Brain Freeze Creamery of Spokane is so small, it's almost a secret.
The wholesale small-batch ice cream maker is hidden in a 500-square-foot space below the Spokane office of Thomas, Dean & Hoskins Inc. engineering consultants, at 300 E. Second.
To get there, you have to go through TD&H's entrance, down a back stairwell, through a basement garage, and into the brightly lit windowless room where "the magic of ice cream" happens, says Jason Williams, owner of Brain Freeze.
The cramped space is filled with a small walk-in freezer, three large chest freezers, a conventional standup freezer, and a washing machine-sized ice cream mixer, all surrounded by shelves of supplies and hundreds of flavors of ingredients.
Williams and former business partner Mark Camp started making ice cream about five years ago, when they owned The Scoop, an ice cream shop on Spokane's South Hill.
Williams also was a partner with Camp in a South Hill coffee shop called The Shop.
The Scoop originally sold ice cream made by a small-batch creamery in Liberty Lake, but that creamery stopped production after Williams' and Camp's first year operating The Scoop.
Rather than buy from a national, large-batch supplier, they decided to make their own ice cream.
"We had four months to figure out how we were going to do it," Williams says.
By chance, one of their friends had a brother who happened to know where a small-batch commercial ice cream mixer was sitting idle in storage. The same man also was their connection to TD&H, which had vacant space in its basement, where Brain Freeze was launched.
The first year of production, Brain Freeze was a part-time operation that logged $20,000 in sales to The Scoop, its only customer.
"That season, we started coming up with our own recipes," Williams says.
Williams now has 10 regular wholesale accounts and expects sales this year to exceed $75,000 and to continue to rise as he pursues more customers.
"This is the first season I'm satisfying accounts that I had to go get," he says.
Williams has sold his interests in The Shop and The Scoop, although they continue to be Brain Feeze customers. Last year, he bought out Camp's interest in Brain Freeze, and this is the first year he's devoting full time to the ice creamery.
One of the most popular Brain Freeze flavors is Cakey Doe, a flavor that was first requested by The Scoop and is carried by other ice cream vendors. It has chocolate-chip cookie dough added to another popular flavor called cake mix.
More recently, Licks Unlimited, an ice cream and candy store in Pullman, commissioned Brain Freeze to create an ice cream flavor for the annual National Lentil Festival.
One of the requirements of the festival was that food items sold there had to include legumes from the Palouse in their ingredients.
Williams developed an ice cream recipe, called Palouse Crunch, that includes lentils, cinnamon, honey, and almonds.
"Lentils don't add a lot of flavor," he says, adding that the most noticeable characteristic of the ingredient is a slight change in texture toward a mashed-potato-like consistency.
Licks went through 12 three-gallon tubs of the new concoction on the day Palouse Crunch debuted, he says.
One of Williams' personal favorite flavor creations has jalapeno pepper as an ingredient.
"Cool ice cream flavors go over your tongue and then it heats up in the back of your throat," he says of the jalapeno ice cream.
He doesn't make it very often, though. Customers at ice cream shops are curious to taste it, but then usually order something else.
"It's a little too intimidating for the general public," he says.
Other flavors that provoke similar sensations include ginger and chipotle chocolate, Williams says.
Sometimes he creates a flavor to fit a name. Fig-mint, for instance, is still a figment of his imagination, but he's envisioning a flavor with a mint base and added figs and raspberries.
"It might be terrible," he says. "I won't know until I try."
Williams can't bring himself to make ice cream con carne.
"Some people keep asking when we're going to do bacon," he says. "Any type of meat in ice cream seems strange."
Despite Brain Freeze's passion for creating new and original flavors, the old standbyschocolate, strawberry, and vanillaare still the biggest sellers, he says.
Vendors typically buy Brain Freeze ice cream in three-gallon buckets. The company's lone small-batch ice cream mixer makes enough for two buckets at a time, and it takes about 20 minutes for the mixer to make a batch.
The mixer looks similar to a small front-load washing machine with no window on the circular door.
Williams pours the cream and mixed ingredients into the machine through a metal funnel above the door.
In the machine, a center paddle rotates in one direction, and scraper blades rotate in the other direction.
The action mixes in air and chills the mixture until it reaches the consistency that Williams desires.
While he sells ice cream wholesale to vendors, orders depend on the weather, so business is just starting to warm up after a slow, but not completely dead, winter.
"It doesn't even have to be warm," Williams says. "If we have a sunny weekend, I know I'm going to get orders."
His customers include a handful of ice cream shops, a few restaurants, some coffee shops, and a bakery.
Williams tries to line up ice cream orders early in the week so he can deliver them at the end of the week.
In the peak of summer, he expects to make ice cream five days a week.
Prices range from $10.75 a gallon for premium flavors, which include coffee, cardamom, and banana, to $14.75 a gallon for "ridiculously premium flavors," which include almond cranberry crunch, chocolate caramel fudge chip, and Bordeaux cherry.
Williams says he doesn't envision going to larger batches, which would help reduce production costs.
Perhaps the business isn't meant to grow beyond "ridiculously small," he says.
"All the businesses I've been involved in have tended to be small," he says. "I just love hands-on work."
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