Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Sweet partnership

July/August 2017 California Bountiful magazine

Ice cream shop connects couple with their new community

Ramie and Joe Hencmann are the owners of Sweet Scoops Homemade Ice Cream on the historic Sonoma Plaza. The couple makes ice cream onsite, using fresh ingredients such as local fruit, olive oil, roasted coffee and even wine and beer. Photo: Steven Knudsen/Sonoma County Farm Bureau

Two years ago, Joe and Ramie Hencmann were at their Denver home, dreaming of a lifestyle change. Dreams quickly turned to sweet reality after they purchased an ice cream shop on Sonoma's historic plaza and moved their young family to California. These days, you'll find the Hencmanns at their Sweet Scoops ice cream shop, churning out imaginative flavors and filling cones with cool concoctions made with local fruit, olive oil, roasted coffee and even wine and beer.

How did you get into the ice cream business and why did you choose Sonoma? Joe: I worked at a popular ice cream shop in Denver for 22 years. I started scooping at age 15 and learned how to make ice cream when I was 18 years old. