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July 10, 2014

Ice-Cream Sandwiches Gone Wild: Five Questions for the Founders of Coolhaus

Maybe you’ve had a Coolhaus ice-cream sandwich from one of the company's fleet of trucks roving around L.A., NYC, Austin, and Dallas. Or perhaps sampled their inventive flavors from the pints, bars, and prepackaged sandwiches now sold in stores across the country. But did you know that Coolhaus was founded by two very cool women -- ice-cream sandwich experts and architecture aficionados Natasha Case and Freya Estreller?

We caught up with this dynamic duo for a chat after their interview on Martha's SiriusXM radio show. They shared their thoughts on cookies, ice cream flavors -- oh, and creating a super-hip, uber-successful business empire.

Victoria Spencer
Senior Digital Food Editor
coolhaus-case-estreller-in-truck-0514.jpg
Natasha Case, left, and Freya Estreller, right, in one of their trucks.

Where did the name Coolhaus come from?
Natasha: It’s a triple entendre, partly inspired by architect Rem Koolhaas, who is my favorite because he is very interdisciplinary, out of the box. And Bauhaus, a play on the German architecture, design, art, and lifestyle movement. And then the last bit is that they [the sandwiches] kind of look like little cool houses -- and so do our trucks. We gave the sandwiches punny names, like Mintimalism and Richard Meier lemon, Frank Behry. And then our friend was over and she actually said, "You should do a sandwich for Rem Koolhaas; he's such a good architect."

Freya: When she said that, we were like, "What a perfect name!" We googled it and thought, "We can change the "K" to a "C." No one was using it, at least for ice cream. [We thought,] "Great, we’re using it -- and we’re going to take the trademark for ice cream."

Natasha: And Freya the next day at work, I think on a little scrap paper...

Freya: On a napkin...

Natasha: She doodled the logo, and I put it in Illustrator, and then it was done.



How do you come up with ice cream and cookie combinations -- and do you have tips for home cooks for creating sandwiches?
Natasha: You can probably plan out flavors that go well [together], but then making wacky combinations can teach you something. There’s a restaurant across the street from us in Culver City called Muddy Leek, and the chef there did peanut butter-Cap'n Crunch cookies with fried chicken and waffles, and I was like, "Oh, the peanut butter and chicken was like a Thai-Asian thing going." It worked so well. Really, it's pretty hard to fully mess up, and I think things will probably surprise you as far as what goes [together]. Like mint on a peanut-butter cookie is one of the few that wouldn’t work, in my opinion, but there could be people who like it.


Freya: We are heavily influenced by what we are experiencing ourselves culinary-wise. So, having cocktails [for instance]: We made a Bourbon Manhattan ice cream. And, actually, having fried chicken and waffles in L.A. [Coolhaus has a wildly popular Fried Chicken and Waffle ice cream.]

Natasha: That’s really an L.A. dish.

Freya: Horchata, I remember drinking horchata from Taco Truck and thinking, “Horchata -- why don’t we make ice cream out of that?" and it became the vegan option. And that also a lot has to do with us being L.A.-centric.

Natasha: And I think the cookies too, making sure the cookies are not overly sweet; we bring the salt in and brown sugar is more predominant in our cookies, not white. It's less sweet significantly by half -- fun fact. And our cookies are kind of soft but pliable. So you just have to find a cookie that works well with the ice cream. The ice cream is sort of, it has its personality no matter what -- there’s no really altering that, but you can change up the textures of the cookies.

You have bacon ice cream, Peking duck ice cream. What are the flavor combos of the moment?
Freya: I think vegetables are actually very popular right now. For example, another ice-cream company in L.A., Sweet Rose Ice Creamery, is right near our house and they do a pea-mint-thyme ice cream, and it is delicious. I don’t know if I want to eat it late at night when I’m craving something sweet, but to expand your palate in that way with vegetable ice creams -- I think that’s the new thing.

In previous experiments, have you ever had things that you’ve tried that were spectacular failures?
Freya: Anything with aged cheese: We did a Waldorf salad ice cream with a blue-cheese base and candied apples and walnuts. It was not good, disgusting. Although we had a friend over who really, really liked it, so we were able to pawn it off on them! Kudos to Momofuku for pulling off a green apple-aged cheddar cheese soft serve. Good for them experimenting in that direction; it is really hard. Young cheeses are fine, aged -- not.

Natasha: People's tastes are definitely changing: We used to go to shows on the distribution side of the business and we would just be out of vanilla at the end. Now we are out of balsamic-fig-mascarpone! I think there has been a swing in the pendulum. People are more adventurous and more savory. When things are just sweet on sweet, I think it’s just less interesting and you get fatigued. You need to bring in the savory element.


You've had such success in such a short time: trucks, stores, pints, hand carts and coolers in clothing stores, your new book. What is left to achieve?
Natasha: Well, a second book! I think just continuing to grow in the channels that we have. There is just so much growth to be had: in the stores that we are in, adding the rest of the products; adding more stores that we are not in and are the kind of places where our customers are; adding venues, you know, sports stadiums, movie theaters; and fashion partnerships. I think we will continue to be more and more strategic and refine the truck business. I don’t think we'll add more trucks, we are kind of happy with the fleet we have right now. And the great thing is that you can move them temporarily. We’re going to San Francisco at a certain point.

Freya: We have 12 trucks now, and they sort of do the brand-building on the street. It’s not like the Ben & Jerry’s truck where it's brand-building but it’s a marketing expense because they are giving out their ice cream. We’re going to keep the model of the traditional ice-cream vendor.

Natasha: And then I think, there are more products to be added, the bars and the pints have already been a big success even though they have just launched. We could do mini bars...

Freya: Bon bons.

Natasha: And mini sandwiches, you could go outside of frozen into more lifestyle scoops.

Freya: I know we’re already doing more cool collaborations like with Hoodie Buddie for merchandise, the Coolhaus sweatshirts and hats, and our Coolhaus mason jars, so who knows? What we have now realized is that we are building a brand.

Natasha: Yeah, some sort of skyscraper.

Freya: Did you know we have a skyscraper challenge? You eat six of our ice-cream sandwiches stacked, and if you eat them in under five minutes, it's free. Tons of people take it down, six in a row, stacked!

Feeling inspired? Then make your own ice-cream sandwich.

Watch Natasha and Freya Make Ice Cream Sandwiches with Sarah Carey

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