NEW ORLEANS — He may be an Englishman, but his ice cream is as New Orleans as it gets.
Each of Adrian Simpson’s 23 flavors of New Orleans Ice Cream Co. ice cream — which includes Café Au Lait and Beignets, Lemon Doberge Cake and Mississippi Debris — has firm roots in the Big Easy.
“The flavors pick themselves in my opinion,” Simpson said. “You can go out and eat in New Orleans and see the dessert menu.”
He started off with six flavors, including Coffee With Chicory, Praline Crunch, Vanilla “because you have to have vanilla,” and Creole Cream Cheese.
As the company got rolling, Simpson and crew would hand out samples at stores around New Orleans.
One older lady tried the Creole Cream Cheese, which Simpson worried might not translate well, and started crying. Thinking it was the unique taste, he apologized for upsetting her. He said she told him no, she wasn’t upset, it’s just that the flavor reminded her of being young.
Baked Alaska is another flavor Simpson was initially unsure about.
“Well, you go into Antoine’s in the French Quarter and go, ‘Oh, that’s great. I wonder if I can make an ice cream out of it,’” he said.
So he did. But whether it was a generational gap or something else at work, some shoppers thought Baked Alaska had to do with fish, not cake. Once they tried it, though, it quickly became popular.
Hubig’s Apple Pie is a somewhat more natural fit for ice cream than Creole cream cheese or baked Alaska.
“We chopped up a Hubig’s apple pie and put it in some ice cream,” Simpson said. “People think there’s a big secret to this and it’s not.”
But the sugar topping on the pie proved a bit too sweet.
“It made your teeth melt,” he said.
So they got Hubig’s to blind-bake some pie without the sugar topping and went with a sort of deconstructed Hubig’s pie. The resulting 1,000 cases sold quickly. The day after the Hubig’s factory burned down, New Orleans Ice Cream Co. made its last 300 cases, which it rolls out periodically in stores across the city.
“We’ll keep Hubig’s on the radar for everyone until they come back,” Simpson said.
Then there’s Chocolate City.
Just like every ice cream company needs a vanilla, they also need a chocolate. When Simpson heard former Mayor Ray Nagin’s comment about New Orleans being a chocolate city, he knew he had his chocolate.
“Even though Nagin wasn’t very happy with it,” he said.
Chocolate City is chocolate ice cream dotted with white chocolate chips, reflective of the gist of Nagin’s post-Katrina quip.
The sarcasm didn’t stop there.
In the wake of the William Jefferson trial, where the now-former U.S. representative had cash stashed away in his freezer, the ice cream company rolled out an ad campaign asking New Orleanians what was in their freezer.
“I opened up a right can of worms,” Simpson said, saying they received pictures of frozen dead animals, underwear and even someone’s thumb.
Something New Orleans Ice Cream Co. is very serious about is the quality and flavor of its product. Simpson said the company is very big on all-natural ingredients.
The shocking pink color of the Nectar Soda flavor, for instance, comes not from a mysterious numbered dye, but from beet root, he said.
“We literally make the best product we can make,” Simpson said, even though initially it made the price very high. As sales picked up, the price has come down, Simpson said.
Plus, Simpson said, New Orleans has a reputation to maintain. He’s lived in the city 13 years, and said both he and his company take a great amount of pride in being from New Orleans.
“It’s the responsibility of putting New Orleans on your packaging,” he said. “You see it on a shelf in California and you see New Orleans, you know it’s going to be good.”
And they must be doing something right. New Orleans Ice Cream Co. is now sold around Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Florida, as well as being distributed nationally through online retailers.
“It’s like a game of Risk, where you’re taking over one state at a time,” Simpson said.
But just because he’s expanding to Texas and other states, don’t expect to see any non-Louisiana flavors any time soon.
“It’s always going to be New Orleans,” Simpson aid. “No one makes food better than New Orleans. No one thinks of Austin and thinks, ‘Oh, they make the greatest food there.’”