"It never ends!..."
Tai Kim always gives me that wonderful valediction after I pick up the ice cream every morning from Scoops on Heliotrope. The creator of all Scoops ice cream knows the daily routine of making dozens of gallons of ice cream, with a continually changing selection of flavors that spans hundreds of combinations. His final words also remind me that the grind of working in the food business never really does end. There are always new customers to reach out to, repeat clients who keep your business afloat, and old friends who stick around and make every day worth it.
I remember that feeling of staring at the clock every afternoon, waiting for it to hit 6PM so that I could shut down my computer and head out to that evening's culinary exploration. Instead I fall into the modern restaurateur or food business person's routine: receive deliveries from purveyors (or in my case, pick up the goods), check important emails, balance the books, post comments on social networks to pique customers' interest, review various blogs and review sites for mentions, tidy the shop, put out the chairs, turn on the lights.
Then business starts and you're surprised that anyone even shows up, let alone at 12PM. People need their ice cream fix. If they didn't I wouldn't be in business. I generally make myself a cup of Intelligentsia pourover coffee at this time, when I hit a slight lull. Generally only the diehard fans come right when I open (I've had a customer wait in the parking lot for me to open). As the afternoon moves on, I'll have some of my close friends who work in Century City or West L.A. swing by after lunch and hang out for a bit before going back to work.
Then I'll get a rundown of food writer friends who come for coffee, tea, and a nibble of ice cream (most of the time they're full from eating a big lunch). I encourage them to take out their laptop and tap out a blog post or article. But most of the time we just catch up on the daily restaurant gossip around town, like school kids (or better yet, like those cool guys at the barber shop).
There are countless times during the day when I have to explain the concept to people that show up. "You don't have yogurt?" "Is this gelato?" "Are you guys going to get more flavors?" Are probably the three most common questions I get while I dole out samples to people. The people who insist on getting yogurt become slightly peeved and walk out. Good riddance. There are plenty of Yogurtlands for them (actually there's one just down the street on Overland). The fad will fade. People need to realize that there's nothing special about frozen yogurt - it's neither healthy nor particularly flavorful. Sure I enjoy a few swirls now and then but seriously - it's quasi-healthful soft serve with a slight tang.
The second question is a bit more interesting to me. Most people who insist on getting gelato have no idea what real gelato is. If I start talking about low overrun and the varying composition of gelato versus ice cream, people look puzzled. So I stop and just tell them that this is good ol' ice cream, that old fashioned treat of Haagen Daas and Baskin-Robbins fame, but with a new twist - more innovative flavors and a bit of a lighter composition. I understand at this point that having an educated conversation about ice cream with most customers isn't going to be worth it - just give them a taste and let their palates convince them. Thankfully, most of them are, because this ice cream is some of the best stuff on earth.
Let me say this as objectively as I can. Even though I don't make the ice cream, I know almost every step of the process - certainly better than most people. I worked at the Scoops on Heliotrope for six months before opening the Westside location. I also went to a number of top ice cream shops around L.A. and San Francisco and Scoops definitely holds its own. The texture and creaminess is somewhat unfamiliar to a lot of people. Since most of us consume ice cream that's been kept for some time in the freezer, it means that we're used to eating a gummier, heavier, thicker, firmer ice cream that's often filled with stabilizers. Not that all stabilizers are bad - they can improve the texture of an ice cream that would otherwise get icy. Some stabilizers are even "natural" ingredients. Yet we don't use any at Scoops. Which leads us to the third most-asked question: why don't you guys have more flavors?
Well I'll preface this by saying that when the weather gets warmer, we do intend to expand Scoops Westside's daily selection of flavors. However, I don't see the need. If we have a smaller, edited selection, then we can have quicker turnover of the daily batches we get and therefore have fresher ice cream. Because we don't use any stabilizers in our ice cream, the stuff doesn't last much longer than a couple of days in the freezer, even in the reduced temperature of the freezer we have here at the store.
Enough worry about the questions people have about the store. There's been enough said about the sterile looking decor, which is so white and blindingly bright that I feel like I'm in an asylum, but without the plush walls. I'm remedying this problem this weekend, with the contractor coming out to smooth out the walls and paint it a lovely color. We have a new artist planned to put her pieces on the wall, with a big bigger scale than the one we started with. And my electrician is scheduled to come later today to talk about some track lighting, which should make the light more flattering. And there's the question of signage - the stuff is expensive and involves a lot of decisions. I'm trying to figure out exactly what I want right now, but I kind of like the underground, low-budget look - it makes us seem less corporate.
What really reminds me of why I got into this business are those quiet and loud moments that are spread out during the day. When I see two mothers and their two newborns sitting at the small table that was once my family's breakfast nook (it's going back home after I replace it), chatting away and catching up with their lives. It's when I see a middle-aged father and his young son hanging out after school, enjoying some new flavors. It's the group of four college students who linger over a few cups of coffee and browse the various magazines I've set out on the tables. It's when I get the sense that Scoops Westside has captured the original intent of Scoops on Heliotrope - a hangout place that's comfortable and affordable. Despite the initial struggles, it's only been the first month and we've done very well already. People thought I was crazy for opening in the middle of winter. Well, it can only get better as the weather gets warmer. I can see the sun poking out now after almost a straight week of torrential rain. What a relief.