“Farchitecture.” That’s the portmanteau word Natasha Case and Freya Estreller, co-founders of ice-cream purveyor Coolhaus and co-authors of Coolhaus Ice Cream Book (HMH/Rux Martin, May), use to describe their “food plus architecture” take on the classic frozen dessert. With flavors like “Mintimalism,” “Frank Behry,” and “Norman Bananas Foster,” their ice cream pays cheeky tribute to design history while pleasing the palates of the many dessert-lovers—architecturally in the know or not—turning to artisanal ice cream for their sugar fixes.
Coolhaus’s relatively rapid success can be traced to humble beginnings. In 2008, at the peak of the economic recession, Case, then 25, was studying architecture at UCLA and finishing her master’s thesis on the relationship between food and architecture—a project that, according to Estreller, involved “making ice cream and cookies in her home and naming them after architects.” Estreller, 26 at the time, was working in real estate in Southern California and experiencing something of a “quarter-life crisis,” as she put it. Together, the two began to see Case’s ice-cream thesis as not only a “funny art project,” but also “the perfect vehicle to explore a business in the food industry,” said Estreller.
Inspired by a wave of gourmet food trucks, most notably Kogi Korean BBQ, they decided to buy a truck off of Craigslist, with the idea that their new company, which they had officially named Coolhaus (a play on Bauhaus), could be, according to Estreller, “the first reinvention of the ice-cream truck.” There were hurdles from the outset—for one, the truck had a faulty engine and sat in Estreller’s mother’s driveway for months—but in 2009, the entrepreneurs got their first big break. The Coachella music festival in Palm Springs allowed them to set up shop in its campground area; theirs was the first food truck in the festival’s history to do so. “We went full force,” said Estreller. “We were able to get the name out there and make enough money to pay for the product.” In their view, it was an all-around success.
By the time they returned from the festival, Coolhaus had gone viral. The company’s Twitter account had racked up a sizable following, and media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times were asking about the company’s next move. For the owners of a food truck company whose only truck didn’t even run properly (Case and Estreller had to tow it to the festival and back), the response was unexpected to say the least.
The two business partners eventually got their truck fixed, and then, over the next couple years, put more vehicles on the road, not only in Los Angeles but also in Austin and New York City. They also began selling the ice cream in prepackaged form to supermarkets in 2010, and opened their first storefront in L.A. the following year. “We were young and energetic and sort of naive,” said Estreller. “You can walk through a wall if you don’t know that it’s there.”
Around this time, Case and Estreller were approached by Katherine Latshaw—at the time, an agent with The Literary Agency East, and now with Folio Literary Management—about the prospect of doing a book. They were initially hesitant. “We were in the middle of expansion,” said Estreller. Amid opening more trucks and increasing distribution, the partners weren’t sure they could take on another project.
In response, Latshaw paired them with an established food writer, Kathleen Squires, and, together, the three of them got to work on a proposal. “First, we wanted to do a book more about starting a business and entrepreneurialism,” Estreller said. But, after consulting with publishers, they decided to wrap their story, as well as their interest in architecture and design, into a cookbook. According to Estreller, the multi-angle approach allowed them to discuss their experience as entrepreneurs while showing people without culinary backgrounds (much like the authors themselves) how to make unique ice cream and cookies. “If we can do it, [readers] can do it, too,” said Estreller. “We [were] very adamant and purposeful about making sure the recipes were really easy for people to understand and follow.”
Editor Rux Martin acquired the book in 2012. “I’d always wanted a good ice-cream book, but I had never come across one with the right spark,” said Martin. “And here it was: a witty, imaginative, smart concept, with terrific food descriptions, and two authors with the desire to conquer the country.”
As with their first Coolhaus trucks, Case and Estreller pulled no punches when it came to getting the word out about the Coolhaus Ice Cream Book. In early May, they held a pre-launch party in Los Angeles that did double duty as the company’s five-year anniversary celebration. In N.Y.C., launch events included an appearance at the 92nd Street Y with fellow ice cream up-and-comers-turned-authors Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna of Brooklyn’s Ample Hills Creamery, as well as an event at powerHouse Arena.
Justin Levine, events coordinator at powerHouse, said the crowd in attendance for the May 20 event was a mix of foodies and savvy consumers. The authors took questions from “aspiring business owners and people that want to start their own companies,” he said. “I think they saw parts of themselves in that.” Meanwhile, a Coolhaus truck parked outside served ice cream samples. Levine tried the salted chocolate ice cream with a potato chip cookie, which he said was “pretty delicious.”
Case also recently appeared on an episode of Bravo’s Watch What Happens: Live with Andy Cohen and will be guest-judging an ice cream–themed episode of the popular Food Network show Chopped.
Suffice it to say, the partners have come a long way from selling ice cream out of a broken-down truck at Coachella. Coolhaus ice cream is currently sold in more than 2,000 stores in 45 states, the company operates 11 ice-cream trucks and two brick-and-mortar stores, and Estreller estimates that “people consumed at least a million [Coolhaus] ice-cream sandwiches” last year. But the co-founders and first-time authors are far from the finish line. In the next two years, they hope to be in 10,000 stores and to further expand their product line. Beyond that, who can say? “Ben and Jerry’s has been around for almost 30 years now,” said Estreller. “It’s time for a new, cool, hip ice-cream company to come into play. We have big ambitions.”
Coolhaus Ice Cream Book by Natasha Case and Freya Estreller with Kathleen Squire. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin Books, May. ISBN 978-0-544-12004-4