Paul Nasrani is the owner of Adirondack Creamery, a New York State ice cream company that uses local labor and all-natural ingredients.
To celebrate his just-received kosher certification, he sent a bunch of pints of ice cream to the MJL offices, where we devoured them at a staff meeting with true journalistic impartiality (uh, we basically inhaled them). The verdict: all-natural ice cream really does taste better. Strawberry Moon tasted more like strawberries than actual strawberries do. Whiteface Mint Chip was the pint-size container equivalent of fine dining. My favorite was probably Kulfi-Pistachio Cardamom, which was spicy and soothing all at the same time, turning your mouth into a Bollywood movie that’s crunchy and sharp and smooth as, well, ice…
But I’m digressing. Nasrani and his fellow ice creamers also use local farms and compassionate milk providers. His product travels no more than 150 miles, keeping everything local, sustainable, and fresh. And Adiarondack just received kosher certification for 7 of their 9 flavors, giving us another reason to go wild.It also gave us a prime opportunity to ask a few questions about being kosher. What does it mean? How does it happen? And does it really help sales? We dropped Mr. Nasrani a line, and he agreed to talk about all of the above and more.Paul: Hi! How was the staff meeting? How did the ice cream go over?
MJL: It was probably the best staff meeting on record.
That’s great to hear. I’ll try to get you some more of the new flavors when they come out. Maybe your next one can be even better.
Well, not to switch my first question or anything, but what new flavors?
Our seasonal flavors — we’re starting a pumpkin flavor, and a peppermint stick, that will be out in fall. Next year, we’ll be working on more wintry flavors.
When did you get started with this? Have you always worked in an ice cream-making plant?
I was in finance; I was CFO of a small/medium size staffing company. In 2001, someone had given me a small ice cream maker, and I started making it in my apartment.
As a kid, I worked on a farm. We used to make our own ice cream, just using the basic ingredients, mixing it all up at home. We used to vacation in Lake George, Pennsylvania, and there was an ice cream store there that I had great memories of. It was a hobby, and I just started to create flavors — I went to gourmet stores in the city and created flavors. My friends liked it so much that they bought me a bigger ice cream maker. I had no room for it; I had to store it in my tub. I never sold ice cream, I just gave it away.
In winter of ’03, I stumbled into Grand Central Station. There used to be an ice cream store in the basement, and they were closing, and their equipment was being foreclosed. It was a crazy auction, I had nowhere to put it, and I had to pay cash — but I did it. I stored it in a friend’s house in Jersey. Eventually, we went back to the ice cream store where I grew up, and we started a base of operations there.
Was the store still around?
Now it’s a part of a YMCA called Silver Bay. It’s a family conference center, it’s more than 100 years old. They didn’t make ice cream anymore, but I convinced them to let me start selling it again. In the summer of ’04, I moved up. One problem was, it was very seasonal. Except for summertime, there was no market.
The other problem was, we weren’t close to a dairy. We had to buy pre-packaged cream, so we had no input into the ingredients. I wanted to make a project that was as simple as possible — milk, cream, sugar and eggs. So I had to track down a place along the New York Throughway, along the north end.
Lo and behold, I found a dairy in Kingston, NY. I’m actually in route there now [sounds of traffic have been interspersed through the conversation]. It’s halfway between the Adirondacks and New York City. They had some ice cream equipment that they weren’t using. We just started to work together, and it’s been fantastic.
All the milk at the diary comes from a small family farm in the Hudson Valley. We started doing that in 2006-7. Then we were finally able to make the kind of ice cream we wanted to — locally-produced and all-natural.
Was it hard to become kosher?
One of the interesting things is, from the beginning, becoming kosher was an important thing for us. We knew we were in a marketplace [ice cream sales] with a significant population of kosher consumers. It took time, and investment, andâ€¦at first, we were so small that we couldn’t afford to. But some of our outlets said, we have a lot of kosher customers — if you could do this, you could gain a lot more customers.
We weren’t kosher yet, but we paid attention to the ingredients we used so, when we did go to certification, we wouldn’t have to change our ice creams. Once we were at the size that it made economical sense for us, we just kept making the same ice cream.
Did you have to choose between different kosher certifications? Were they hard to find, or did you just look up “kosher” in the phone book?
We decided on the Kof-K. We work closely with the people at Fairway, and they were kind enough to introduce us to Rabbi Rosenblum, one of the heads of Kof-K. I think all the top organizations are great, but we fit well with them — they’re family-owned and well-recognized. It was this summer that we got our certification.
Did it take a while?
It’s not that long, but it’s intensive. First you have to list all the ingredients. We’d done it before for ourselves, but they had to check our ingredients, and then our suppliers. I wasn’t that familiar with the process — there are so many different groups, and it was important to find out about them. They’re not all easily recognized.
Then we had some plant visits from the rabbis on staff. We went through an educational process for us and our staff, the history, and why it’s important. In the process, the people at K-K made it easy. It was a lot of work, and time-intensive, but it wasn’t difficult. And we learned a lot from it.
Then we had to get pieces of our equipment kosherized. We have a few specific specialty items that were hard to make kosher, some of which took a while to kosherize, and some of which we had to order new.
We had to review procedures with the rabbis. If we’re permitted to make non-kosher products, we make them on a separate day, or after, not before, making the kosher stuff. It also introduced the dairy to the kosher people, and they’ve gone through the procedure for their products, too.
How do you handle the non-kosher production?
You have to clean and sanitize the equipment. Truthfully, it’s only two flavors, Peppermint Stick and Bark Eater — that’s an English almond toffee vanilla flavor. Part of our business is that we’re local — we only sell within 150 miles of the dairy. We use local producers and local dairies, and we use these wonderful local candy companies within 10 miles of the dairy that are hard to replace . We hope that our business with them will grow so much that they’ll get their facilities certified. As I’ve learned in this business, it just takes time.
And being kosher give us another target consumer, too — people who are aware of food who may not even be Jewish, but they view the certification as another symbol of quality or cleanliness, an additional approval level.
Are there any flavors that it’s particularly hard to get certified?
No, because, you know what? We’d been aware of this as a goal. Our ingredients are of a premium level — they’re more expensive, but they’re of a better quality. Most of those are certified.
Does it really help sales?
It has already. You know what? We’re in our infancy of the launch of this. The hard part was, it wasn’t until June 19 or 20. But then we had to order our labels and packaging — it took a little while. As of mid-August, our packaging is just about completely rolled over, the stores have it. So, yes, we’ve seen sales increase — but I think we’ve only seen the beginning.
Also, I wanted to wait until the packaging was in the shelf — you’re one of the first people I’ve told. Technically, there hasn’t been any inventory. It’s all been kosher, but it hasn’t had the label. Already, in the last three weeks, it’s begun.
I do a lot of demos in stores, and people are starting to come over and take notice. And there’s a few people in my neighborhood that I actually owe phone calls to, to say to them, “Finally! It’s kosher!”
Do you have plans for the future?
The main goal of our business is, I want to make a living for my family. Ever since I’ve started, I’ve done outside work doing financial consulting to keep above ground, and I’d like to stop having to do that.
My family’s growing. We have a new baby. Our goal is to just keep the business so I don’t do anything else, and the people who work for us so they can make a little more than somewhere else. There are so many people from the Adiarondacks and the Catskills to the city that haven’t heard of us, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.