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Cajeta or Masala Chai? The many flavors of the Eastside ice cream boom

Courtesy Wanderlust Creamery

By JACQUELINE FERNANDEZ

It seems like the days of the froyo are behind us and those craving a frozen dessert are going to back to a traditional favorite: ice cream. That may explain why the Eastside has attracted several new shops serving up scoops of artisanal ice cream and swirls of softserve.

In less than three years,  nine shops have opened or have announced plans to do so in Atwater Village, Echo Park, Los Feliz and Silver Lake.  For example, Pasadena-based Benjees Ice Cream is on the verge of opening a new shop in Echo Park one block over from where Icy Rush opened only last year.

In addition to serving traditional favorites, the new shops are introducing customers to new flavors, like cajeta (Mexican caramel), Masala Chai, and sweet corn with berries.  But are there’s enough customers to go around to try these new flavors and pay prices that can easily $4 a scoop or $12 for a pint.

“The truth is, ice cream is not coffee,” said Michael Palmer, CEO of McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, which opened a store in Los Feliz. “It’s not something people generally consume multiple times per day.”

Still, Palmer and other ice cream makers expect high-quality and unique flavors will keep customers coming back for more.

Here’s a sample of some the new generation of ice cream shops:

Icy Rush | Echo Park

A post shared by Icy Rush Co. (@icyrushco) on

Icy Rush got its start supplying ice cream to children’s parties before opening a store last year on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park.

“We did research before opening; I went to a lot shops,” said owner Laura Flores. “I think they’re all very different. Someone might be looking for something super sweet and I don’t make super sweet, so they go someplace else, and that’s ok.”

Flores says their busiest hours are in the evening. Their most popular flavors are Mexican chocolate, cajeta (Mexican caramel), sweet and spicy watermelon, and coffee cake. They also always have at least 5 vegan options.

“People just come to get ice cream and hang out,” Flores said. “From what we can keep track of, at least 30% of our customers are regulars.”

Icy Rush is at 2148 Sunset, Echo Park

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams | Los Feliz

In Los Feliz, McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams is attracting locals not just with their ice cream, but also with their patio overlooking Hollywood Boulevard

“It’s really all about the patio, about engaging with the sidewalk crowd and the neighbors,” says Michael Palmer, owner of McConnell’s. “That’s a huge part of the store’s success,”

McConnell’s, a Santa Barbara-based business, also added locations in downtown Los Angeles and Studio City.

The 68-year-old brand prides itself in making original favorites, like mint chip, but also creating new flavors,  such as Masala Chai and Dates & Walnuts, which has been a hit at the Los Feliz shop.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams is at 4634 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz


Smitten Ice Cream | Silver Lake

Smitten Ice Cream, which plans to open next spring in Silver Lake,  makes all its products — from its flavors and waffle cones – from scratch.  It even patented a liquid nitrogen-enabled machine — called Brrr — that freezes ice cream in 90 seconds.

“With its open chef’s kitchen, our Silver Lake shop will allow us to showcase our process of making the freshest, tastiest ice cream from start to finish,” said Robyn Fisher, CEO of Smitten, which operates stores in Northern California and a shop in El Segundo.

“We’re excited to bring our signature “Churn-Your-Own” ice cream classes down to Silver Lake, where guests get to design and create their own pints by the season.”

The Silver Lake shop on Sunset Boulevard also aims to partner with local chefs and mixologists to  collaborate on new flavors and hold in-shop tasting events.

They will also offer its classics, such as Cookie Dough with Pretzels and Chocolate Chips, and fresh-from-the-farm seasonals, such as Sweet Corn with Berries.

Smitten will be located at 3100 Sunset Blvd, Silver Lake.

Wanderlust Creamery | Atwater Village

Wanderlust Creamery opened earlier this year in Atwater Village with a concept based on serving eccentric ice cream flavors based on actual travel experiences. This has included a Negroni-flavored ice cream and a Palo Santo “Mint Chip.”  Also, in contrast to Wanderlust’s original location in Tarzana and its Smorgasburg LA shop, the Atwater Village store offer more vegan options and experimental flavors.

“The Atwater Village location is doing better than we had anticipated,” says Adrienne Borlongan, chef and creative partner at Wanderlust Creamery.  Employees already calls customers on a first name basis, with about a quarter of the clientele regarded as regulars.

“It seems as if the neighborhood has taken a liking to us, especially the young families,” Borlongan said. “We’ve noticed we’ve also become sort of a after school hangout for kids and their parents.”

Borlongan doesn’t worry about competition because her product is so uncommon.

“Sometimes you’re in the mood for just something comforting and nostalgic when it comes to ice cream – and that’s what most other ice cream shops provide,” she said. “But then there’s other times where you’re up for adventure and discovering something new; that’s where we come in.”

Wanderlust is at 3134 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village

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One comment

  1. It’s amazing to me that Eagle Rock still doesn’t have a great ice cream place. Jenis, McConnells or Salt and Straw wold do amazing on Colorado with all the families and kids, not to mention Oxy, and there are a few good locations available for rent.

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