Ice cream is a crowd pleaser and one of the world’s best desserts. Although consuming considerably large amounts often ensues in a terrible stomachache, I just can’t stay away. “The origins of ice cream can be traced back to at least the 4th century [B.C.E.]”, and are often linked to both the Roman Empire and Shang Dynasty in China (Bellis). Dignitaries such as George Washington and Governor Bladen of Maryland were enjoying and serving ice cream upon its arrival in the states in the early 1700’s, followed by “the first ice cream parlor in America [opening] in New York City in 1776” (Bellis). Apparently, “American colonists were the first to use the term ‘ice cream” (Bellis). New technological innovations such as the hand-cranked freezer discovered by Nancy Johnson in 1846 (Bellis), allowed the industry of this popular treat to evolve and boom within the United States and worldwide.
I am not a native Portlander—I have only lived here for three years. My friends recently introduced me to the local artisan ice cream phenomenon in Portland by taking me to try Salt & Straw. Whenever I sample and buy ice cream from Salt & Straw, I sincerely wonder what possesses me to pay upwards of five dollars for a scoop of ice cream. This sparked my interest in exploring local shops of a similar caliber. With the help of my English teacher, Kara, I found my way to What’s the Scoop? which is owned by the family of Oregon Episcopal School junior, Alex Ostrovsky.
At first glance of their sophisticated website, What’s the Scoop? looks as if it fits the prototype of many other artisanal ice cream shops in Portland—they boast their use of local ingredients and unique flavors. One interesting fact I discovered is that “there are several artisanal ice cream shops in Portland, and with the exception of one, they’re all owned by women” (Ostrovsky). What’s the Scoop? is one of those shops and is in good company with others such as Salt & Straw, Ruby Jewel Scoops, and Lovely’s Fifty Fifty. Why What’s the Scoop? doesn’t advertise that on their website I don’t know, but as a young woman, I think that’s pretty cool.
I was fortunate to connect with Jodie Ostrovsky, owner of What’s the Scoop?, and explore the new family-owned ice cream shop located on North Williams Avenue. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived on that cloudy and overcast Sunday. No amount of time spent stalking the shop’s Facebook page, Twitter, or website could prepare me for what I was in for. As I cruised past residential homes and construction worksites, I couldn’t imagine where a supposedly hip ice cream shop fit in the midst of this evolving neighborhood. As the blocks progressed and I neared the shop, I began to see Subaru lined streets, leisurely bikers, and families out on walks. When I walked into the shop, my eyes were first met with the inquisitive and curious glean in Jodie Ostrovsky’s eyes. She stood behind gleaming silver counters working next to a fire engine red KitchenAid mixer. Next to her stood my classmate and her son, Alex, who was occupied cutting bananas atop a meticulous cutting board. When our eyes met, I was able to muster—“I’m Haley.” With a quick flash of her eyes, she expectantly replied, “I know—come on back.” Once I crossed the open threshold between counter and the open kitchen, I stepped into Jodie’s domain and was immersed into the wonderful world of What’s the Scoop.
Gimme The Deets
Jodie told me that with the help of her husband, Brian Ostrovsky, she “started to crystallize the business” idea of What’s the Scoop? during a road trip. The express goal of this trip was to explore the ice cream scene in San Francisco; they made a point to visit popular ice cream shop Henry Slocombe’s owned by Jake Godby. It’s possible that Slocombe’s serves as flavor inspiration for What’s the Scoop today; Jodie mentioned that at the time of their visit “[Slocumbe’s] [was] one of the first ones to do crazy things with ice cream.” The Ostrovsky’s opened their first shop during a presumably beautiful Portland summer on June 30th, 2012 (Ostrovsky). The shop came from the desire to build a family business that each Ostrovsky family member could be a part of and work at, and that would later expand to build a family empire.
Our interview began in the open kitchen as she prepared supplies that were running low. Jodie, her husband, and children, Alex and Dagny were all in the shop that Sunday afternoon. I was mesmerized, overwhelmed, and impressed as I watched her move in action and harmony with everyone else in the kitchen. Everything she made was executed with precision and ease. She finished up a light brown confection in a shiny saucepan, and before I knew it, she was swiftly spooning homemade marshmallow fluff into plastic piping bags that had been feverously mixing only moments ago. Unsure of how I could make myself useful, I asked if she needed any help to which she graciously smiled and declined. Pausing her task, and without a second thought, she gave me a spoonful to sample. I usually don’t care for marshmallow fluff, but this batch was different. It was still warm and melted in my mouth. I could taste each simple component of the mixture, and liked that it wasn’t sickly sweet like a supermarket version. This kind of perfection doesn’t happen by accident. Surely, Jodie had culinary experience in her educational background. She explained that it wasn’t so—“my background is in business and finance. My last job was working for TED doing research.”
