I am happy to introduce Treats, a little subsect to the newsletters, where I speak to businesses and the people behind them that make it so special! Sometimes it might be just a person who I really admire that I want to introduce to you! Without further ado… say hello to Erin and Donny from Garden Creamery.
Erin and Donny are the founders of Garden Creamery. As you know, for me, Garden Creamery is the best ice cream shop in the country! Erin was born and raised in Hawaii while Donny was born and raised in California.
Garden Creamery highlights seasonal fruits in a way that I haven’t experienced before. Whatever the fruit is, the flavor of the ice cream is as if you were biting into the best version of that fruit.
Alisson: Where does the name Garden Creamery come from?
Garden Creamery: When we started our business we had recipes we worked hard to create with dreams of selling our ice cream to the public. However, we came across a big hurdle- California’s strict dairy laws! If you manufacture dairy products they must be produced out of a California Dept of Food and Agriculture permitted kitchen. Renting a dairy-certified kitchen was and is to this day nearly impossible to come by and we didn’t have the capital to build one so instead of giving up on our dream, we decided to pivot and create a dairy-free product inspired by the garden and orchard. That's how we came up with the name Garden Creamery! Our slogan back then was “Cream of the Crop” (haha) and we used various fruits, herbs, and teas to create our dairy-free product.
Why ice cream? (A loaded question I know!)
We both love creating and connecting with people and what better way than through food. Ice cream, in particular, is a blank canvas that allows us to create endless flavors, textures, and shades of colors. We enjoy creating flavors that take people back to their childhoods and it brings great joy when our customers get excited to share our product with their friends and family. Ice cream is our way of connecting and bringing people together.
How did growing up in Hawaii and California influence your approach to your business?
Growing up in Hawaii and California has deeply influenced our flavor profiles and the atmosphere of our shop. We source all of our ingredients, produce all of our ice creams, and run a lot of the daily operations ourselves so the product and vibe of GC is really an extension of us!
We carry all the classic flavors like chocolate, strawberry, and cookies and cream in addition to an array of flavors that draw influence from Erin’s childhood in Hawaii. We use a lot of coconut milk and tropical fruit in our ice cream and sorbet bases as well as ingredients such as Li Hing Mui (salty dried Chinese plum) sourced from the same beloved Honolulu crack seed shops that Erin grew up frequenting as a child.
Donny’s background plays a large role in the quality of our product. He grew up in the agricultural capital of the world, the Central Valley in rural Fresno where pretty much every fruit and vegetable was grown within 3-5 miles of his home. As a child, his nickname was “Farm Boy!” He raised and processed animals with his father on their ranch and at the age of 8 years old, his first job was picking chiles and grapes in the Summer. Donny’s farm-to-table connection is deeply rooted and he is always seeking out the best melons, stone fruit, berries, and herbs to use in our ice cream!
Did you have previous culinary experience?
Donny: My experience stems from learning from many hands growing up on my family's ranch. I was raised processing all different types of animals and learned quite a bit about preparing and cooking with a variety of cultural techniques through Polynesian, Hispanic, and Asian celebrations that regularly took place at the family ranch.
Erin: I have no real prior cooking experience but come from a family that has a lineage in food and hospitality. As a child I would go to work on weekends with my father at his juice bar in Waimanalo, helping him create different drinks and I learned a lot about what’s entailed in running a food business through him.
What was the first flavor you worked on together?
Our first creation together was our fresh mint chocolate chip made with Marin Roots Farm’s mint. To this day we still use their mint!
What’s your favorite creation so far?
Our favorite creation is probably our vanilla ice cream! It might sound very “vanilla,” however vanilla is one of the most complex spices around with so many different flavor compounds. Creating a delicious vanilla ice cream that has great bean flavor, isn’t too sweet, and doesn’t have an artificial taste/aftertaste is actually one of the hardest ice cream flavors to nail!
Tell us about a failed creation? Something that sounded good on paper but didn’t make it past the initial tests.
Peanut butter-yellow curry. It sounded so yummy but after making it, we realized it was more of a sample flavor vs a flavor that people would want to eat an entire scoop of. We decided to not even bother tweaking it!
How far ahead in the season do you work or do you let whatever becomes available guide you?
We let whatever is in season guide our flavors and production in addition to whatever flavors we’re inspired to create on a day-to-day basis. We don’t plan flavors weeks or months in advance for production and marketing purposes like bigger companies. We’re a pretty mom-and-pop operation!
What’s your order at the GC window? Are there any combos that you recommend that aren’t well known?
Erin: cantaloupe + birthday cake cookie ice cream made with Frolic and Detour Bakery’s birthday cake cookies.
Donny: velvety chocolate + banana salted graham crust made with Edith’s Pie, Oakland’s salted graham cracker crust.
Some great flavor combos we all tend to love here at the shop are-
Coconut + chocolate, coconut + coffee
Cantaloupe + vanilla, cantaloupe + sesame
Any tips for the budding ice cream maker at home? Any books you recommend?
Using quality ingredients and playing around with different types of dairy to find the flavor profile you are satisfied with is key.
Jenny Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream really inspired us during our early days with her creative and fun takes on ice cream and frozen treats. She’s also kinda the reason we made ice cream novelties and ventured into a truck! We’ve also heard wonderful things from customers about David Leibovitz’s books and believe he does a great job of breaking down the chemistry of ice cream.
Any special flavors coming down the pipeline that you can share?
We have an exciting collaboration with a yummy dumpling spot in SF…. Stay tuned!
A music track that you’re really feeling right now or something that reminds you of your best ice cream memory!
We always listen to James Brown when we are producing (can’t choose just one track) and Donny is constantly busting a move simultaneously!
Thank you so much to Erin and Donny for being so gracious with their time and thanks to all who have read all the way to the end! If you’re ever in San Francisco, Garden Creamery is located on 3566 20th St in the sunny Mission district! Go, brave the line, and indulge in their creations! Until then, I will keep DM’ing them asking when will you please open up a shop in LA! 😋