It’s safe to say ice cream now comes in every flavor under the sun. You can get green tea, goat cheese, sweet potato. Hell, even bacon or beer! We’ve come a long way from the simple beginnings of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, mixing them all together if you were feeling extra fancy, and yet, one thing hasn’t changed. The cone. That is, until Ampersand the Conery came into the picture. The first ice cream cone debuted in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Over 100 years later, it looks the same, and tastes pretty similar too. Mena, Brian and Jerry of Ampersand the Conery are on a mission to change that, with their Kickstarter project introducing a whole new line of ice cream cones. Instantly intrigued by their incredible video, we wanted to know more about the trio, and their mission to update the stale ice cream cone. (And yes, the extra ice cream we enjoyed as a result was research.)
Tell us a bit about yourselves, and how Ampersand the Conery came to be. How did you get from being three friends in grad school, to business partners funding a Kickstarter project? Ice cream cones are stale. They are literally dull and bland. Biting into one rarely feels exciting. We asked ourselves what would an exciting cone look like and started imagining from there. These questions started to form as part of a school project. In an innovation class, our professor asked us to invent a new brand. After some research, we realized that ice cream cones could use a jolt of energy. This insight was so intriguing that we kept developing the idea outside of school.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves – who’s the foodie? M: We’re afraid to call ourselves foodies. For myself, a foodie is a title that comes with a lot of connotation, and I don’t know if I can own up to it. It’s a title that’s similar to calling yourself a writer or a photographer; the spectrum of what those titles mean is so varied. Everyone and nobody can be a writer, a photographer, a foodie. But I do know that I enjoy food and being adventurous with food, I’m intrigued by exotic and interesting combinations, and I can appreciate when food is presented beautifully.
Three people can be tough. How do you work to compliment each other? How do you reflect your personal tastes (no pun intended) while still maintaining a successful group mentality? That this partnership works is part luck and part design. We naturally gravitate towards different mind-sets that complement each other. Mena has a great eye for aesthetics. Jerry is a natural at executing. Brian enjoys thinking about the symbolic value of brands and products. That doesn’t mean that each one of us couldn’t handle some of these other responsibilities. We do share in all of them. But we’ve also learned to get out of each others’ way, which has allowed us to come as far as we have.
Do you have any rituals to your creative/work process? M: I’ve read that Kafka and Kant, Benjamin Franklin and even Murakami have very strict rituals. Their days start at a certain hour, begins with a cup of coffee; they spend X hours doing this, X hours doing that. We don’t have that. At one point this summer, we were located in three different time zones which made it hard to do things together. The closest thing we have to a ritual is our evening chats. There were days when we had nothing to talk about, but still logged onto Google Hangout and forced ourselves to enjoy each other’s company.
B: I don’t have rituals, but I do have a method filled with chaos. When I’m working on a problem, it’ll stay on my brain full-time. And so everything I encounter becomes a lens through which I consider the problem. If I’m watching TV, I’ll keep connecting what I’m watching to the challenge at hand, in this case cones. It gets increasingly random. Anything becomes fair game – a phone handle, a quote from a newspaper article, watching how people react when they’re stuck in traffic. It’s odd and sort of magical how connecting dots is completely unpredictable.
Where’s your favorite place to go for inspiration, both online and off? M: As a group, we’re inspired by food culture, by the menus that we encounter at restaurants, by the food trucks in Portland and the venders at the Mill City Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis. I went to China this summer and every dessert was available in a green tea, red bean, and taro. I’m also a silent follower of many food blogs. The Subjectivist and Lottie + Doof top the list. We made a peanut butter sesame cone because there was peanut butter and sesame oil on the kitchen shelf. This is the story of how most of the flavors we’ve experimented with came about. But we also take suggestions; my roommate is responsible for honey lavender.
B: Lately I’ve developed an addition for Instagram- the use of hashtags on Instagram is brilliant. Clicking through an Instagram hashtag is like falling into a rabbit hole where you enter a universe more vibrant and complex than you had imagined the minute before. Getting a glimpse at the cool and unusual things that people do is amazing inspiration when you’re trying to encourage a new way of eating a classic treat like ice cream.
