competition) use big blenders instead of us,” he said. At Sub Zero, customers choose from 40 base flavors, ranging from the timeless chocolate-vanilla-strawberry to the exotic (amaretto, dulce de leche, Nutella) to the funky (bubble gum, root beer, watermelon). Myriad mix-ins give customers the option to incorporate such ingredients as cheesecake bites, gummy bears, brand chocolate bars, fruit and waffle cone bits into the base cream. As Sub Zero’s area developer for Southern California, West opened his third shop in Ventura in October. His Laguna Niguel store debuted in 2014. West said the downtown-located Ventura shop sells best, followed by his Simi flagship and Laguna, and he would like to create another Sub Zero in Oxnard, Camarillo or Santa Clarita. However, not immediately. “Most of my personal capital is tied up in those three stores,” said West. And while his contract does not require that he conduct science shows and nitro ice cream-making demonstrations for school children, he’s been doing them for over five years now. “I love it. It’s a show, it’s an experience, it’s different,” said West, who has given countless demonstrations at locations from Newbury Park’s EARTHS Magnet School and Cypress Elementary, to Thousand Oaks’ Lang Ranch Elementary, to Sycamore Elementary and Santa Susana Elementary School in Simi. This spring, he will edutain students in 12 classes at Westlake Village High School and 60 kids at Ventura’s E.P. Foster Library. “I get a real kick – just the theater – seeing their faces as they learn about Mother Nature and liquid nitrogen,” West said. Cold explosion Currently, according to International Dairy Food Association’s Kruse, the biggest trends in ice cream is a demand for premium ice cream and “clean” labeling (without chemically derived ingredients). Families, she noted, is the primary group of retail ice cream consumers. The liquid nitrogen trend, she continued, remains relatively marginal due to the equipment involved, and she’s loath to deem nitro ice cream better than the old-fashioned variety. “Nitrogen technology is not brand-new,” she said,” evoking Kentucky’s Dippin Dots, which goes back to 1988. “But companies are using (nitro technology) in an innovative and new way,” Kruse said. There is also precedent in Asia; the aforementioned Korean street vendors notwithstanding, in Thailand, a reverse version consists of freezing ingredients atop a sub-zero metallic surface. Ultimately, Kruse doesn’t feel nitro is all novelty factor. “I don’t think this is a bad gimmick, it’s a cool way to get people into the store,” she said. “They’re showing how ice cream is made before they buy it.”

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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