Edmonton Creameries: How the ice-cream scene thrives in the Winter City

By Sandra Sperounes August 28, 2018

Jason Wong and Ailynn Santos from Yelo'd

It’s a warm August night at Yelo’d Ice Cream & Bake Shop.

Twenty people are lined up out the door for the Filipino fusion soft-serve ice cream, featuring unusual flavours such as Ube (purple yam) and Keso (cheese). A gaggle of children and their parents devour their cones on the sidewalk in front of the tiny Whyte Avenue shop. “I got yam!” whoops one older gentleman with all the glee of a 10-year-old.

The screams are getting louder for locally-made ice cream. For more than 30 years, Pinocchio was the main player, selling gelato, ice cream and sorbet in grocery stores, cafes and restaurants across Alberta.

Since 2015, at least five new companies have emerged, each trying to fill its own niche in the local market — including Revolution Ice Cream Co., St. Albert’s Black Mountain Creamery, and the latest, Yelo’d.

Even with the growing competition, some producers can barely keep up with demand during the summer and are looking at expanding their operations.

Pinocchio’s owner says sales are up 20 percent over 2017 while Revolution often sells out of its $9 pints, $6 sammies and $4.50 cups at City Market Downtown and the two 124th Street markets.

Ice Cream from Edmonton

Black Mountain Creamery
Small-batch, locally sourced ice cream, available at the St. Albert’s Farmer’s Market. Launched in early 2018 by five university students. A portion of sales are donated to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Flavours include: Lemon Blueberry, London Fog, Peanut Butter Cup, and Vegan Toasted Coconut.
Edmonton’s oldest and most popular locally-made gelato, ice cream and sorbet maker. Available at 125 locations, including Italian Centre,  Blue Plate Diner and Bon Ton Bakery.
Flavours include: Mango Sorbet, Salted Caramel, Sicilian Pistachio and Chocolate Hazelnut.
Small-batch French frozen custard, vegan and dairy-free options, made with natural ingredients. Pick up a pint at the City Market Downtown or 124th Street markets. Also on the menu at eight restaurants including Arcadia, Chartier, Little Brick.
Flavours include: Vietnamese Coffee, Key Lime Pie, Saturday Morning Cartoons and  Meyer Lemongrass.
Filipino fusion soft-serve, baked goods and coffee located at 10152A Whyte Avenue.
Flavours include: Ube (purple yam),  Lychee, Pakwan (Watermelon) and Keso (cheese). With choice of toppings, including shredded cheddar and corn, and cones (waffle or sugr cookie, infused with charcoal).
Artisanal Italian gelato and sorbet, available at local festivals and Enterprise Square.  
Flavours include: Amaretto, Mint Stracciatella, Latte Nutella and Hedgehog.
Rollies Ice Cream Shop
Handcrafted rolled ice cream with a variety of toppings, inspired by treats in Thailand. The store, in Westmount Centre, is undergoing renovations and should re-open in November.
Flavours include: Mango, Ferrero, Strawberry.
Scoop N Roll Creamery
Another purveyor of Thai-inspired rolled ice cream. Available at stands in seven different parking lots around Edmonton. Summer only.
Flavours include: Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream with Peach and Raw Honeycomb, Apriconut with Toasted Coconut Flakes and Mango-Apricot Purée.  
Whats The Scoop
Whyte Avenue’s oldest ice cream shack featuring 60+ flavours and Colossal Waffle cones. Open from May to about October.
Flavours include: Kahlua Chocolate Fudge, Moon Mist and Wet Paint.

“A lot of people appreciate paying a little bit more for a good quality local product,” says John Steblyk, who launched Revolution with his wife, Jessica, in 2016. “We’re always impressed by Edmonton’s willingness to pay for quality, for something they know is authentic and good.”

