How do you take an old-school treat like ice cream and turn it into something innovative, fresh and trendy? Natasha Case, co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based craft ice cream purveyor Coolhaus, used her background in architecture and design to launch one of the nation’s most exciting and unique ice cream empires.
“I started playing around with the concept of ‘farchitecture’ (food + architecture) in college,” explains Natasha. “One of my grad school professors said my model looked like a layer cake, and I thought, ‘why is that a bad thing?’ For my next presentation, I showed up with a model made out of actual cake. Everyone loved it.”
She started making ice cream sandwiches for co-workers in 2008, naming the fun dessert creations after famous architects and design movements. Natasha then met her soon-to-be co-founder, Freya Estreller, who encouraged her to turn her hobby into a business.
In 2009, they bought an old postal van and drove it out to Coachella Valley to make their debut at the eponymous annual music festival. They served their architecturally inspired ice cream sandwiches to throngs of concert goers and received a very welcome customer response. Natasha notes this is one of the first moments in which she knew the business could be a success. As Coolhaus launched, Freya handled the operations and financial modeling while Natasha took on sales, marketing and PR, and created the visual identity of the brand.
Today, Coolhaus has expanded into a national artisan operation, with 10 mobile ice cream trucks and carts, two Los Angeles-area storefronts, and ice cream sandwiches, pints and bars in more than 4,000 retail markets across the country. They get booked to cater weddings and private parties, doling out treats to excited guests. Every Coolhaus product is all-natural, handmade and organic whenever possible, and every ice cream “sammie” is delivered with an eco-friendly edible wrapper made from potato wafer paper and edible ink.
The operation is a smashing success today, but the path to dessert stardom wasn’t always easy.
“When we first started Coolhaus, we were 25 years old and had no management experience. As a young entrepreneur, it was difficult to manage people, especially being the same age as them,” says Natasha. “It took time to learn and develop a system for effective management.”
While there were natural learning curves in running a business, Natasha says she’s always been inventive. “My dad is an architect and my mom is an animator at Disney, so I’ve always been more of the creative type.
“I’ve also always been passionate about food and cooking—my parents weren’t so into cooking, so I had to take things upon myself a bit,” she continues. “I really started exploring this hobby in college, hosting dinner parties for friends. I’m a self-taught cook, so ice cream was well-suited for me because it’s easy to understand the fundamentals and start exploring creative flavor combinations.”
Coolhaus distinguishes itself with unique flavors like Beer & Pretzels, Fried Chicken & Waffles, Pistachio Black Truffle, Thai Tea and Whiskey Lucky Charms. Cookie flavors—sold separately or artfully tacked onto either side of your ice cream scoop—include Red Velvet, Confetti Whoopie Pie and Peanut Butter Captain Crunch.
“Flavor development is one of my favorite parts of my job. There’s so much inspiration out there, from other chefs, products, etc., so I don’t struggle to come up with new flavors,” says Natasha. “I’ve definitely had some flavor fails though. Once, an intern opened our test batch of Pickles & Peanut Butter ice cream and actually shrieked. Needless to say, that one didn’t make it to the scoop shop.”
So what’s next for Coolhaus?
“We’re planning on doubling our wholesale distribution in 2016 and we’re also thinking of moving outside of the frozen category,” says Natasha. “Stay tuned for cookies, candy bars, and maybe even a coffee drink!”