She explained that what appeared as natural skill and second nature was the result of many trials and errors. Before What’s the Scoop? opened as an independent store, Jodie and her husband were whipping out batches of ice cream in their kitchen, followed by working in the basement of Gracie’s at Hotel DeLuxe, and distributing their ice cream wholesale there (Ostrovsky). She notes that one of the biggest transitions was “[learning] how to make a pint of ice cream to making gallons at a time” (Ostrovsky). The products offered in the shop today are clear evidence that practice, patience, and a clear vision are essential to produce crowd-pleasing products.
Flavor In A Flash
What exactly are the components of ice cream? “Ice cream, according to C. Clarke, the author of ‘The Science of Ice Cream,’ is ‘just about the most complex food colloid of all.’ It’s an emulsion (fat droplets in aqueous solution), a sol (ice crystals suspended in liquid) and a foam” (Weil). Unlike any other ice cream shop in the area, What’s the Scoop? utilizes an innovative technique of freezing their product with liquid nitrogen. The Ostrovsky’s came up with this novel idea after Brian took a course on Decision Science at Stanford, and one of the demonstrations shown was freezing ice cream using liquid nitrogen (Ostrovsky). Eager to try out this technique, “He came home and bought a Dewar on eBay [that] held 10 liters of liquid nitrogen” (Ostrovsky). In the shop today, there’s a large tank of liquid nitrogen that stands out in the open kitchen. I was curious to learn whether or not this technique was harmful, if it was as easy as it sounded, and what the benefits were. It was a hard concept to wrap my brain around, but Jodie patiently and simply explained it all. “Nitrogen is over 70% of the air we breathe. It’s completely organic. It’s not absorbed into the ice cream in any way. It’s just another method of freezing that we [use] to make a better product. The liquid nitrogen freezes it than much faster than a traditional ice cream machine” (Ostrovsky). When I visited the shop they weren’t freezing ice cream that day. So, to see for myself, I found an online video interview of Jodie on Oregon Live where she demonstrates the freezing process. I’ve excerpted a portion of her detailed description to give a full understanding of the process:
“So basically we’re turning on the liquid nitrogen and it’s piping the liquid nitrogen on top of the ice cream which freezes it immediately, and then the blade from the mixer is mixing that frozen ice cream back into the base until basically you’ve frozen the entire bowl… you get it to about 60% frozen which is what you would do with any traditional ice cream machine…and it goes into a 30 degree below zero hardening cabinet. Then when we’re ready, we pull it out and put it into our dipping cabinet and it’s brought up to a temperature you’ll eat it at” (Park).
The result of this unique freezing method is the end result—a delicious ice cream. Jodie mentioned, “Our ice cream is much denser and creamier. We’re known for our texture.” What’s the Scoop? prides itself on this inherent quality of their ice cream.
Unlike franchised ice cream shops such as Baskin Robbins, which feature 31 flavors on a regular basis, What’s the Scoop? keeps its flavor offerings relatively small, and consistently rotating. The benefits of making everything in small batches (around six gallons), is that they are able to offer a variety of new things for patrons to enjoy. Alex mentioned to me that flavors they always offer include a vanilla, chocolate, bourbon, mint, and sorbet (Ostrovsky). During my visit I was able to sample a multitude of flavors, and the most inventive was a flavor on trial called “Chocoracha,” a flavor their Facebook page describes as “…a delicious spicy, [smoky] blend of chocolate, sriracha and chopped almonds” (“What’s the Scoop”). What I love about What’s the Scoop? is that their flavors are thoughtful and multi-dimensional. There is such a variety that consumers don’t need to go to a store like Baskin Robbins to be satisfied. Indulge your senses in spin-off classics like “Thrilla in Vanilla,” “3D Chocolate,” or “Bourbon Toffee.” If you’re feeling more adventurous, try flavors from their April theme called “Taste of Miami” and try a scoop of “Keylime Pie,” “Mojito Sorbet,” or “Guava and Cream Cheese” (“What’s the Scoop”).