Credit a wedding gift— a small ice-cream maker —and Jessica’s lactose intolerance for inspiring the couple’s small-batch business. The Steblyks make artisanal ice cream with egg yolks, technically known as French frozen custard, as well as dairy-free and vegan options. Revolution rotates through 30 or so flavours, including Vietnamese Coffee, Melon Matcha, Vanilla + Tonka, and Strawberry Fields, with fruit picked from a farm in Wetaskiwin.

“My wife’s been an ice cream fan for a long time,” says John. “One of her fondest memories is going to Pinocchio’s as a child. When she was in her teens to her early 20s, she became lactose intolerant and there weren’t a lot of dairy-free options. There’s a lot more choice now, but her experience inspired us to do our own dairy-free options. Our slogan is ‘Ice Cream For The People’ — we want everyone to have it. So most of ours are gluten-free. We want it to be accessible, we want everybody to be able to eat these weird, exciting flavours.”  

Revolution also supplies local businesses such as The Gamer’s Lodge and Dirt Bag Cafe, plus makes custom flavours — like Cucumber Basil Sorbet for Chartier, Beaumont’s acclaimed restaurant. The Steblyks hope to work with more restaurants and possibly share a storefront with other businesses so they can expand Revolution’s reach, particularly in colder months.

Tom Ursino from Pinnochio

People are looking for a cleaner product, cleaner ingredients. It’s not about the name, it’s about what’s inside the package

Tom Ursino

“The City Market moves into City Hall in the winter and there are times when I can show up on a Saturday and sell only $150 worth of product,” says John. Yet the Steblyks know expansion is risky. While Edmonton is a Winter City, we don’t yet fully embrace frozen treats in the middle of January or February.

Pinocchio’s sales also take a hit in winter. “We sell between 1,000 to 2,000 one-litre containers per week in the summer,” says Tom Ursino, the company’s chief executive officer.  “It’s about half that in the winter — but it’s not as slow as it used to be. It’s pretty much doubled from four years ago. I don’t know if it’s because we’re in more locations or if more people are reading the ingredients.”

His dad, Salvatore, started making Italian gelato, sorbet and ice cream in 1980. Pinocchio used to have its own store, but now focuses on selling its desserts — 12 flavours plus custom orders — to more than 125 stores, restaurants and food trucks across Alberta. The company is just starting to roll out a single-serving size (125 mL) and Tom is hoping to return to the company’s roots and open a scoop shop or two in the coming years.

The secret to Pinocchio’s success? The Ursinos only use natural ingredients, including cane sugar, plant-based stabilizers, and beets (to add colour to their Bubble Gum and Strawberry flavours). Tom tries to source as much from Alberta producers as he can.

“Most of our ice cream is between 65 to 75 percent local,” he says. “People are looking for a cleaner product, cleaner ingredients. It’s not about the name, it’s about what’s inside the package.”

Yelo’d, on the other hand, is known for its Filipino flavours and Asian ingredients, including Ube, a purple yam with a nutty vanilla flavour, Lychee and Keso at Mais (cheese topped with shredded cheddar and corn niblets).  The soft-serve ice cream shop, which also offers black cones infused with charcoal, is the first of its kind in Edmonton.

“The response to the flavours has been super positive,” says Jason Wong, who owns Yelo’d with his wife Ailynn Santos. “The most popular is the Ube — somebody drove from Calgary for it the other day.”

The inspiration for Yelo’d came from her Filipino roots and their five children. After months of testing flavours and recipes, the couple opened Yelo’d in June. The Whyte Avenue store also serves locally-roasted coffee and homemade cookies with unique flavours, including Ube + Macadamia Nut and Black Sesame + Milk Chocolate Chip . (Santos used to own a cake shop.)

While lineups have been the norm over the summer months, Santos and Wong are cautiously optimistic about the winter — and Edmonton’s growing ice cream scene. “Calgary has at least a dozen small ice cream shops that stay open year-round,” she says. “Our city is always a little behind in these things. More skeptical, I want to say.” 

Jess and John from Revolution Ice Cream Co.

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