First there was Häagen Daz, then there was Ben & Jerry’s, now there is Salt & Straw! Founded in Portland, Oregon, this unique dessert parlor opened their second location in Los Angeles where it is arguably becoming the city’s favorite ice cream shop.
With flavors like Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper and Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese dominating the plethora of colorful options, Salt & Straw is unlike any other ice cream, gelato, or frozen yogurt you’ve ever tasted.
It is this high quality, hand-made perfect blend of buttery and salty cream that has each flavor vibrantly imparting on taste buds with every bite. MiLLENNiAL caught up with Tyler Malek, the millennial mastermind behind the delicious mixtures to learn about his entrepreneurial journey with cousin and co-founder Kim Malek.
How did Salt & Straw first get off the ground?
Kim, my cousin, and I started scooping from a little push cart about five years ago on the rainy streets of Portland. It was really amazing to start here in Portland because of how tight the food community is and how supportive the business community is. We were taken in by Oregon State University who, in their Food Innovation Center labs, helped us lock in the science of ice cream making and how to make the best ice cream for our little cart.
Where did the idea of creating a very salty, yet buttery ice cream originate?
There’s a synergy between good salt combined with good cream that is almost overwhelming in deliciousness. The salt brings out flavors in milk that are unimaginable ranging from a pleasant grassy-ness to sweet bitterness. With that said, I think most big companies have been using bad cream for so long they got pretty used to trying to cover up the dairy flavor instead of highlighting it.
Where does your inspiration for the unique flavor combinations (Honey Lavender or Pear & Blue Cheese) come from?
At Salt & Straw we change out our flavors every four weeks which forces us to go out of our way and find new partners to work with and ingredients to inspire us. Each month we try to find amazing stories to highlight with these menus leading us to partner with unique companies around the city ranging from local distilleries, charcuteries, brewers, cheese makers, wasabi growers, chefs, etc. Once we go down this path of honest collaboration with the intent to showcase a specific partner, the flavor inspiration is easy!
What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in order to get to where you are now?
The main focus for me at Salt & Straw has been growing our team quickly while also maintaining super strong team members. While this has been the biggest struggle, it’s also been my favorite focus. We have nearly three hundred team members and are constantly looking for ways to build that team considering our growth goals mean we are constantly needing to build new manager level team members.
To do this, we’ve tried to get really creative by providing health insurance for every single team member, having parental leave for all new parents, having an extensive leadership training program for new managers, and a super lengthy hiring process + huge training budget for all of our new hires in order to make sure we only bring the best people into our team.
What was your level of interest in the culinary world prior to starting a successful ice cream shop?
I’ve loved food my entire life and even spent a couple of years going to (and dropping out of) culinary school. I think there is something particular about food that completely crossed boundaries, brings people together, and is self translating. As a cook you get to tell a story with each dish in your own personal language and share it with your guests, it’s an amazing skill and power.
What were you doing prior to starting this venture?
Before ice cream, my focus was in Chinese and business. I spent about a year studying in Beijing and thinking I was going to move there prior to falling in love with this frozen magic. Nowadays, it feels like a second life and I promise I’ve forgotten any lick of the Chinese…
Why was Los Angeles the first city you wanted to move Salt & Straw to from Portland?
We felt like LA was a pretty obvious first choice for our first shop out of Portland. There’s a certain level of pride within the city, pride for local artisans who fight everyday to make delicious products, and pride for the ridiculous variety of ingredients available within Southern CA & Central Coast. I think ice cream is the perfect platform to take those amazing success stories around the city and feature them in one location.
Our company has been successful by showcasing the amazing products all around us and our ice cream has built this mystique for the unique purely because of the amazing partnerships we make around the city. In LA, we’ve found some pretty creative partners ranging from Greenbar Distillery in downtown to Compartes Chocolate in Brentwood.
How do you plan to evolve Salt & Straw?
Our goal with Salt & Straw is to be constantly looking for and supporting the artisan community in the city. Not only can we use the story-telling in our shops to spread the word about great partner companies, but we’re also lucky to be able to support these partners by purchasing their delicious products for our ice cream… it’s a win-win and I think it’s a pretty powerful business model for good!
LOS ANGELES SCOOP SHOPS
240 N. LARCHMONT BLVD, LOS ANGELES, CA – 10AM – 11PM DAILY – (323) 466-0485
1357 ABBOT KINNEY BLVD. LOS ANGELES, CA – 10AM – 11PM DAILY – (310) 310-8429
12180 VENTURA BLVD. STUDIO CITY, CA – 10AM – 11PM DAILY – (818) 358-2890