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.
“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.
“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.”
Black Mountain Creamery produces small-batch ice cream made with locally sourced ingredients and donates a portion of revenues to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.View details
Revolution Ice Cream Company’s all natural ice creams and sorbets are prepared by hand in small batches.View details