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Food for Thought: Coolhaus Serves Ice Cream and More

By S. Mathur

Architecturally-inspired gourmet ice-cream is an idea whose time has come. Natasha Case, CEO and Co-founder of Coolhaus, has a mission, to bridge the gap between the rarefied world of architecture and the people whose lives it affects, and she uses ice cream and cookies to make this happen: "I thought that bringing food into the architectural dialogue would help solve both the awareness and intimidation factor: food makes everything more fun, accessible; it creates memories and a feeling of connectivity. I started to call this 'movement' Farchitecture."

Coolhaus made its debut at the Coachella festival in 2009, with a postal van converted into an ice cream truck. Since then it has expanded to ten trucks in LA, NYC and Texas, 2 of its own brick and mortars in LA (the flagship is in Culver City, and to its somewhat staid hometown of Pasadena, CA, Coolhaus brings innovation, giving edgy a broad appeal, and combining classic with whacky), and more than 4000 retail outlets around the country. The emphasis on organic and sustainable ingredients has led to tie-ins with retail stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Direct, but Coolhaus has expanded into more mass market grocers like Safeway and Kroger without compromising any of the quality or integrity of the product. Coolhaus has also grown in the food service channel with partners like Bareburger and Umami Burger as well.

The architectural connection is centered in the ice-cream sandwich fondly known as "The Sammie", with its cookie floor and roof and ice-cream walls. The flavors include such culinary innovations on the ice cream side as fried chicken and waffles, brown butter candied bacon and green tea, nutella toasted almond, and beer and pretzels. On the cookie side: black & white, snack food chip, salted caramel macarons, fruity pebbles, and red velvet. The edible wrappers carry the message further, with special wrappers for special occasions. The chrome and magenta food trucks and their brick and mortars offer made-to-order ice cream sandwiches, and Coolhaus distributes its best and most unique combination as pre-packaged sandwiches to retailers. The long lines at the trucks and shops are evidence of their popularity.

Coolhaus flavors and textures are inspired by the sweet-and-savory taste revolution and by Case's own favorite foods. Asked to describe her favorite flavor, she picks two: "For a classic, I love our "Mintimalism" = Double Chocolate Chip cookie + Dirty Mint Chip ice cream. The flavor is named after minimalist design, of course - and the dynamics of the flavor speak to that movement: classic, simple elegance with flair (real mint leaves and a touch of brown sugar). For whacky - I love our "Fast Food" ice cream right now: Salted Tahitian Vanilla Bean ice cream with Milk Chocolate Malt Balls and Shoestring French Fries. It's architectural in that it deconstructs and reconstructs the experience of dipping a french fry in a malt shake---the whole salty and sweet speaks to that perfect burger meal at a spot like In-N-Out or a diner."

Coolhaus also attends special events, often with specially designed wrappers bearing an appropriate message. A Coolhaus truck at the launch of Google's Android app "Ice Cream Sandwich", handed out hundreds of, what else, ice cream sandwiches. And for the season finale of Dexter, Showtime's crime series, Coolhaus trucks offered special "Killer Combos". Stars from the show were on hand to scoop ice cream. Of course, nothing says you've arrived like being invited to the White House to cater the July 4th celebration, with fireworks over Washington Monument. Coolhaus has found enormous success with its unique combination of different arts -both locally, and on the national stage.

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