Coolhaus co-founder and CEO Natasha Case turned her recession woes into something sweet. She jumped full-time into her hobby of making gourmet ice cream sandwiches after her job at Disney dried up. "I didn't look back…I just sort of went for it."
Case approached her friend, Freya Estreller, who was then working in real estate development for a private equity fund, with the idea of launching an ice cream truck business. After talking it through and running the numbers, Estreller was on board. She recalls thinking, "Let's give it a shot! Let's reinvent the ice cream cone."
Not everyone was so enthused. The women's parents were skeptical. They had invested time and money into supporting the development of their daughters' professional careers. Case had been in architecture school for seven years before getting the job at Disney. "My parents were concerned…they kind of had a little intervention with me. Like, 'what are you doing?'" she recalls.
The two were undaunted and located a $2700 used mail truck on Craigslist. It was 2009 and the early days of Los Angeles's famous food truck scene. One catch--the truck didn't actually run, so they towed it to Estreller's mother's house where it sat until they could raise the money for renovation and repairs.
Coolhaus officially launched at the Coachella music festival in April 2009. The festival draws over a hundred thousand people--a lot to take on for their first gig, but as Case puts it, "We were instantly cash-flowing."
Business took off, but it wasn't easy. Case points out that there is no template for the small and new industry, no "Food Trucks for Dummies." Estreller chimes in about all the variables they encounter on a daily basis, including parking, flat tires, busted freezers, and engines that suddenly "blow up."
Despite the everyday problems, Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches developed an ardent following. The frozen creations were based on architects and architectural greats: some early favorites were the Richard Meyer Lemon for Richard Meier (Meyer lemon with ginger cookie), Frank Berry for Frank Gehry (strawberry with snickerdoodle), and Mintamalism for minimalism (dirty mint chip with chocolate cookie). Their craziest flavor was Waldorf salad-blue cheese ice cream with apples and walnuts-which Estreller acknowledges never made it to the truck.The first year, the company grew by 700%, basically without advertising. Estreller explains that social media marketing has a domino effect. Customers tweet about the truck location and post pictures of themselves eating ice cream. Their friends pass the info along. "We've only ever paid for one ad, it was $300 and it didn't really do much."
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