Tell us a story behind your favorite flavor. M: I have a little notebook filled with ideas for ice cream cone flavors –- flavors like wasabi seaweed that none of my friends want to try. But my favorite flavor that we’ve perfected so far is pistachio. We use lightly salted pistachios and that extra kick of salt in the cone is unexpected and fantastic.
B: My favorite flavor is oatmeal. It’s something that we haven’t perfected yet, but it was our first working flavor. We had tried cooking cones before and had fallen short. We weren’t even able to roll them into cone shape. Simply on a lark, we tried using oatmeal cookie batter as a new base. To our surprise, it worked. That was the eureka moment where all sorts of possibilities opened up.
Your Kickstarter video (and accompanying graphics) are some of the best around. As a food brand, I can understand why visuals are important, but Ampersand is particularly eye-catching. Why was the visual component so important to you? We got lucky with our video. A friend connected us with an animator who understood that we had recently graduated and have loans to pay. Making the video was a slow process – and it had to be because collaboration and getting the best work was important to us. The video was in constant revision. We originally wanted our Kickstarter to launch in August, during the ice cream high, but delayed the launch because the font wasn’t working or we wanted new icons, or we wanted to adjust the background color. We wanted to give our Kickstarter backers the closest reflection of what our final product is going to feel like. We want them to be able to imagine the kind of brand we’re trying to create, but we didn’t break the bank doing it. And our product shots? Instagram filters. The camera quality on the iPhone is better than a point and shoot.
What is something/someone you’d recommend our audience has on their radar? M: I follow Kinfolk Magazine on Instagram. They have dinners that I dream to be part of. I admire Mast Brothers Chocolate and how they are so sure of who they are. It’s reflected in their chocolate, the packaging they use, and their collaboration with Stumptown Coffee. This Must Be the Place is a current Tumblr favorite, and Narratively is the Kickstarter project that’s excited me the most. I recently discovered Milkmade in NYC; they deliver two pints of specially crafted ice cream to your doorstep every month. This month Milkmade has created hay(!!!) ice cream with chunks of ginger snaps. They’re really pushing the envelope when it comes to provocative flavors.
B: The guys at Mission Chinese Food in California, and now NYC are doing amazing things with food on a regular basis. Their ability to tell a story through food and the creation of a restaurant is fascinating to watch. Their impulse is to consistently reimagine the rules that are supposed to be followed. In fashion, the designer Jun Takahashi also shares this mindset. He’s beginning a collaboration with Uniqlo, which is set to grow dramatically in the US. They’re the Gap and H&M of Japan rolled into one. In literature, the writer Zadie Smith seems like her auto-pilot is set on brave-mode. Not that she’s attempting to shape her public persona so that people see her this way, but she just doesn’t accept any other way of telling a story.
What is a piece of advice you consistently find yourself reflecting upon? Who shared it with you? Our professor, Kelly O’Keefe, whose innovation class this all began in, told us to let passion and not money dictate what you do. We ask ourselves all the time “do we love this more than we did yesterday?” The moment that stops being true is when we’ll stop.
What are you most looking forward to you in this endeavor? What flavors are you each especially excited for? We are really excited to announce our fall lineup consisting of three Autumn inspired flavors which we will be making available to all of our Kickstarter backers! If we had to choose just one of those flavors, “Apple Pie Crust” makes us the most excited. There is nothing more American than a piece of apple pie a la mode, and an Apple Pie Crust cone flavor is a great example of what Ampersand is all about– creating opportunities for pairings that elevate moments of sweetness.
What is an inspirational quote or lyric you want to leave off with? “If I could lick the sunset, I’ll bet it would taste like Neapolitan ice cream.” – Jarod Kintz –
For more information on Ampersand the Conery, and to support their mission to bring you sophisticated ice cream cones, visit their Kickstarter page.