A friend of a friend recently opened up Smitten Ice Cream shop in Hayes Valley...the first shop to be opened in the much anticipated Proxy Project to be exact. If you’re not familiar with the Proxy Project, it’s a temporary two-block construct with a focus on sustainable design intended to house retail, art galleries, gardens, community use spaces and of course restaurants. Keep an eye on this project, folks, it’s sure to be a foodie focal point being right down the street from the original Blue Bottle, across from Millete and soon to be next door to planned Proxy inhabitants such as Suppenkuche’s Biergarten, Ritual Coffee (in Blue Bottle’s territory? Neat!), Delfina Pizzeria, 4505 Meats and more!
But I digress...back to the first Proxy Project opening, Smitten Ice Cream. While this is Smitten’s first “permanent” location the ice cream has been being sold by founder Robyn Sue Goldman via her Radio Flyer wagon and Kelvin (more on that in a minute!) since 2009. Where? Well, Robyn has been quite industrious in getting the word out and a following for Smitten Ice Cream while the details of a shop location were in the works. From samplings on the streets of San Francisco to Bay Area festivals to corporate events, Robyn has been wowing ice cream enthusiasts everywhere with her fresh and innovative take on ice cream.
What’s so fresh and innovative about Smitten ice cream, you ask. Well, it’s made to order for one. And they only use fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. Now the latter is a bit common in the Bay Area these days, so that alone probably wouldn’t get a whole lot of notice...but the made to order part, this is the magic. Smitten uses liquid nitrogen in their one-of-a-kind (well know four-of-a-kind) ice cream machine...meet Kelvin...to make your scoop of ice cream fresh right when you order it.
Why should you care if your ice cream is made to order? Well...because freshly made ice cream has never seen the inside of a freezer, which means no little ice crystals messing with what should be a perfectly creamy, smooth texture. You honestly may have never had ice cream this smooth and creamy...but even beyond the texture, the two flavors we tried were sublime. The salted-caramel was decadent and brought me back to childhood reminding me instantly of a Werther’s Original candy. The chocolate was sensuous, dark and had just the right touch of sweetness...like a cold, creamy chocolate mousse. Honestly, I am not a chocolate ice-cream fan but I couldn’t keep my spoon out of Christian’s chocolate ice cream much to his dismay ;)
Smitten was just finishing off their first week in business when we visited this Saturday (April 30th) but judging by the 15-20 minute line that was there the entire hour we hung out in the plaza they are off to a great start. Oh...and stay tuned for their cones. While they didn’t have any when I was there I hear that they are hand-made, have a chocolate-lemon “stopper” at the bottom of each one, and are absolutely delicious!
Long story (very long story - sorry!) short, Smitten Ice Cream is a welcome addition to the San Francisco food scene and everyone should use this fabulous weather we’re having as an excuse to run right over and try them out!
Now, as fabulous as Smitten Ice Cream is, they do have a few kinks to work out as does any new business and the marketer in me can’t resist to offer up my thoughts:
- The wait is probably a bit longer than it should be although we certainly do happily queue up for artisanal food in this city! But a 15-20 minute wait to order and then a 5-7 minute wait to then get your ice cream will get old once the novelty wears off. So working through some of the logistics to speed that up and improve overall efficiency is likely necessary.
- Their flavors of the day are a bit unreliable so what they had when you first got in line may be gone by the time you get to order, so don’t get too tied to your first choice!
- I would recommend that they post up all of the possible flavors for that week/month and simply highlight the ones they are actively making. This would have an added benefit of showing customers a greater variety of flavors so they have a reason to come back again... especially since at one point when Smitten was down to making only chocolate and vanilla I heard a couple of people come up sounding a bit mystified why an ice cream shop would be so popular with only the most basic of flavors, not knowing that just minutes before they were making Green Tea and Salted-Caramel and would be making Salted Caramel again in an hour.
- Further on the flavor listing...I would post these in better viewing locations, not just right next to the register. The point of this would be to lure people in as they are walking by from every direction and allow people waiting in line to see what they are in line for!
- Pricing...while I understand that Smitten is still in week one they really need to have some size and price information posted. I didn’t know that there was a smaller (kid’s size) option until after I had already ordered and paid for a full-size one. And to be honest I found it awfully expensive and think the pricing needs to be re-examined, particularly to encourage repeat business.
- After waiting in line all of that time, it would be nice to have somewhere to sit near Smitten other than the curb so I would recommend dressing up the curb with a few tables and chairs.
- The Smitten website is adorable and really quite functional. However within a week of their opening it is already out of date (in fact the home-page makes it seem as though they aren’t open yet). It would also be great if the flavors page actually showed the flavors being made in real time and you could subscribe so that you got RSS feed updates when flavors change.
Now, despite these minor growing pains, Smitten Ice Cream is a “must try” new shop! The ice cream is unbelievable, the idea is innovative and the location is fantastic. I, personally, will be back often to continue to check in, try new flavors, and watch their progress!