Coolhaus Brings Insane Ice Cream Sandwiches to Dessert-Lovers Nationwide
© Andrew Echev
“Farchitecture” is the most delicious industry you’ve never heard of. Created by Angelenos Natasha Case and Freya Estreller, it’s the pairing of food and architecture, and it’s the basis of Coolhaus, an ice cream sandwich truck turned frozen dessert empire.
The company, which operates in three states and distributes packaged products and pints to 4,000 grocery stores nationwide, has a bold and gutsy palate. The company’s ice cream flavors are as outrageous as Avocado Sea Salt, Fried Chicken and Waffles, Peking Duck, and Foie Gras PB&J. Cookies come in varieties like Hamantash, Marbled Rye, Snickerdoodle Candy Corn, and Snack Food Chip.
“When something’s sweet on sweet, it’s just not interesting. It’s one-note. It can fall flat. It can be overwhelmingly sugary,” Case says. “We like to bring in the salty, the meaty, the savory, the boozy, the smoky, really bring in flavors you wouldn’t expect in ice cream.”
This crazy experiment began in 2008, when the co-founders began baking cookies, making ice cream, and “building” sandwiches that they named after architects. “The ice cream was a great tool,” says Case, who has a background in architecture and design and was feeling the effects of the recession in her industry. A self-described “an ice-cream-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away” kind of person, she turned toward the creamy treat for comfort. She soon discovered that ice cream had benefits beyond helping her chill out. “It’s a great canvas for experimentation,” she says. “You can do so much outside the box. I think that’s why there’s been such an explosion of unique ice cream. The possibilities are truly infinite.”
Case likens the making of ice cream to cooking rather than baking, because one can interact with it during the process to make it hotter or sweeter or saltier. Using organic, locally-sourced, and hormone-free ingredients whenever possible, Case incorporates products she admires, such as those from women-owned companies, into her base.
Of course, not all flavor ideas turn out as tasty in reality as they were in theory. “We all have our failures. You have to acknowledge them,” she says. The Waldorf Salad ice cream is the flavor mistake most commonly spoken of among the Coolhaus team. Imagine a Bleu cheese base with caramelized apple and walnut—it sounds promising, but Case said the aged cheese made her want to gag. Recently, she tried to incorporate pickles, Thai peanut butter, and chipotle into an ice cream for a Jewish deli line. “When my intern opened the top for the company-wide sample, she actually screamed because she thought the pickles were vermin,” she recalls. “When someone screams when they open your ice cream, it’s probably not going to succeed in the case.”
The decision to start the business as a food truck was based on affordability. In addition to a low barrier to entry and less cost, trucks were having a moment when the duo debuted at Coachella in 2009. The mobile portion of the business has endured, and the company now has a fleet of ten trucks and carts. “The truck is great—you can be every neighborhood’s mom-and-pop. It’s a great platform to have a brand to grow from,” Case says.
And grow it has, with a little help from Twitter, which was just gaining strength when the first truck hit the streets. “We grew up with social media,” Case says. “That allowed us to have a big voice for free.”
Investment allowed for brick-and-mortar expansion. Coolhaus now has storefronts in Culver City and Pasadena as well as a 2,200-square foot headquarters, which has allowed Case to build team culture, test flavors, offer more products, and house the trucks. “It was like creating the mother ship for our business,” she says.
When deciding where to expand outside of California, Case says New York was a no-brainer. Dallas was a license situation, where two architects who had a savory food truck wanted to add a dessert truck.
Coolhaus currently has 70 employees during the peak of summer; seven employees are corporate and the rest are hourly for the truck, events, and wholesale. Case estimates distribution will double in 2016. She’s also thinking outside of the frozen category and is working on a cookie concept, candy bars, and a coffee drink. “The sky’s the limit,” she says. “Now that we have the brand and the culture established, we can do anything.”