By Elena Kadvany
Smitten Ice Cream on its way to Los Altos Whole FoodsUploaded: Dec 10, 2013
"I'm pretty much obsessed with ice cream," said Robyn Goldman, founder of San Francisco-based Smitten Ice Cream.
That much is obvious, from the way Smitten got its start (Goldman selling ice cream on the streets of San Francisco out of a red Radio Flyer wagon) to how the ice cream is made (with a patented, carefully engineered ice cream machine that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze made-to-order batches of the sweet stuff).
Goldman, a Boston native who lives in San Francisco, is expanding her ice cream business from one Hayes Valley location to four across the Bay Area, including one in the Los Altos Whole Foods that's slated to open mid-December.
Peninsulites might yawn in the face of another ice cream shop (especially with the weather we've been having), but Smitten sets itself apart in a crowded industry in a few ways.
While Goldman was a student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in the early 2000s, she started researching how to make great ice cream.
"I basically learned that if you freeze ice cream really, really cold and you do it well, you can actually create a smaller ice crystal which creates a better texture," she said. "If you can perfect that process … you can do something really cool, pun intended."
Using liquid nitrogen, which clocks in at -321 degrees Farenheit, is the ticket to that perfected process. (Smitten might have kickstarted this trend in the Bay Area, which other ice cream proprietors are now following, including Scoop Microcreamery in downtown Palo Alto.)
So obviously, Goldman ended up buying a bunch of ice cream machine parts off Craigslist and worked with an engineer to retrofit an existing mixer, playing around with the machine, nitrogen and resulting product. After she graduated from Stanford in 2007, she went around the country, talking to people developing different things within the ice cream world.
"I really didn't think any of them had legs," she said. "I realized after awhile to do this, I had to do it myself. It really didn't exist yet."
Goldman teamed up with a retired engineer and spent two years in his "basement shop" building a prototype for the perfect ice cream machine. Once it was built (and later patented and named the "Brrr" machine), she was of course out of money, having spent her life savings on the machine.
"So I started selling ice cream on the street out of a Radio Flyer wagon, which was a good way of getting it out there fast," she said. (The red wagon is now the company's logo.) "Of course, the wagon is a reference to the wholesome, old-fashioned approach as well as this crazy machine sitting on top of it referenced that we're both going backwards in time and forward together using fresh, pure local ingredients with a real food-centered approach."
She eventually opened the Hayes Valley brick and mortar store in April 2011.
What you get at Smitten is a frozen-to-order serving of ice cream made with only the most local, most seasonal ingredients available (of course). Flavors include staples like salted caramel, fresh mint, classic vanilla and TCHO chocolate, plus season-driven ones like rhubarb crisp, maple brown sugar squash and cinnamon apple crisp
The Los Altos location, twice as big as the Hayes Valley store, will have six "Brrr" machines on site, an expanded menu with 50 percent more flavors and additional items, such as "Brrrgers," which are made-to-order brioche ice cream sandwiches crafted by Smitten's pastry chef, Robyn Lenzi. (Having trouble picturing what that would look like? See a photo here.) They'll also be doing sundaes, floats and vegan popsicles.
The ice cream store is not technically inside the Whole Foods, but rather adjacent. There's an entrance from within the market as well as from outside in the front parking lot.
If you've ever been to the Hayes Valley store, which resembles a shipping container, you'll find the same motif in Los Altos.
"It looks like shipping containers stacked to the ceiling," Goldman said, with a 40-foot-high ceiling. There's also a lot of warm barn wood and corrugated metal, all referencing dairy and agriculture, Goldman explained.
Smitten officially opened for business on Thursday, Dec. 19. Store hours: Monday-Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Smitten Ice Cream
Whole Foods Market Los Altos
4800 El Camino Real, Los Altos