Kissed by Technology, Smitten Ice Cream Comes to Silicon Valley
These days, it isn’t much of a surprise in Silicon Valley when Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni create a successful startup. It isn’t even much of a surprise when that startup is a “mashup” of Old-World products and cutting-edge technology. But it probably is a surprise when the final product is ice cream ... all-natural, locally produced and seasonally flavored.
Smitten Ice Cream, Robyn Sue Fisher’s company, is full of surprises and some serious engineering. The business started when Fisher looked at the ingredients of most ice creams and found “emulsifiers and all sorts of things I couldn’t pronounce.” Soon thereafter, she started looking at new ways to make better ice cream.
Early on, Fisher focused on the process of how ice cream was made. “At business school, I spent just as much time in design classes as business classes, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise that I looked to redesign the process for making ice cream,” says Fisher.
Fisher’s work soon focused on the size of ice crystals as the key to making ice cream the way she wanted. “The smaller the ice crystal, the smoother the ice cream. You don’t need anything artificial.”
After a few years of experimentation, and using up much of her savings, she built her first BrrrTM ice cream maker, a system that uses liquid nitrogen at –321° F. to make the smoothest, densest ice cream in the shortest amount of time and without any preservatives or emulsifiers. Fisher now holds three patents on her BrrrTM process.
With technology tackled, Fisher started taking her ice cream to the public in 2009. Working with pastry chef Robyn Lenzi to develop fresh, seasonal flavors, Fisher began selling Smitten Ice Cream on the streets of San Francisco with her BrrrTM machine strapped to the back of a little red wagon. The ice cream was an immediate hit and after a few years of increasing sales and numerous catering events, Smitten opened its first storefront in Hayes Valley in 2011.
In late 2013 Smitten opened its second shop inside the Whole Foods in Los Altos. Smitten had catered a Whole Foods event and regional management was so impressed with the ice cream that they brought a store into the Silicon Valley location. The Smitten shop in Los Altos features four dedicated BrrrTM machines and a fully trained staff to keep the ice cream freezing all through the day. And seeing the machines in action, with quite a bit of fog from the liquid nitrogen, is all part of the show.
As for the ice cream, Smitten not only features standards like TCHO 60.5% chocolate and salted caramel, but also seasonal flavors like Meyer Lemon in winter, Rhubarb Crisp in spring and Honey Nectarine in summer. The ice cream is truly creamy and fresh with a uniquely satisfying mouthfeel. Another benefit of Smitten’s rapid chilling method is that toppings like gingersnaps, oatmeal cookie crumbles and homemade brittle stay crisp and crunchy in the ice cream. You not only get super-smooth ice cream, but super crunchy and flavorful add-ons.
Now that is the kind of technology we want to see more of here in Silicon Valley.