I have a confession to make: I don’t always practice what I preach. Local is the name of the game here at FresYes, of course, and for the most part, I have found myself changing the way I eat and shop in accordance with that value. But over the past year, I have found myself justifying going down the street to the nearest fro-yo joint instead of going to Ampersand Ice Cream, because I didn’t feel like driving 15 minutes to satisfy my craving.
And that is just straight up ridiculous, y’all. Because let me tell you, I prefer Ampersand to any other frozen treat in town. And guess what? When I’m in San Francisco, I don’t think twice before paying an Uber to drive 15 minutes to my favorite ice cream shop and then waiting in line 20 minutes to get it. Ampersand co-founder Jeff Bennett says he and his wife Amelia have a theory called “vacation taste buds,” where we think things taste better when we’re on vacation and are perhaps willing to work harder to get them. That trickery stops now for me! I am declaring Ampersand my official ice cream provider for Summer 2016!
OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let me backtrack a little. Ampersand Ice Cream is an amazing local shop located across from Fresno High School. If you want to learn a little bit more about Ampersand’s origin story, check out our first feature on Jeff and Amelia Bennett from January 2015, when they were in the midst of an ultimately successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $20,000 to help their ice cream dream come true.
After getting the capital that they needed, the Bennetts secured the location on a now-thriving block on Echo and Weldon, sandwiched between Dusty Buns and Kuppa Joy. They bought equipment and learned how to turn their delicious & unique home recipes into something that could be sold in their store. They opened their doors on Memorial Day 2015.
What followed was a level of success beyond the Bennetts’ wildest imagination – though it was due in large part to their imagination, with delicious, unique flavors like Strawberry Balsamic, Berry Basil, Honeycomb and Whiskey Caramel Swirl.
It has been way beyond our expectations,” Jeff said. “We expected to be kind of a local ice cream shop, a neighborhood shop, pretty busy but not like crazy busy. The thing we always say is a month before we opened, we didn’t plan on hiring any staff. My wife and I decided we were just going to run it the two of us and make it happen. And here we are a year later, and we have 10 staff members and probably could hire 5 more if we really wanted to.”
Jeff and Amelia still personally make all of the ice cream – in what the industry would term micro-batches – four gallons at a time. They are producing ice cream 18 hours a day right now, and may have to bump that up to 24 hours a day to meet demand this summer. All of this has the Bennetts bumping up their five-year plan to a one- to two-year plan, including a possible second location for Ampersand.
“If we do ever expand, we will continue to keep that mindset of smaller batch,” Jeff said. “We’ll just have more of everything so we can do more at one time rather than one flavor at a time.”
Part of what makes Ampersand’s flavors so rich and delicious is Jeff and Amelia’s commitment to using local ingredients. Milk from Top O’ the Morn Farms in Tulare is used in the base for all of the ice creams. Berries come from Food Commons Fresno. All coffee ice creams use Lanna Coffee (which is also served at Ampersand, along with Raizana Tea). Even the vinegar in one of May’s monthly special flavors, Strawberry Balsamic, comes from STAR Fine Foods in Fresno.
People from all over Fresno have been flocking to Ampersand this past year to try these special creations. But locals aren’t the only ones enjoying the ice cream – Ampersand love has spread across the state and beyond. Apparently, the word at Google headquarters is that the ice cream is a must-try for visitors on their way to Yosemite – this according to a couple of Google employees who stopped by. Another Yosemite traveler was craving ice cream when they decided to stop by Ampersand on the way home – this person happened to work for Time Magazine in San Francisco. This led to Ampersand being the only ice cream shop in the entire state to be featured in this year’s California Visitor’s Guide, which is available at every airport in the state. Now international travelers are even coming for a visit!
In celebration of all of this success and Ampersand’s one-year anniversary, you are cordially invited to a block party at Weldon and Echo on Memorial Day, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be food trucks, music and dance performances.
“We are just so happy with this whole corner, this whole block, from Dusty Buns to Kuppa Joy, that we want to celebrate that,” Jeff said. “This neighborhood that has supported us and made this happen for all of us. I mean, all of Fresno has come and all of Fresno has been here and they’ll continue to come, but this neighborhood … some of our neighbors come two, three times a week.”
If you’re looking for something fun to do with your family and friends on Memorial Day, this is the perfect way to have some great food without firing up your own grill, and top it off with some amazing ice cream. And next time you catch yourself heading off to the neighborhood Baskin Robbins, consider going to Ampersand instead. You’ll probably see me there!