The best treat on Earth: ice cream

Photo courtesy of Umalulma Gelato

In these trying times, it is important to provide comfort and…a bit of sweetness, too. For centuries, people have turned to ice cream for an irresistible treat that is sugary, creamy and delicious. Vancouver houses some of the best ice cream shops, including Umaluma and The Praguery.

“Umaluma brings everyone together!” says Ian Bruce, owner of Umaluma.

Umaluma, a dairy-free gelato shop located on East Pender Street, prides itself on serving Vancouverites classic and unique flavors in their café.

Move over traditional ice cream, Umaluma is in town!

Bruce founded this shop because he identified a gap between regular ice creams and plant-based ice creams in the Vancouver market.

“The Vancouver community is used to having an incredible variety of excellent dairy-based ice creams, but not necessarily plant-based,” he says.

Umaluma’s team is committed to making the ice cream market much more accessible to those with dietary issues, such as lactose intolerance, and a healthier alternative to traditional ice cream. Bruce notes how in the beginning Umaluma came to fruition through support from family and friends, but soon became popular by health conscious individuals. The vegan market embraced Umaluma very quickly.

“Umaluma can appeal to anyone who wants a quality product made with passion and love,” he emphasises.

When people take a bite out of an Umaluma gelato, they want to hear the delight of customers and shock which is mostly characterized by this line: “I didn’t even know this was dairy free!”

Favorite treats

Bruce recalls gelato is a very personal dish and there are many excellent flavors available at Umaluma. His favorite would be Drunken Cherry.

“It is a combination of Amarena cherries from Italy, which are soaked in aged bourbon and then mixed with hand roasted pecans, and then blended with hints of sea salt, cinnamon and black pepper,” he explains.

His second favorite, called Spicy Turtle, is made with a blend of 72 per cent single origin dark chocolate from Ecuador, house roasted pecans with Cayenne pepper and house made bourbon soaked caramel swirls. The details of each of these treats show how committed Umaluma is to ethical sourcing, quality and customer experience.

Ethics and challenges

Bruce says running an ice cream business is in many ways quite challenging: cash flow, supply, bylaws, staffing, and cold winters when no one wants to eat ice cream.

“Running a business is not for the faint of heart,” recalls Bruce.

But it is all worth it when you gain the experience to deal with these challenges. Yet these challenges seem small compared to the pandemic.

“[It] took a big bite out of our momentum and changed everything overnight,” adds Bruce.

Plant-based ice cream is more beneficial for the environment in comparison to the traditional ice cream. Umaluma is committed to finding the most ethical and sustainable ingredients to use in their treats. Bruce explains ethical sourcing is one part of their success.

“If people love what we make, and support us as a small local business, we will succeed,” he adds.

Ice cream and other treats

Jaroslav Mestka, who was born in Prague, Czech Republic, loves trdelník, a Czech pastry, traditionally baked around a wooden tool (giving it its traditional hollow shape), which was often sold as a street food.

He also wanted to expand this food elsewhere. Upon moving to Vancouver, he decided to show Vancouverites what they were missing. Mestka recalls how he was always passionate about baking and always wanted to pursue that passion of his. He originally wanted to open a pancake stand, but he decided on ice cream instead.

“I will try to bring something new and unique,” says Mestka.

The Praguery, a food truck, is where to find the Chimney Cake (trdelník), inspired by a traditional recipe and has been refined throughout the years to make it taste better and better.

The Praguery Cone, reminiscent of Eastern-European flavors. | Photo courtesy of The Praguery

The cake dates back to around 1450 and came from Transylvania (a region of Romania today), and might be the oldest pastry in Hungary, but the culinary jury is still not out . It is coated with oil and sugar and when baked a crunchy outside is created, with a tender inside. Ingredients such as fresh fruit can then be filled inside.

Mestka says the Chimney Cake filled with cold lemon curd is amazing, and is his favorite dish.

“Our fresh baked chimney cakes filled with lemon curd are heaven!” says Mestka.

As for ice cream, the Praguery Cone looks like a trdelník but with a narrow end, so it can hold all the different fresh fruits or other ingredients along with the ice cream. On offer are also a number of vegan cone options.

Like any small shop owner, Mestka recalls that procuring equipment was the hardest part of establishing The Praguery. He wanted to ensure the equipment would not compromise the traditional elements of the treats, nor the quality which they pride themselves.

Like any entrepreneur, he persevered and was able to successfully run The Praguery with quality equipment, staff and ingredients to ensure people can have a taste of his home.

Mestka recalls that during the pandemic, they had to switch to more on the go items since B.C. had strict restrictions for in-person dining. But, he is optimistic that once the pandemic is over there will be much more dining, hugs and laughter on people’s faces.

“People here in the Lower Mainland are amazing! They are so supportive,” says Mestka, enthusiastically.

The Praguery has been in operation since 2016. Umaluma is now entering their fifth year in operation and has made great strides.

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