When artisan ice cream brand Salt & Straw landed in Southern California, the company had already made national headlines for its quirky flavors and long lines due to an unlimited(!) samples policy. Two years and three Los Angeles-area locations later, the Portland export has declared its cool-kid position with the ultimate status opening: a fourth and larger scoop shop in the hip(ster) Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles.
In advance of the downtown location opening, we were invited to the chilly rooms of the Boyle Heights kitchen (a former chorizo factory) to try our hand at crafting a batch of candycorpia ice cream. As semi-soft butterscotch ice cream flowed out of the churner, we grabbed fistfuls of housemade chocolate that resembled Snickers, Heath Bars, Reese’s and Whoppers candies. Fun fact: Each Salt & Straw flavor is graded on its degree of difficulty, and ranked based on how many hands are required to craft a batch. (We had at least four sets.)
“Ice cream is just cream and sugar frozen. Those are the only rules,” expresses Salt & Straw Head Ice Cream Maker Tyler Malek. The co-founder’s playful ethos is apparent in the ambitious approach the brand takes to every creation, with menus rotating monthly. Malek co-founded Salt & Straw with his cousin, Kim Malek, in Portland in May 2011. With humble beginnings as an ice cream cart with eight flavors, the company has grown to include three shops in Portland in addition to the Los Angeles scoop shops, all of which serve up handmade, small batch ice creams, milkshakes and floats in spaces flecked with nostalgic accents. Whimsical flavors include freckled woodblock chocolate and almond brittle with salted ganache, among a rotating roster of Los Angeles-specific flavors such as avocado & strawberry sherbet and black olive brittle & goat cheese.
But, the ice cream business is not all play. Salt & Straw is seriously committed to supporting local artisans, producers and farmers to craft its flavors and, in turn, support the communities it inhabits. That includes using 100% all-natural cream from Scott Brothers Dairy (based in Chino, CA) and donating proceeds from the sales of select flavors to Inner-City Arts, a Los Angeles–area art education non-profit for underserved youth. “We exported our culture from Portland, not our product,” Tyler Malek said.
At the 1,800-square-foot scoop shop in DTLA, a retail section and Producer Series highlights Salt & Straw’s favorite partnerships. First up was a residency by The Meadow, from Selmelier and James Beard Award winner Mark Bitterman (http://digital.copcomm.com/i/689634-spring-summer-2016/78). Bitterman has collaborated with the brand on using craft salts and bitters in their ice creams in flavors like sea salt with caramel ribbons and woodland bitters with lovage jello. Tyler Malek described a moment in which Bitterman arrived with an expandable briefcase packed with endless varieties of salt, ready to be played and experimented with in the ice cream R & D phase: “That process of NOT knowing was a discovery,” he said, a boyish twinkle in his eye.
Salt & Straw 829 E. 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90013, 213.988.7070
Other locations include Larchmont Village, Venice and Studio City.
Follow Salt & Straw on Facebook at Salt and Straw Ice Cream; Twitter and Instagram: @SaltandStraw.