About a year and a half ago, I came upon an independent dessert outfit so cute; so creative; so utterly true to the founder’s unique identity that I had to know more. It was called Ice Queen, then just an occasional pop-up serving treats like Jarritos soda ice cream floats and Cheetos-dusted creamsicles. Founder Rebecca Smith-who is Latinx-Native and originally from Richmond, CA-was finishing up her degree in Indigenous Studies at Portland State, and though she hadn’t set out to start an ice cream business, she had noticed the surprising lack of good, fun vegan ice cream options in Portland. Plus, ice cream made her happy. Visits to the local Baskin Robbins with her family remained the happiest memories of her childhood. Smith knew there was something there-something bigger than just creative, plant-based ice cream and bubblegum pink decor; something nostalgic and comforting for everyone, no matter where or how you grew up.
Now, nine months into a pandemic that has wrought havoc on the dining industry, Ice Queen is a fully established walk-up window for delicious plant-based ice cream bars like the Oatchata, the Chamoy-mango Mangonada, and the caramel and peanut-filled Apple Bottom. Her creations are stocked in grocers across town, and she’s been able to donate portions of profits to organizations like this one delivering clean water to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
It’s safe to say Smith’s intuition with Ice Queen was spot on. But I wanted to know how it feels to expand while fine dining restaurants shutter all around her, and how she plans to keep up the momentum during a Portland winter. Here is our recent chat, as well as an easy DIY recipe for anyone to enjoy a CBD-infused dose of Ice Queen at home.
Most businesses have had the opposite trajectories of Ice Queen this past summer. What’s it like growing into a physical space?
RS: Ice Queen is literally my life now. I eat, sleep and breathe this place. In July, I opened my storefront in SE Portland and things are only getting bigger and bigger. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, the buildout isn’t entirely done, but the window works for now. On an average August day, I would say I sold 200 popsicles a day, but things look a little different for me as we head into winter. No complaints, though-I have some really loyal customers who I appreciate so much.
I think it’s a little bit of a two-way street: life is stressful right now and I think sweets, and specifically Ice Queen, has been able to distract some folks with our wild flavors from other stresses in their life.
How does it feel to experience growth in a time when most other aspects of life feel unstable?
Growth always feels good, it feels great to move forward. It’s a little bittersweet though. Like you said, many things are unstable right now, and COVID-19 is making them harder, but whatever momentum I have does help me to move through this and not give up. If I hadn’t gone through with this space, I would feel very frustrated and disappointed that another summer had come and gone just treading water.
You’ve also been selling some non-Ice Queen baked goods at the space. Can you tell me about the conchas?
Yes! So I had previously done concha ice cream sandwiches when I was just a pop-up and wanted to bring that back. It took awhile for me to find another person who could make them vegan and in a way that I felt was authentic. I found Graciela Guzman and her pastry business, and intended to bring the concha ice cream sandwiches back via a soft serve machine I’d just bought. Turns out the city [and its building codes] had other plans for me. So the soft serve machine is not up and running, but one day soon-it’s coming!
What does Thanksgiving mean to you?
Obviously, Thanksgiving is soulless but the reality of the situation is, (normally), it is a day that my entire family has off from work thus allowing for us to spend a day together. I understand that it’s messed up that we have to celebrate a genocide to get everyone a day off, but that’s a much larger conversation. I know of some Indigenous people who want to cancel the holiday, and I don’t mind that idea either, I think I would just want it to be replaced by another day that everyone has off so we can still enjoy each other.
How has the pandemic affected the way you feel about Ice Queen, and what role an ice cream shop plays in a community?
I guess I haven’t really thought about that yet, with the pandemic there has been a need to constantly keep moving, keep being innovative, etc. I know for sure that throughout the pandemic, I never doubted doing Ice Queen. The pandemic might have even reassured me that it’s the right move for me- like if I can be successful now, what am I capable of in the future?
Opening the walk up window during this time has reinforced ideas I always knew to be true: Sweets are not only delicious but, to some degree, essential. I obviously don’t mean that you need them to survive, but we all want to step away from reality sometimes. Even just coming to our walkup window is its own experience. This is what makes me push forward-if people enjoy my aesthetics, vibe, mood, and flavors right now, I can guarantee the experience of Ice Queen as a full service ice cream store will be out of this world.
Ginger Lemonade Pops by Ice Queen
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup Honeybee lemonade syrup in Jamacian Sorrel
- 1/2 cup organic sugar
- 1 tbsp raw chopped ginger
- 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
- Equivalent of 25 mg CBD in water-soluble tincture (look at dosage per dropper)
- Standard size popsicle mold (85-95ml)
- You can blend everything together, but I like to maintain ginger bits throughout by adding them in after everything else has been blended. *If you like ginger as much as I do, add more of the Jamaican Sorrel syrup. If it taste too strong, just add a little more water.
- Cover and refrigerate mixture for at least 8 hours. This gives the mixture time to get more flavorful and also get cold. When making popsicles, the key is to get that popsicle to freeze as quickly as possible. The quicker the freeze, the smaller the ice crystals, which is why we need the mix cold.
- Once it’s ready, pour mixture into your molds and, depending on how cold your freezer is, they should be ready to enjoy in 5-7 hours.
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Lauren Yoshiko is a Portland-based writer and co-host of Broccoli Magazine’s podcast, Broccoli Talk. She was among the first journalists to cover the commerce and culture of cannabis starting in 2014 and her work has since appeared in Willamette Week, Forbes, Rolling Stone, and Broccoli Magazine, among others. Follow her on Instagram at @laurenyoshiko for Portland breakfast sandwich recs, stoned nail art, and moderate cat content.