NRN profiles one of the four 2012 Hot Concepts award winners
The Hot Concepts awards are given each year by Nation’s Restaurant News to young, growing chains that embody the perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit of the restaurant industry. Here, we profile one of the four 2012 Hot Concepts award winners.
The traditional American ice cream truck has evolved, and it’s not relying on the tinkling notes of “The Entertainer” or “in the Straw” to attract customers’ attention anymore. These days it’s driving business with culinary innovation.
And Coolhaus is on the cutting edge.
“The use of sour, salty and savory ingredients is almost a given now for ice cream specialists,” said menu trends analyst and Nation’s Restaurant News contributor Nancy Kruse. “[But] Coolhaus really pushes the envelope with provocative flavors. … I suspect many of their patrons are drawn by the off-the-wall offerings.”
Taking inspiration from both food and architecture, the concept’s name is a combination of the Bauhaus modernist design movement; Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas; and the idea that an ice cream sandwich is a “cool house,” with a cookie roof and floor, and ice cream walls.
Culver City, Calif.-based Coolhaus got its start at the 2009 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, where co-founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller first sold their handmade, customizable ice cream-and-cookie sandwiches out of a repurposed postal truck.
“We barely got into Coachella. We were in the camping grounds, so we were kind of roughing it out there, and our truck could barely drive,” Case recalled. “We had to actually tow the truck to Coachella.”
But by the end of the three-day festival, Case and Estreller had not only made enough money to fix the truck, they had drummed up enough press and business to keep it rolling for the next three years.
Initially, the duo catered private events and sold premade ice cream sandwiches to area restaurants, but soon they were able to buy additional trucks and expand into new cities. Today, 11 Coolhaus food trucks serve Austin, Texas; Dallas-Fort Worth; Los Angeles; Miami; and New York. In addition, the company recently opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Culver City.
The brand also is available premade in approximately 100 Whole Foods stores, and Case said that arm of the business has the biggest growth potential, with retail sales expected to double to $1 million by next year.
Central to the concept’s appeal are its innovative flavors, which include everything from classics like Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Sorbet to more adventurous options like Beer & Pretzels, Spicy Pineapple & Cilantro with Serrano Chilis and Fried& Waffles.
Case, who prior to owning Coolhaus worked as a Disney Imagineer, said the inspiration for those unique offerings comes both from cooking and dining out frequently, and from a bit of crystal-ball reading.
“There was the whole bacon dessert trend,” she said. “We had bacon ice cream already, but I started thinking, ‘What’s going to be the next bacon?’ And that’s why we did Fried Chicken & Waffles, because I’m predicting fried chicken might become an interesting dessert ingredient.”
Continued from page 1
Despite the concept’s exhaustive menu of envelope-pushing items, Case said their best- selling combination is the Chocolate Chip cookie with Tahitian Vanilla ice cream.
“We have a really good chocolate chip cookie and a really good vanilla, and it’s important to me that the classics are good, that they’re not just ignored,” she said.
Kevin Higar, a director with market research firm Technomic Inc., agreed that Coolhaus’ menu variety was a big draw, adding that the potential for customization and made-to-order positioning also played key roles.
COOLHAUS AT A GLANCE
Market segment: Ice cream
No. of units: 11 food trucks, 1 brick-and-mortar store
States where located: California, Florida, New York, Texas
Systemwide sales: $3 million, including retail sales
Average unit volume: $250,000
Average check: $5-$6
Method of growth/funding: Private investor, seeking strategic partner
“There are three very strong factors that Coolhaus is going for: customization, the perception of freshness, and the whole idea that I can literally align myself with customers anywhere along the flavor spectrum that I want to be, whether it’s a very tried-and-true flavor profile or it’s something more exotic that you may not have tried before,” he said.
“Not only does it cross people’s tastes, so you’re eliminating or greatly reducing the veto vote, but you have an opportunity to move all across different types of demographics,” Higar continued. “Whether you’re 6 years old or 26 years old or 70 years old, you’re probably going to be someone who enjoys ice cream. And with the price point it’s a very affordable indulgence.”
Case and Estreller, who were planning to get married Aug. 17, are currently focused on expanding their retail business but eventually intend to move the Coolhaus trucks into new markets, as well. Chicago and Washington, D.C., are likely next, according to Case.
“We want to be the Ben & Jerry’s of our generation,” she said. “We have a ways to go, but we want to get there.”
Contact Vanessa Van Landingham at email@example.com.