Last week, after we learned that the L.A.-based Coolhaus would be taking to the streets of New York next month, we reached out to Natasha Case, who started the ice cream sandwich truck with Freya Estreller in 2009, to learn more. Chief on our minds: Why, with such a dedicated West Coast following, would anyone voluntarily travel all the way across the country to deal with the competitive, bureaucratic nightmare that is New York street vending?
“We’ve always had [New York] on our minds,” said Case. “Since the beginning. L.A. is such a big metropolitan area, and we loved using the truck cross-promote cool brands and multiple industries,” such as fashion and music. “They’re all here in New York, too, so we thought it would be well-suited to us.” Case, a former architect, also suspected that we would appreciate Coolhaus’s architecturally inspired ice cream sandwiches, which come in flavors like Frank Behry and Mies Vanilla Rohe. “There’s a big foodie following out here,” she says. “The two cities are so connected; we’ve already had New York clients book us out there.”
She and Estreller started planning their eastward expansion in earnest six months ago; in addition to New York, they’re also planning a truck for the Hamptons. “I like hanging out there,” Case says.
Coolhaus’s New York office is located in Williamsburg, which is one of the neighborhoods that Case plans to target. She’d also like to disseminate her trucks throughout Greenpoint and brownstone Brooklyn, and says they “definitely want to be in Manhattan.” New York may end up serving as their East Coast base of operations: At some point, Case explains, they’re going to get health permits for New Jersey and Connecticut so they can go to Yale and Wesleyan.
So what does she think of New York, with its labyrinthine licensing and permitting system and ruthless competition? “It is tough,” Case admits. “But I think if you start to make friends with trucks and other people who do this — we believe in power and numbers and being friendly and nice.” They’ve also joined the New York City Food Truck Association, the recently formed trade group that counts 32 trucks as members.
Truck permitting in New York is a different beast than it is in Los Angeles, where, Case says, there aren’t a limited number of permits. But L.A. also requires its drivers to submit their truck plans for review, and to post letter grades. “Here, it seems more that it’s a real city issue. In L.A., it’s more of a health department issue.”
Once they hit the road on April 15, Coolhaus will offer eight flavors that will rotate from a roster of 30. Case says they’ll be using our “great local dairy” for their ice cream base, and serving some flavors based on the region’s seasonal produce. Cookie-wise, she wants to do a black-and-white “in homage to New York” and is planning some gluten-free options. She’s also in talks with some local producers to incorporate their work into the sandwiches, which in L.A. feature unconventional ice cream flavors like wasabi, strawberry jalapeño, and rosemary butterscotch.
And New York, it seems, is a mere pit stop on the road to cross-country domination: “After this, we may think about San Francisco, maybe Boston,” Case muses. “Only certain cities — you have to have a real, true urban population. Chicago’s opening up its regulations a little bit, so we’ll see what happens in the next year.” She sighs. “I fantasize about opening one in Paris.”
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