Walking around the D.C. farmers markets you might see a line of people waiting to get a scoop of ice cream at 11 a.m. It’s not the traditional thick ice cream or even the trendy frozen yogurt that catches everyone’s attention; it’s liquid nitrogen ice cream.
Two 2012 JMU alumni started one of the first liquid nitrogen ice cream shops on the East Coast. Sandra Tran and Gill Westford created Nicecream Factory after hearing about similar shops on the West Coast. Tran and Westford decided to quit the jobs they had right out of college and invest in a pop-up shop. They combined their love of food and of the D.C. area to create a shop that can serve liquid nitrogen ice cream to people all over the city.
“The pop-up concept is really cool because you can start it up with fairly low capital,” Tran said. “What was very important to us was offer- ing what people in D.C. wanted: locally sourced ingredients, fresh ice cream. We can do pop-up shows without investing $100,000 in a brick-and- mortar shop. We can test out different markets.”
Liquid nitrogen ice cream can be made in minutes and in front of an audience, which is part of Nicecream’s charm. Liquid nitrogen is poured into stand mixers with milk, sugar and fruit or flavorings and freezes the ingredients on contact and begins evaporating. The liquid nitrogen is -320.44 degrees Fahrenheit which, combined with the air temperature, will boil off in about 10 seconds to create the ice cream. “Kids are very fascinated by it. When you put the liquid nitrogen in, people are very confused by what it is,” said marketing and events guru Alicia Pettis. “They think it’s hot water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide. They think it’s very different
things. We try to explain the science of it.”
One of the most enjoyable parts of working with Nicecream is being a part of the entertainment of making the ice cream in front of customers according to the other marketing and events guru, Arielle Tenorial. “It’s more fun for the customer [than regular ice cream shops] because they can see what is going into their ice cream,” said Tenorial, a senior marketing major. “People come over because they see the smoke, they say ‘Wow this is so cool,’ or ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this.’”
Nicecream’s two main venues are farmers markets and high-end restaurants. Tran and Westford chose to use local and high quality ingredients because they believe that makes the best ice cream.
“We get to educate everyone on types of things that go into their ice cream,” Tran said. “That’s really important to us, using local sources and the highest quality ingredients. It supports our local community.”
Some of the flavors Nicecream makes include pistachio, peanut butter banana whip, strawberry basil, chocolate coffee and honey lavender. At the D.C. Scoop competition for ice cream vendors this summer,
Nicecream received third in people’s choice and fourth in overall taste out of 14 vendors. Their innovative strawberry basil was the most popular flavor.
Nicecream has a team of tasters and “flavor controllers” that experiment with flavors based on the season and what is available at the farmers markets. Nicecream has popped up at FIGS Mediterranean Café in downtown D.C. to serve ice cream. Tran says she likes to work with high-end restaurants who don’t serve ice cream so they can help each other.
Liquid nitrogen ice cream is still relatively unknown on the East Coast but Nicecream has been steadily gaining popularity in the five months it’s been open. Pettis, also a senior sociology major at JMU, thinks the liquid nitrogen in it makes it superior to regular ice cream.
“It makes the most delicious ice cream,” Pettis said. “There is a high amount of aeration in regular ice cream. If you have high aeration, its low quality. Because we make it in front of you, it’s very fresh. No air crystals and very creamy.”
Besides farmers markets and restaurants, Nicecream has been working at weddings, birthday parties, fundraisers and also back at where it all began — JMU.
“A lot of our support has been at JMU,” Tran said. “We’re going to be down for Homecoming at the alumni tailgate. I’m very excited to be back at JMU.”
Contact Anne Elsea at firstname.lastname@example.org.