Move aside, Ben & Jerry’s, and make room in the freezer for Ben and Erik’s. Or so hope ice cream connoisseurs Ben Solberg and Erik Powers. The longtime friends, who met years ago in their hometown of Eau Claire, have big plans for their Minneapolis-based ice cream venture FrozBroz
After each wound up the Twin Cities circa 2000, they began brainstorming new business ideas. With Solberg’s background in marketing and Powers’ training at the Culinary Institute of America
in New York, their product could have been anything. But an ice cream machine — a gift Powers received at his wedding — proved to be the point of inspiration.
Powers began experimenting with flavors, and a few months later Solberg — fueled by his pregnant wife’s cravings — bought his own machine and started dishing up homemade creations, too. While the duo weren’t competitive, per se, they were constantly “trying to one up each other” inventing ice cream flavors.
Encouraged by the enthusiastic response of taste-testing friends, Powers and Solberg penned a business plan for FrozBroz in 2010. A year later, they launched a blog on which each week they posted one new flavor, such as Charred Cauliflower, Red Hot Candied Apple, and Asparagus with Truffle Honey.
They used a drawing to entice readers to comment on the quirky flavors, with two participants chosen each week to receive free ice cream. The strategy and the quirky flavors garnered attention on social media, with everyone from restaurant critics to food bloggers to the New York Times spreading the word. “It just kind of took off,” Solberg says. “We weren’t really expecting the reaction that we got.”
The duo decided to try crowd-funding to finance the business. After initially getting turned down by Kickstarter, FrozBroz launched an indiegogo
campaign in March 2012. The goal was $35,000, which would buy a batch freezer and pasteurization equipment. When the campaign ended in May 2012, FrozBroz had raised $13,274 — a mild success.
Meanwhile, bringing the concept to market has been more difficult than they anticipated. While FrozBroz has established itself as an LLC and obtained licenses for food manufacturing and catering, the issue of pasteurization has been trickier. “Over the past two years, we’ve gotten a lot of conflicting information from the regulators at the Department of Agriculture,” Powers says.
Most ice cream makers buy their base from a dairy supplier, thereby sidestepping complicated regulations. FrozBroz, however, insists on making batches from scratch. To become a wholesaler, however, it must secure licensure as a dairy and use a pasteurization process.
“We’re used to being able to manipulate what kind of dairy we’re using, the kinds of sugar we’re using, and using actual ingredients to flavor the ice cream,” Solberg says. If FrozBroz makes cinnamon roll ice cream, for example, it actually bakes the rolls and soaks them in the ice cream.
Solberg hopes to clear the pasteurization hurdle by the end of the year. “It’s taken us a little bit longer to get to the point where we can sell, but I think that’s a benefit in some ways,” he says. “We’re not trying to do too much. It’s taught us to be patient.”
In the interim, Minneapolis law allows FrozBroz to make the ice cream on a small scale and sell it from City Food Studio
, a shared-use commercial kitchen on Chicago Avenue where the company mixes and packs its pints. During its first public sale in January, FrozBroz sold out 100 pints in the first two hours of a three-hour sale.
With some 150 flavors, and a lot of love from buyers, it’s been tough narrowing down which ones will become FrozBroz mainstays. “I love positive feedback,” says Powers, “but I would like to get more constructive criticism.”
At $10 per pint, FrozBroz is more expensive than some competing brands. But, Solberg notes, the ingredients are locally sourced, with no additives or binders, and there is no corner-cutting in the production process, such as manipulating the volume by pumping the ice cream with air.
Solberg believes FrozBroz will wind up in co-ops (such as The Wedge
in Minneapolis), small grocery stores, and in restaurants around the Twin Cities. “Food service is going to be a huge business for us because we have the ability to customize flavors,” he says. “We’re very much a chef-driven ice cream.”
In addition to gourmet combinations like Almond Green Anise and Figs or Manchego with Zinfandel Caramel, Solberg anticipates offering seasonal, limited-run flavors throughout the year, not unlike micro-breweries that debut new booze every few months.
Solberg hopes the hard work and persistence will pay off soon. Powers anticipates hiring production staff and catering employees by mid-year.