December 03, 2010

From Blogger to Proprietor: Why I Opened Scoops Westside

I've had a little bit of time to reflect over the past few months, while my shop has been in construction, thinking about the reason why I decided to leave my job as a commercial bank analyst to a full-time proprietor of a small ice cream shop in West Los Angeles. The move was by no means immediate - it was a confluence of factors that occurred in my life and around. All I know is that I'm in head first into an industry that I've just come to understand.

It really started when a friend of mine turned me onto the original Scoops Ice Cream on Heliotrope. You can read about my early experiences at the shop on this post. When I was in college, with only a few bucks to spare a week for treats like ice cream and cupcakes, I came to Scoops on a regular basis - sometimes three or four times a week. I just loved the indie vibe of the place, the rotating artwork by local artists and the edgy part of town the shop resided in. I had dreams of opening a shop like this of my own one day, perhaps after I retired from my cushy bank job in the highrise buildings of Beverly Hills and Downtown L.A.

The dream started to coalesce into a reality when I was unable to find a job during the current economic downturn. After quitting my bank job (for a number of reasons, two of which were the general unpleasantness of being in banking and the boredom), I decided to explore my options. I dabbled in starting a Korean barbeque cart/truck before realizing that full time cooking wasn't really an interest to me. Although I came to respect the people who dedicate their lives in the kitchen, I knew it wasn't for me.

Instead I looked to something I knew I could handle as a first-time entrepreneur - ice cream and coffee. The two things aren't as valued here in L.A. as they are in towns like San Francisco and New York. The Bay Area has a bevy of compelling ice cream shops from Bi-Rite and Humphry Slocombe in The Mission to newcomer Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous in Dogpatch. Also consider Ici and Tara's Organic Ice Cream in Berkeley. San Francisco also a wealth of great local coffee roasters such as Four Barrel, Ritual, Sightglass, and (for some, though not for me) Blue Bottle.

What drew me to these particular areas were two things - two very familiar, every day things that are taken to another level on the culinary scale. Consider ice cream - my mother started me at 31 Flavors (Baskin-Robbins) when I was an infant. I remember my earliest crack at Thrify Ice Cream (still love the chocolate malted crunch). Ice cream is a universal crowd pleaser of a comfort food that just begs to be a displayed in a multitude of flavors. And then there's coffee - the current zeitgeist of coffee culture might show a slight pull toward zealous coffee geeks, there's a growing consumer base of coffee lovers who value flavor, source of production, and roast quality (as well as brew quality). It'd be hard to imagine five years ago that a place like Intelligentsia could get away with serving five dollar cups of brewed coffee (not counting ridiculously expensive Korean cafes or Brentwood Starbucks locations). And then consider how unlikely it would be for people to line up every day (at both Venice and Silver Lake) for some of the best coffee in the U.S., paying for that level of quality.

The timing for nouveau ice cream and what I'll call "nth" wave (because the ordering of the waves of coffee is kinda funny and ridiculous) of coffee is right. With the economy dead in the water, small luxuries are the next thing. What drew me to Scoops Ice Cream was its ability to exhibit never-before-tasted flavors such as jackfruit, durian, pandan, caviar, olive oil (in ice cream), foie gras, and more. And even beyond these more exotic flavoring was the interplay of two ingredients that compelled people to think about the flavors they were experiencing. The same goes for well-sourced and roasted coffee. I read on Godshot that it seems that coffee people tend to favor the more moderate roasted beans that feature acidity or "brightness" while foodies favor darker roast that resembles a really good cup of diner coffee. Instead these high-altitude coffees from far-flung locales, small co-operatives or farms, advanced processing takes the coffee industry closer to wine. Although something as lofty as terroir might still be a goal for these coffees, the layering of fruits, nuts, liquors, cocoas, and floral aromas displays a powerful and approachable interpretation of flavors that beckons the aspiring gourmand to tap into the powers of their palate. Coffee is the poor man's starting point to experiencing great wine, spirits, cigars - anything that can display depth.

Ice Cream fulfills everyone's need for comfort while coffee propels palate and mind to heights (and excellent caffeine buzzes). That's all fine and dandy. But I think what really compelled me to open Scoops on the Westside was what the original Scoops on Heliotrope has become in five years time - a community gathering place, where locals can converge to hang out in a casual atmosphere any time of the day. After looking around the Westside for a pocket where a place like this, I found a need in the nook that's known as Palms. Nestled in between Culver City, Palms, Santa Monica, and South Beverly Hills, Palms hosts a number of schools and a concentration of young professionals and families.

