Natasha Case had a nightmare just the other night. It was her first one in years. “I was making Dirty Mint Chip ice cream with the First Lady at the White House but I forgot the recipe and half of the ingredients,” says Case, laughing both at the ridiculousness of the dream, and also the palpable feelings of anxiety. See, Case, the co-founder of hip ice cream truck-turned-full-fledged-sweet-tooth enterprise, Coolhaus, is headed to D.C. this Fourth of July to make ice cream with POTUS, FLOTUS, and for hundreds of military servicemen and women. Nerves are understandable. (Not to mention, she is a judge on the Food Network’s “Chopped” tonight. Talk about pressure!) “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, God. Ice cream nightmares again?’”
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It’s hard to believe that Case sold her first ice cream sandwich almost a decade ago at Coachella 2009. “The Los Angeles native launched Coolhaus with co-founder FreyaEstreller while working in architecture at Walt Disney Imagineering. They say, “It’s all a blur.” Case’s inspiration for Coolhaus came while exploring “Farchitecture” (food architecture) in her UCLA master’s program. She learned that design could enhance a person’s dining experience and, in turn, food could bring awareness to architecture. Sure, she thought, food was fun—but Case was on track to be an architect, which had been her lifelong dream. Yet she couldn’t shake this ice cream thing. One night, after spending hours mixing bowls of ingredients and making sandwiches, she got the idea to name them after famous architects. The “Frank Berry” is a snickerdoodle cookie sandwich with strawberry ice cream, so named after Frank Gehry. The unpretentious yet delicious pairing of double chocolate chip cookies and Dirty Mint Chip ice cream speaks to the minimalist movement in design, making this combination the perfect choice for those who appreciate simplicity.
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The duo located a postal truck in poor condition on Craigslist outfitted it with chrome rims and speakers, then drove out to the festival happening in the desert. The rest is delicious history. “On one hand, 2009 seems so long ago. But on the other hand, it feels like just the beginning of something so much bigger.”
Coolhaus has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a single truck selling ice cream. Today, their products are sold in nearly 4,000 supermarkets across the United States, including Whole Foods, Safeway, and Kroger. The company has gone beyond sandwiches and now offers cookbooks with recipes for desserts, pints of ice cream, cookies, candy bars, and more. The target market of millennials is especially drawn to the Coolhaus brand because of its creativity, fresh ingredients (all-natural, handmade organic items are used whenever possible), and unique flavor combinations. “They feel like there’s an authentic story that you want to get behind,” says Case. “People feel they can relate to my career pivot like ‘Oh, that’s something that I would want to do or ‘I know someone who did that.” This year, it is estimated that Coolhaus will bring in $5 million from wholesale deals alone. That’s a huge increase from the $5 festival fare we’re used to seeing.
So how did they achieve this? “Honestly, the vision book we drafted when we first started was the thing that was most instrumental in getting me to realize that this is a brand, this is a lifestyle—not just a food truck company.”
Early on, Case and Estreller met with investor Bobby Margolis (the man behind Target’s Cherokee jeans) who challenged them to think beyond the trendy food truck. He suggested creating a vision book to jot down all of the directions they wanted their company to grow in, as dealing with repair costs, city zoning, and parking laws, plus unpredictable staffing issues made food trucks a risky investment.
In addition to putting pen to paper when conceptualizing a new venture, Case strongly advises testing the waters. “If you’re going to pivot, there’s a lot you can do to grow [a business] on the side before you dive in,” she says. “Bring your product to a farmer’s market or start an e-commerce business. You don’t have to say, “Okay, this is it. I’m quitting my corporate job on day one of the new business.”
And don’t fret, you won’t have to give up your old life entirely. “It’s not like you’re rejecting your training and your other career,” insists Case. “It can still come into play.” An excellent example is that Case still designs all of the marketing materials, packaging, and assets using her top-tier degrees and love of design. The website’s graph paper background reveals her underlying passion. “You can always use your original career or training to your advantage and get a fresh look at your new industry.”
So, what’s the deal with that nightmare? Does she still have night sweats from the memory of having to make ice cream with the First Lady? “I’m living the dream,” says Case. And yes, she has checked and rechecked all ingredients required to serve up 2000 ice cream bars on White House grounds. “This is really what I’ve been working for. It’s what I live for.”
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Photos: Courtesy of Coolhaus