San Francisco

This Oakland Ice Cream Shop Is Bringing Joy to the Bay Area

The perfect place for a pick-me-up.

Courtesy of Little Giant Ice Cream
Courtesy of Little Giant Ice Cream
Courtesy of Little Giant Ice Cream

Little Giant Ice Cream in Oakland was born of a simple truth: Ice cream is a universal joy. 

“Spend some time in an ice cream shop. No one who comes in is unhappy!” says Little Giant co-owner Kevin Best. “Or put it this way — no one leaves an ice cream shop unhappy.”

Along with co-founder Neil Rideout, Best aimed to capture the happiness inherent in ice cream when they opened their Uptown Oakland shop in 2015. Little Giant, which specializes in American hard scoop ice cream, quickly became a neighborhood fixture, known for regularly rotating, unexpected flavors influenced by the duo’s decades of restaurant experience. Think mezcal-spiked mango sorbet, Mexican Rocky Road laced with chili-spiced marshmallows, and even, one year, honey-baked ham. It’s a scoop shop slash ice cream lab with a sleek, yet undeniably whimsical vibe, bedecked with toy robots. 

Despite the challenges in their first five years, a short-lived second location in San Francisco, and, obviously, the full-tilt cluster that is 2020, Little Giant is still churning ice cream and slinging pints. But Best and Rideout are committed to being there, “when the dust settles,” as Best puts it. They know that right now, the world needs all the ice cream it can get.

“Ice cream is really a universal salve for tough times, and for celebration,” Rideout says. “It lifts your spirit. Ice cream’s for kids and for adults. We want to tap into that universality.”

Little Giant Ice Cream
Little Giant Ice Cream
Little Giant Ice Cream

The longtime friends met in the early 2000s when they were finding their footing in the San Francisco restaurant world. Best, who has a background in jazz performance and education, moved to the Bay from North Carolina with his wife in late 2001. He’d worked in fine dining on the East Coast and applied that experience to a more casual setting when he and his wife opened Boxed Foods Company, a high-end purveyor of organic salads and sandwiches in the Financial District. 

Rideout has lived in Oakland over half his life, landing in the city in 1992. He’s been working in food for most of his life, too — one of his first jobs was scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, which sent him to “a cake decorating program where they teach you to make clowns out of fondant and piping bags.”

He then worked his way up in the food world, eventually becoming a chef and partner at Cigar Bar & Grill in San Francisco’s Financial District. Best expanded his reach when he opened two locations of B Restaurant, one in SOMA and another in Old Oakland. While the two regularly crossed paths, becoming good friends in the process, they had never worked together. The idea of creating something in Oakland, where they lived, became increasingly appealing. 

“We were always cooking together,” says Best. “Neil would show up on a Saturday and we’d butcher a lamb, or something. And we’d get into these debates about the restaurant business as a whole. We weren’t getting any younger, after all… we’d think, how many more years do we have working on a hot line 12 hours a day?”

During those conversations, a common theme was ice cream. Both had experience making it at their restaurants; Rideout was particularly drawn to boozy flavors influenced by cocktails, while Best loved experimenting with savory flavors. They loved the idea of  bringing a scoop shop to their community.

The more they talked, and, as Best jokes, “the more beers we had,” they decided to go for it. They enrolled in Penn State’s Ice Cream Short Course to gain a better understanding of the science of scoops. They embarked on an ice cream tour up and down the East and West coasts, and tried to figure out how they could set themselves apart in the competitive Bay Area ice cream market. In addition to focusing on genre-bending flavors, they landed on a rich, decadent style — hard scoop — which tends to have 16 to 17 percent butterfat, and is comparable to gelato in creaminess and texture. 

Courtesy of Little Giant Ice Cream
Courtesy of Little Giant Ice Cream
Courtesy of Little Giant Ice Cream

As for the shop’s name and robot-themed interior, the inspiration came from a desire to tap into a source of joy from their own childhoods: robots. 

“We spent the better part of a year trying to come up with a name,” Best says. “One day, I guess we were pounding wine, and we started talking about this little robot who ate ice cream. All his friends are fighter warrior robots, and he came off the assembly line kind of pudgy but really friendly.”

Little Giant, and Holstein, its spoon-wielding mascot, was born. The shop opened in the fall of 2015, with much of its production onsite. Located in Oakland’s rapidly gentrifying Uptown neighborhood, the team was heartened by an immediate, positive response from the community, and a loyal base of customers. But the neighborhood, while anchored by performance venues like The Fox Theater and The New Parish, along with a bustling bar and restaurant scene, wasn’t developing as quickly as many had hoped. 

“There was a bunch of development that was slated to happen in the neighborhood, that hasn’t happened,” says Rideout. “It’s been tough for Oakland, in general. It’s bittersweet.”

But, after a short-lived second location in San Francisco, they decided to double down in Oakland.  Now the duo develops and tests new flavors weekly — sweet corn in the summer, a Blood and Sand-cocktail inspired flavor, and their best-selling Dirty South, caramel ice cream studded with candied pecans and a bourbon swirl. They’d have 12 flavors on offer at the scoop shop, usually subbing in one new flavor a week. 

“In summer, when the produce is just raging, you might get four new flavors in a week,” Best says of their constantly changing inspiration, which is largely seasonal, and often, draws on events happening in the community, like a Golden State Warriors championship run. 

Little Giant made a point of getting involved with the community, too, through work with the Warriors Community Foundation, the Oakland A’s Foundation, and Saint Vincent’s Day Home in West Oakland. “We have limited reach and resources, but what we do have is ice cream,” Best says. “We prefer our efforts to center on education and kids.”

Then came 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic shut down the Bay Area, Little Giant closed its scoop shop, limiting sales to hand-packed pints and five ounce mini-pints, available for pickup from its Telegraph Avenue shop, and through many wholesale partners. The wholesale business, per Best, has been growing, and has been a lifesaver. There are also plans in the works for an ice cream mini-pint vending machine, which they’re hoping to launch at the Oakland International Airport. Still, the losses are significant.

“We’re so grateful for Oakland, for the city and for the people of the Uptown community,” he says. “There’s been a lot of love and support and it’s needed. It’s also appreciated. We’re trying to stay in it, trying to keep it going.” 

And the owners can’t forget the spirit of their optimistic sidekick who started it all. 

“Holstein, our little mascot, he kind of represents a lot for us,” says Best. “You’re the little guy, and you just get up and try. That’s how we approach every day.”Sign up here for our daily San Francisco email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun SF has to offer.

Lauren Sloss is a contributor for Thrillist. 

San Francisco

How to Celebrate Black History Month in San Francisco

Support and celebrate SF's Black community.

Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade

Though it’s something we need to be doing every day of every month of every year, Black History Month encourages us to pay tribute to the struggles and oppression generations of Black Americans have faced, as well as their often-neglected triumphs and achievements that have helped shape this county and make it better. It’s a time to reflect on how we can do better to confront racism and oppression, which this year’s theme, “Black Resistance,” echoes. This is especially important in a town like San Francisco, where the Fillmore District was known as “the Harlem of the West” before the city displaced a vast portion of the neighbourhood’s Black community in the ’60s and ’70s. This displacement continues today, as the Black population is the only racial group that has declined in every census since 1970.

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Black History Month, there are lots to do. Whether you want to educate yourself by attending films, performances, or conversations, share the joy at a parade or dance party, or do a little bit of it all at a drag show, here are just a few ways you can get involved and have a lot of fun while doing so:

Visit San Francisco Public Library branches for workshops, films, performances, and more

February (and throughout the year)
Library branches and online
SFPL’s “More Than a Month” celebration focuses on the theme of resistance this year. Family-friendly and adult events include film screenings, musical performances, book clubs, workshops, and more.
Cost: Free

Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of African Diaspora

See art, poetry, films, talks, and more at MoAD

February (and throughout the year)
SoMa
Right now, at the Museum of African Diaspora, you can see the first and only West Coast exhibition of “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion,” which highlights the work of 15 contemporary fashion designers “whose images present radically new perspectives on the medium of photography and art, race and beauty, and gender and power.” The museum, which has a robust year-round program and event calendar, has a slew of events to attend, including youth poetry readings, film screenings, open mic nights, book clubs, artist talks, and more.
Cost: Event prices vary; GA to visit the museum is $12 but free every second Saturday of the month

Check out films, art, reading, talks, and more at BAMPFA

February (and throughout the year)
Berkeley
There is always something interesting to discover at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). During Black History Month, you can see films by Pratibha Parmar, “Felwine Sarr: Music, Freedom, Africa,” a conversation through music with the Senegalese writer, scholar, composer, musician, and more.
Cost: Varies

Old Skool Cafe
Old Skool Cafe
Old Skool Cafe

Enjoy menu specials honoring Black community members at Old Skool Cafe

February (and throughout the year)
Bayview
For Black History Month, Old Skool Cafe is adding the favourite meals of notable Black community members to the menu each weekend. The nonprofit, youth-run supper club helps at-risk, formerly incarcerated, and foster care youth ages 16-22 gain the skills and experience they need to succeed in various front and back-of-house restaurant roles. Bayview hero/community advocate Mrs. Dorris Vincent is first up, followed by Judge Trina Thompson, Delroy Lindo, and Mayor London Breed.

Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens

Walk beneath the Marting Luther King, Jr. Memorial waterfall

February (and ongoing)
Yerba Buena Gardens
Did you know that Yerba Buena Gardens is home to the country’s second-largest memorial to Dr. King? Visit the sculptural waterfall featuring glass panels inscribed with his inspiring words at 750 Howard Street.
Cost: Free

Attend the Commonwealth’s “Dreaming Forward: A Celebration of Black Joy, Power, and Excellence” conference

Thursday, February 9
Embarcadero
On behalf of Dr. Sheryl Evans Davis and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Club is hosting its second annual Dream Keeper Initiative, a day-long conference/celebration/call-to-action featuring special guests, including April Ryan of TheGrio and CNN.
Cost: Free

Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays
Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays
Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays

Celebrate Black Love at Oakland First Fridays

Friday, February 10
Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street
Telegraph Avenue transforms into a dining, shopping, and art-appreciating party on Friday, February 10, from 5 pm to 9 pm. There will be food, artist, and retail vendors and a host of Black artists, authors, and entertainment. Please note: This event was rescheduled from February 3 because of potential rain.
Cost: Free

Have a ball at an all-Black drag show at Oasis

Friday, February 10
SoMa
“Reparations with Latrice Royale” is an all-Black drag show hosted by Latrice Royale, the beloved Drag Race star who also happens to be celebrating her birthday.
Cost: $15 to $60

Dance all night and shop all day at the Afro Soca Love carnival and marketplace

Friday, February 10 ‚Äď Saturday, February 11
341 13th Street, Oakland
Afro Soca Love creates experiences that act as a “gateway to building bonds and strengthen relationships-between communities, individuals, and Africa and its diaspora.” See for yourself at the all-ages marketplace (Saturday), where you’ll find food and drink, fashion, beauty and wellness, home decor, and more. But before the shopping comes the dancing at the 21+ Friday Night Carnival, a culturally immersive music experience with music from all over the world.
Cost: The marketplace is free; tickets to the Friday Night Carnival start at $20

See a live performance of “Words That Made the Difference: Brown vs. the Board of Education”

Saturday, February 11
Unity Palo Alto
See a live theatrical performance based on the true events that occurred in the fight to end school segregation. The script draws from trial transcripts of the five cases brought together in front of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Earl Warren’s memoirs, and the play is set in the courtrooms where it all happened. There will be a Q&A with the playwright before the performance and the cast afterward.
Cost: Free

Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company
Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company
Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company