At the end of my visit, I bought a scoop of “Cortadito,” a coffee ice cream that they use Cuban coffee to make. I was in heaven from the moment I took my first bite to the last. There was a powerful punch of strong coffee accompanied by a sweet and creamy taste that melted in my mouth. Although it was a relatively quiet afternoon, I enjoyed the process of picking my flavor without the stress of a line behind me. Rather than having one line, What’s the Scoop? created the concept of having separate tasting and dipping cabinets. The tasting area was built specifically so that customers can come in and try as many flavors as they want without the guilt of holding up others behind them (Ostrovksy). As a consumer, I think this idea is brilliant. It’s efficient, and makes for a more enjoyable experience. As for downfalls of the tasting cabinet, and how it relates to their competitors, Jodie mentioned that “we’re battling that natural tendency of people wanting a line, and our wanting to give excellent customer service by not having a line.” A hidden benefit What’s the Scoop? didn’t anticipate by creating the separate tasting cabinet is its ability to build community; customers experience new flavors and share their thoughts with each other.
Something that caught my attention while initially researching What’s the Scoop? were the connections they strive to make with the surrounding community. Part of their mission is to operate business by practicing the Virtuous Scoop, which was developed with community in mind. They define the Virtuous Scoop with a statement on their website—“The better the ice cream, the more we sell. The more we sell, the more we are able to give back to our community, and the more we give back, the stronger the community of suppliers and customers who support us. Our customers and our vendors are our partners in this venture, creating a wonderful circle which makes the world a better place…one scoop at a time” (“About Us”). This philosophy ranges in meaning; their engagement with community spans from their partnership with local food suppliers such as Rose City Pepperheads to organizing fund raising events with the Rotary Club of Portland and the Jefferson High School Cheerleaders (Ostrovsky).
After my visit with Jodie, I came to realize everything they market is true in practice, and then some. Their concept of the Virtuous Scoop is much more than hosting fund raising events. Building community is something that What’s the Scoop? has intentionally embedded into their practices on a daily basis. This was evident during my
time spent in the shop. I noticed Jodie diverting her attention to chat with a young couple and their children about the business as warm sun poured in through the open garage door. She seemed genuinely delighted to share the story of the shop, and pleased that they were enjoying their treats. What’s the Scoop is a business that cares about serving customers and is thriving at doing so. The passion in Jodie’s eyes as she spoke with me was clear, and driven home when she laughed and stated, “I wake up thinking about this place, I go to sleep thinking about this place—every part of my day is spent thinking about this place.”
As the afternoon began to slip into early evening, and the pace of the shop began to slow down, beams of warm light flooded inside. This combined with the indie music playing, created a positive atmosphere that radiated throughout the space. As our time together came to an end, I concluded my interview with Jodie by asking one question: what do you see for the future of What’s the Scoop? I was delighted as she contemplatively took a few minutes to collect her thoughts and respond. Her response was composed of four goals: expanding the business, opening new locations, growing into the Virtuous Scoop, and creating new opportunities for employees. As her team of employees is a huge part of the shop, I wasn’t surprised when she said, “I’d like the business to grow to a size where we’re able to offer a career opportunity to employees, rather than a part time job” (Ostrovsky).
Jodie shared with me where she looked to glean inspiration. Some things that serve as inspiration include Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Ohio (which I’ve visited),
Vosges Haut Chocolate in Chicago, and a book by the title of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. What’s the Scoop? is a shop that will evolve and grow into something
great because its owner is constantly seeking out inspiration and venues to expand her perception. I have no doubt that in a few years What’s the Scoop? will be featured in an article I read in the Dining and Style section of the New York Times. In the mean time, I suggest that Portlanders take the time and try What’s the Scoop? I promise you won’t be disappointed.
"About Us." What's the Scoop . N.p.. Web. 27 Apr 2013. <http://whatsthescooppdx.com/about/>.
Bellis, Mary. "History of Ice Cream." About.com Inventors. N.p. Web. 11 Apr 2013. <http://inventors.about.com/od/foodrelatedinventions/a/ice_cream.htm>.
Ostrovsky, Jodie. Personal Interview. 07 Mar 2013.
Ostrovsky, Alex. Personal Interview. 25 Apr 2013.
Park, Casey. “What’s the Scoop? opens on North Williams, uses liquid nitrogen for ‘creamier’ scoop.” Oregon Live. 5 Jul 2012. Web. 27 Apr 2013.
Weil, Elizabeth. "I'll Take a Scoop of Prosciutto, Please."New York Times 29 June 2010, n. pag. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/magazine/04icecream-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
"What's the Scoop?." Facebook. N.p., 23 Apr 2013. Web. 27 Apr 2013. <https://www.facebook.com/whatsthescooppdx>