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.
3400 Overland Ave (also 10640 Woodbine St - they are synonymous)
Los Angeles, CA 90034
www.scoopswestside.com (website to come soon)