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I scream, you scream, we all scream on College Avenue

on June 3, 2009

At the age of eight, Adrienne Wander is already a food connoisseur. “As far as quality goes, Ici is the best, Tara’s vanilla is great,” said the elementary school foodie licking her favorite Dreyer’s Fudge Track.

She knows her ice cream, in part a result of living near creamery row on College Avenue. The commercial corridor is home to Dreyer’s, which created Rocky Road in 1929 after the stock market crash,  Ici Ice Cream, the hip and gourmet  parlor, which  opened in September 2006, and Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, the exotic option, which  opened in August 2008.

All three creameries begin serving scoops at noon. Many days Ici at 2948 College Ave., braces for the flood of customers  already waiting outside.

“I come here twice a week, whenever I work here,” said Stephanie Sandberger, a Danville resident who comes to Elmwood to test computers and have her favorite hazelnut ice cream. “Their quality is unique.”


Ici attracts ice cream lovers even at 9 p.m.

Mary Canales started Ici three years ago. A former pastry chef and icecream lover from Chez Panisse inherited Alice Water’s locally grown and sustainable philosophy. Canales explains on her website that she opened Ici in Elmwood, “where fresh, natural and beautiful things were made and shared with a sensitive and appreciative community of fellow dessert enthusiasts.”

All the ice cream is made fresh daily  in small batches. That level of attention also means there are only 11 seasonal flavors including many that use fruit just being harvested such as cherries.

Customers appreciate her effort. “I am a chocolate lover, and Ici’s chocolate is richer and more sophisticated than Dreyer’s,” said Barbara White, a 78-year old Rockridge resident.

Ron Burns, a Laguna Beach resident drove more than five hours  to have Ici’s. “This morning, I woke up and suddenly, thought I have to have Ici’s ice cream,” said Burns, who said its taste “knocked me out,” when he first tasted the ice cream nine months ago. “There is not such an ice creamery in my neighborhood.”

“Cute,” said Melinda Thomas, amazed by the aesthetics of the store and its wall covered with the names of flavors in photo-frame.  She and her friend, Dian Coballa, both finishing their freshmen year at Berkeley, were exploring College Avenue after taking their last final exams. “I always drove down the street and always saw a long line and wanted to try it here, and it worth it,” said Thomas, a history major.

Ici’s popularity sometimes works against it.

For Christie Beeman, convenience matters most. “Ici  is in the opposite direction of where I live, so we come to Dreyer’s once a month or probably more” said Beeman, the mother of eight-year old Calvin, who loves Dreyer’s cookies and cream. “There is always a long line, and I do not want to want that long just to have ice cream.”

"It's a family tradition," said Anita Borrow with her granddaughter Ciel McKay at Dreyer's.

“It’s a family tradition,” said Anita Borrow with her granddaughter Ciel McKay at Dreyer’s.

Anita Barrows agreed. “To me, Ici  is too yuppie, but Dreyer’s is unpretentious compared to the other ice creamery on College Avenue,” said 62-year old Barrows. She added that it is a tradition to take her eight-year old granddaughter Ciel McKay, who is enough of a Dreyer’s fan to be able to recite the names of most of the flavors. “I won the competition and got free ice cream, it was fun,” said Ciel, licking her favorite– cookies and cream.

Barrows and Beeman both agreed that the more moderate price at Dreyer’s is attractive.  One scoop at Dreyer’s costs $2.18, compared to $3.60 at Ici and $3.60 Tara’s.  “It’s good for family occasion,” said Barrows.

Family friendly and fun is exactly what Dreyer’s is trying to achieve, said Elizabeth Armstrong, the parlor’s manager. The price attracts groups from the two nearby elementary schools, Claremont and Park Day, she said.

The parlor, which reopened in 2008 after being closed for a year of renovation, is accustomed to competition.  For years, Armstrong said, they had Double Rainbow ice cream nearby.

“We are used to competition, and we have loyal customers,” said Armstrong. “However, Tara’s was whole different experience for me, because their flavor is something we do not have.”

Tara's pleases ice cream lovers with its unconventional taste.

Tara’s pleases ice cream lovers with its unconventional taste.

At Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, it’s the unusual flavors  that attract customers. “I am sick of regular vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and I wanted to have something unusual,” said Giles Goodhead, a 45-year old Berkeley resident.

Tara Esperanza, the ice cream chef from Santa Fe, decided to move to the Bay Area with her husband, Raciel Esperanza to take advantage of the local markets and the ability to use local produce.

“All the resources we used come from here, and we wanted to closer to the ingredients so that we can reduce the gas emission,” said Esperanza whose ice cream store in Santa Fe won her Entrepreneur of  2006 before she closed it last year.

Esperanza only uses all organic foods and tries for less sugar by relying more on the sweetness in the ingredients she uses.

Her flavors attract many customers, but sometimes not.

“I like it because Tara used real food, it has less sugar, and it is healthy,” said Hal Aronson who teaches solar renewal energy at Ohlone Community College in Newark. Tara’s vanilla ice cream has only 130 calories, compared to Ben & Jerry’s  vanilla ice cream with 220 calories.

Merry White, a Bostonian who was visiting the Bay Area agreed. “Their flavor is edgy and interesting. It smells like perfume,” said White, who teaches food theory at Boston University, and referring to the  peppercorn ice cream she tried.

For some kids, peppercorn might not work. “Tara’s taste is too strong for me,” said Adrienne, the young ice cream connoisseur. “But I like their vanilla, because it has a very natural flavor.”

However, Raciel Esperanza, Tara’s husband said they don’t mind the critique. “We value kid’s opinion, because I want to create an ice creamery which kids love,” he said.


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