It is 2 p.m., about the time when you wish you’d packed a sweet treat in your brown-bag lunch. The employees at WeddingWire are awaiting deliverance in the form of ice cream sandwiches from CreamCycle. They hover. They ask WeddingWire senior brand manager Kate Hoffman when the desserts are coming.
But there’s a hang-up. Jeff Jetton, who shook hands for the creation of CreamCycle with chef Carlos Delgado last year over a couple of beers, can’t fit one of the company’s blue-striped tricycles into the Chevy Chase office building’s elevator.
Did the Good Humor man ever have to deal with this sort of thing?
Jetton resourcefully hauls up a cooler full of the sandwiches and arranges them on a table in the cafeteria stocked with company-subsidized healthful food. The rest of the treats will be available from the freezer-laden tricycle, now parked around the corner in a parking lot. The WeddingWire worker bees are undaunted by the 90-plus-degree heat. As soon as Hoffman sends an all-staff e-mail, they stream out of the controlled climate to experience one of Washington’s newest trendlets: the gourmet ice cream sandwich.
Joining CreamCycle in an even smaller niche — ice cream sandwiches on wheels — is Pat Griffith and Ed Cornell’s Milk Cult, which plans to hit Washington streets this summer on a sidecar-equipped 1970s Honda CB motorcycle.
Most people’s notion of an ice cream sandwich involves nostalgia-fueled affection for a bland, watery frozen dairy concoction between spongy chocolate wafers, the remnants of which you must lick off your fingertips. So why even delve into a market associated with those black-and-white bricks and their round cousins, the pool-bar staple Chipwiches?
Perhaps because the ice cream sandwich, when done right, can be so much better. As Griffith says, “It gives us a lot of room for creativity.”
Ice cream sandwiches let you play around with layers of flavor, Delgado says via phone while on a scouting trip in his native Peru. That country’s tricycle-riding ice cream vendors were the template for CreamCycle’s tricked-out bikes.
Delgado, 23, says his goal is to showcase his Peruvian background. The idea came to him last summer, he says, while he was fishing in the Potomac.
CreamCycle has about 30 sandwiches on its roster, Jetton says, about a half-dozen of which are in rotation at any given time. The ice cream bases use egg yolks, cream and milk. Combinations include brown sugar corn bread cookies with corn ice cream, and coffee cookies with a banana habanero ice cream spicy enough to leave at least one WeddingWire employee grinning in pleasurable pain while futilely fanning his mouth to put out the fire.
Delgado intends to add a collection of exotic flavors using tropical fruits such as lucuma, camu camu and guanabana. To source those ingredients, Delgado, who is also executive chef at Boveda in the Westin Georgetown, is working to set up a Peru-based company to import them. No, he doesn’t sleep much.
Neither, for that matter, does Jetton, 37. He is also a co-owner of Toki Underground, the self-described “ideas guy” for Brightest Young Things and the director of business development for the architectural firm Streetsense — and he lives in New York most of the time. As he ticks off his résumé, I’m tempted to hand him one of his own products and tell him he could use a snack break, too.
High school friends Cornell, 28, and Griffith, 26, have burned a lot of midnight oil recently as well, in recipe development and equipment work. They say trying to sell from a motorcycle, an idea inspired by Cornell’s two-wheeled commute when he taught English in Indonesia, means they fall into a kind of regulatory gray area, which has taught them a lot about the Kafkaesque operation of government bureaucracy. The biggest holdup was the fact that no one had requested a motorcycle vending permit before, Cornell explains, which led to extra meetings with the District’s Department of Transportation. With DOT approval now in hand, all that’s left is to get the go-ahead from the health department.
The pair moved into a space at Union Kitchen, a food-business incubator in Northeast, in April. Griffith is the baker, Cornell the “ice cream nerd.” So far they’ve created seven sandwich flavors centered on four ice cream bases, some with egg yolks and some without. Milk Cult’s roster includes riffs on traditional ’wiches, but there’s also buttermilk-lemon zest ice cream smooshed between ginger-molasses cookies, and a milk-and-honey ice cream cradled by no-bake cornflake cookies. The guys also source popcorn macarons from fellow Union Kitchen tenant DC Patisserie to pair with salted butter caramel ice cream.
The ideal sandwich “shouldn’t be too big,” Cornell says, so you can get your teeth through the entire stack in one easy bite. They’ve settled on a $4 sandwich that is 2 inches wide, 3 inches long and about 11 / 2 inches tall. Griffith has been testing scores of cookie recipes (so many that he says his roommates are ready to mutiny) to find ones that not only taste good, but taste good frozen while not seeming underbaked.
All of CreamCycle’s sandwiches are built on the same butter cookie framework, engineered to be hard enough for crunch yet not so hard that it crumbles into pieces with every bite. “I wanted to do one thing and do it well,” Delgado says. CreamCycle’s $5round offerings come in at about 31 / 2 inches in diameter and 11 / 3 inches tall.
Neither venture has been on the streets much yet, CreamCycle because of a busy private event schedule and Milk Cult because it hasn’t been cleared to roam and sell.
Nonetheless, the almost simultaneous debut of the two businesses inevitably invites comparisons and questions about whether the Washington market can sustain both.
“I think one will make it,” Delgado bluntly predicts. “I think one will be in the background.”
Cornell says that when he first heard of CreamCycle, “my first reaction was like, ‘No!’ ” Then he figured, “D.C’s a big city.” At one point he chatted with Jetton and says the takeaway message was, “If you have competition, it actually makes you work a little harder.”
As the WeddingWire crowd wanes, Jetton says that’s a pretty fair assessment of their conversation.
“There’s enough people for ice cream sandwiches for everyone,” he says. “The more people talking about it, the better.”
A few minutes later, a WeddingWire employee who had already polished off her dessert says, “I just tweeted it.”
CreamCycle sandwiches are available at Bean & Bite (1152 15th St. NW) and Smucker Farms (2118 14th St. NW). Milk Cult sells their sandwiches before the NoMa Summer Screen on Wednesday nights at Third and L streets NE.