There is nothing as quintessentially summer as standing in the warmth of the sun, eating a creamy cold ice cream cone before it melts down your hand. It's a simple act that conjures the carefreedays of childhood: dashing through the icy spray of a sprinkler; letting the sun bake and brown your shoulders; lying in green grass with the blue arc of sky above you, surrounded by the hushed drone of bees and distant cars. It's an act that is somehow both nostalgic and very much present, especially now that a host of specialty, local ice cream shops and carts have begun blooming around town like so many sunflowers, featuring a mouth-watering array of new flavor combinations that reach beyond your basic chocolate and vanilla. I met up with Amanda Rhoads, owner of Scoop Handmade Ice Cream, to discuss the particulars of inhabiting this artisanal dessert niche.
Originally from Cleveland, Amanda got her Master's degree in Urban and Regional City Planning worked for years as a city planner here in Portland. As she watched the birth of the food cart movement, she saw a need for more soup carts and began to daydream. In 2009 Amanda was laid off, which worked out well because she had begun to find the desk job tiresome and yearned for more tangible work. As a planner, she was active in advocating for urban agriculture, but worked more on the policy side, rather than as a participant in the actual food being created. Moving to the production side seemed like a natural progression for her, and although enough soup carts had opened up by the time she was laid off, she noticed only a few local ice cream places around. Her cart dream moved in a new direction.
Amanda opened her first ice cream cart in the spring of 2010, at the North Station food carts on N Greeley Ave. Since then, in two important recent moves, she's opened another cart at the SE 50th and Division cart pod and moved her original location from the cart to inside the brick-and-mortar building at North Station. She shares the space with Pizza Depokos, where they share some of the same staff depending on the seasonal ebb-and-flow of business.
Scoop specializes in handmade ice cream: seasonal flavors, milkshakes, and vegan sorbets. At any given time, you can find a range of four to twelve flavors at Scoop's various locations, with classics such as chocolate and strawberry alongside the more exotic, like apricot almond cardamom and oatmeal brown sugar. Amanda also just created the Pint of the Month Club; when you sign up, you get a pint of ice cream delivered (!) to you each month, featuring new ice cream recipes with more labor-intensive and experimental flavors. Recent pints have featured lemon poppy seed, white-wine-poached apricots with roasted hazelnuts, and Irish coffee.
While not officially organic, Amanda uses organic and locally sourced ingredients whenever she can, such as organic sugar and cocoa; berries from Groundwork Organics; coffee from Trailhead Roasters; and hazelnuts from Freddy Guy's Hazelnuts. She works with farmers in Washington and Oregon for other produce and ingredients as much as possible, and gets her dairy products from Lochmead Dairy, a Junction city dairy who she likes because they manage themselves, grow 80% of the food they feed to their cows, process the milk themselves, and are RBST-free.
In addition to the two cart locations, Amanda also has a pushcart she takes to various markets and events as well as a tricycle, her newest venture. The tricycle is used at various farmers markets and eventually local parks, for which she'll need to get a mobile license through the Parks Department. She wants to branch out from the ice cream cone zone into dark chocolate-dipped ice cream bars, doling them out as she pedals around the city in a decidedly less-creepy and more-delicious version of the ice cream truck (music included? We'll see).
When I asked Amanda why she wanted to make ice cream bars instead of sandwiches, she replied that she doesn't want to step on Ruby Jewel's toes, and that there are plenty of other treats to make and experiment with. As far as the ice cream competition goes in Portland, Amanda thinks there's room for everyone, especially as this type of treat tends to be a neighborhood-focused business. People will drive out of their way to get specific kinds of ice cream on occasion, but mostly they just go to the best spot that is closest to where they live.
Another brick-and-mortar spot would be ideal for Amanda at some point in the future, but she's biding her time with so many other ventures on her plate. She'd also like a more movable truck, as she loves the cart, but has realized it wasn't built for transportation so much; all of her goods fall off the shelves with every turn and bump. This increased mobility is vital for attending various events around town, from cart-centric gatherings such as Eat Mobile (over fifty carts met in the OMSI parking lot this year) and street fairs, to corporate gatherings, graduations, weddings, and other events Scoop is hired for. And while all the ice cream Amanda makes is direct-sale for now, she hopes to wholesale at some point, as this would help with the inherent seasonality of the ice cream business.
Back in her city planner days, Amanda had an image of herself in her cart, scooping and making ice cream on her own, supporting herself financially. The true scale has proved to be much grander than she expected, and the volume and sales needed much larger. In fact, she had just begun the hiring process for the season when we spoke, which involves hiring about ten people to staff the kitchen, carts, and markets. And production days have moved up to three instead of two.
Even with all the stresses and new developments, Amanda tries to maintain a careful balance between growing her business and being with her family: her husband, Mark, and their children, Oscar and Eli. Mark is a teacher at a Job Corps, a federal job training program, where he teaches math and reading skills; Oscar and Eli are two sweet, tow-headed, cheerful-looking little boys, delightedly running around in the pictures Amanda showed me on her iPhone.
At the heart of it, the local ice cream business is a fun business to be in. Amanda has never had an angry or mean customer (woe be to them who has any problem with ice cream!), gets to meet people every day, and has the opportunity to be more active in the food cart and market communities around town. I raise a cone in salute to another person working hard to make their (very tasty) dream come true.
Check out Scoop's website for details on locations, times, events, flavors, and more at www.scooppdx.com, and go usher in summer the right way!