What I hope Scoops Westside becomes is that default after-school or pre/post-dinner spot. It's the nighttime haunt for rice bowl eaters or vegans or studio employees or locals. It's a place to watch the long summer sun wane. It's respite from brisk winters.

For me, it's about service - it's about giving people an experience in food and drink that they'll remember and cherish, as casual as it might be. It's going from wondering what part I'm playing in peoples' lives to having a direct connection in the form of frozen dessert and warm drink.

Scoops Westside
3400 Overland Ave (also 10640 Woodbine St - they are synonymous)
Los Angeles, CA 90034 (website to come soon)


Burp and Slurp~! said...

I'm going to have to visit sometime soon (after I bribe somebody for a ride)! :)

I loved what you said about the connotations behind ice-cream and coffee. Also, come on. A banker vs. an ice-cream shop owner. Which is cooler? No competition there.

Ice-cream = childhood memories and nostalgia
Coffee = a "grown up" break from hectic work
Together = A wonderful, lovely, heart-and-mind-expanding experience. :-)

Gastronomer said...

Good luck with your new endeavor, Matt. Vern and I will swing by just as soon as we can. Keep on scoopin'!

Kelly said...

Congrats! said...

Congratulations! It's really inspiring to see someone take a food dream and turn it into a food reality. I think you can look forward to a lot of success with scoops westside.

mattatouille said...

Sophia - thanks so much for the kind words. yes, I guess owning an ice cream shop is cool, but the work that goes into it is tough. Being a banker is just moving money around while running a shop is creating value. I like that better. Please come and enjoy the ice cream soon.

mattatouille said...

Cathy, thank you. Hope to see you and Vern soon. Barely seen you guys since ya'll got hitched.

mattatouille said...

Kelly - thank you! come visit soon

mattatouille said...

los angelicious times: thank you for the kind words. I do hope that this venture is successful because I have put my entire heart into it. It's hard on a day to day, hour by hour basis, but looking back I do see that it's all worth it.

glutster said...


Congrats dude.

Really happy for you. I can't think of a better life choice for you! Seriously! I knew you were destined to be a indie ice cream shop owner since the first time I met you! Remember? We were too early for dinner so ended up getting some pre-dinner ice cream at scoops? haha.

...To many more diverse flavors of scoop-able joy in the future!

ila said...

congrats, and good luck! hopefully when i open my future restaurant (in like... 20 years) i can order ice cream from you! ;-)

mrspark said...

ice cream is good.

mattatouille said...

It should be stated that Scoops westside is a branch of Scoops Ice Cream and uses the same ice cream that the original Scoops on Heliotrope uses. I was fully authorized by Taice Cream Co, the entity that owns Scoops Ice Cream, to open this Westside location of Scoops. I hope these facts were made clear in the blog post but if they were not here it is.

chubbuni said...

Good luck with your new venture, Matt. It's hard getting out there and hustling in the food service industry, but you have a good product and the drive and I don't see why you can't be wildly popular. Plus, it doesn't hurt that there are two elementary schools within walking distance of your place.

I'll be sure to walk down this week with my wife. Good luck.

Fritos and Foie Gras said...

congratulations!!! Wish you all the success in the world!!

H. C. said...

What a nice behind-the-scenes post behind your Scoops West Side Story (BA DA BAM!) -- definitely beats retelling it over and over again (like my foray into vegetarianism)

Likewise, as much as I love to cook, my brief back-of-house stint in college made me realized that it's not for me either (I do immensely enjoy front-of-house work though.)

But best wishes with your new place and look forward to swinging by in the near future

Joshua Lurie said...

Best of luck. You should report back online as the business progresses.

Aaron said...

Man, makes me want to fly out to LA to visit your shop. Next time I'm in California I'll try to make some time for a drive down the coast.

the actor's diet said...

i can't wait to come visit you and the shop! scoops is by far my favorite place in all of LA. see you soon, matt!!!

triplescoopdesserts said...

Congrats on your new store. I hope you able to accomplish dream as it is your living my dream! I'll be sure to visit next time I'm in Santa Monica.

Maybe someday I can open up one in the LBC.