Go to the I, Too, Sing America album release party

Saturday, February 11
Mission
Head to the Brava Theater Center to celebrate the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company’s album release of the music created for I, Too, Sing America, a soulful and uplifting performance that moved audiences when it debuted last year. The night includes an album-listening and sing-along party, DJs, dancing, an open bar, and more.
Cost: $40

Go on the Black Liberation Walking Tour of West Oakland

Saturday, February 18
West Oakland
Take a walk with David Peters, founder of the West Oakland Cultural Action Network, and Gene Anderson, the author of Legendary Locals of Oakland, to learn about resident voices and document sites of cultural and historical significance in the neighbourhood. Peters is a local native, and Anderson is an Oakland historian whose family has historical roots in West Oakland.
Cost: $50 ($30 for West Oakland residents)

See a screening of The Black Kung Fu Experience followed by in-person demonstrations

Sunday, February 19
Great Star Theater, Chinatown
The Chinese Historical Society of America is celebrating Black History Month and social unity with a screening of this film about how a group of African American pioneers became respected in a subculture dominated by Chinese and white men. Afterward, there will be demonstrations and talks with Sifu Donald Hamby and Sifu Troy Dunwood, who “will speak about their success as internationally recognized martial arts masters, their Chinese Kung Fu teachers, and what this practice means in relation to diversity, race and inclusion issues.”
Cost: $15

Sip wine made by Black winemakers at a free tasting event at STEM Kitchen + Garden

Thursday, February 23
Dogpatch
STEM Kitchen + Garden is hosting an afternoon wine tasting celebrating Black-owned wineries in its gorgeous indoor/outdoor space, and best of all, and it’s free to the public!
Cost: Free

Bayview Opera House
Bayview Opera House
Bayview Opera House

Attend the San Francisco African American Arts & Cultural District Gala Fundraiser

Saturday, February 25
Bayview Opera House
Enjoy an evening of talent, fashion, and community inspiration at SFAAACD’s 1st Annual Gala Fundraiser. Carla Duke, Television News Director at CBS-KPIX Chanel 5, will host the event, which includes inspiring words from keynote speaker Aniyia Williams, an artist, tech creator, and system-preneur.
Cost: $100

Attend a Black History Month & Chinese New Year Poetry Reading on Angel Island

Saturday, February 25
Angel Island
There is so much history in poetry at the Angel Island Detention Barracks Museum, which makes it a fitting location for poets Chun Yu and Michael Warr. The co-founders of Two Languages/One Community will share their poems and stories in English and Chinese, accompanied by projected images of text and photographs.
Cost: $10 to $21

Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade

Feel the joy at the Black Joy Parade

Sunday, February 26
Downtown Oakland
This parade and festival celebrate the “Black experience past, present, and future.” Be prepared to experience “more Black joy than you ever imagined,” starting with the parade (beginning at 14th and Franklin) at 12:30 pm. The family-friendly festival follows (main entrance is at 19th and Franklin) will include 200-plus Black-owned small businesses selling food, drinks, clothing, art, and more. There will also be two stages with Black performers, including The Black Joy Choir.
Cost: Free

Take a sound bath at Grace Cathedral in honor of Black History Month

Monday, February 27
Nob Hill
Take an immersive sound bath featuring Fractals of Sound, a collective of top Bay Area musicians Egemen Sanli, Phoenix Song, and Sam Jackson, with special guest Destiny Muhammad. Together, they will create a “soundscape deeply rooted in world music,” allowing you to take a meditative journey in one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco.
Cost: $25 to $75

See Tsitsi Dangarembga and Angela Davis at City Arts & Lectures

Tuesday, February 28
Civic Center
Co-presented with MoAd, City Arts & Lectures is hosting novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga and scholar and activist Angela Davis for what’s sure to be a riveting conversation.
Cost: $36

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Daisy Barringer¬†is an SF-based freelance writer who spent many childhood days wandering around the Exploratorium. Follow her on¬†Instagram¬†to see what she’s up to now.

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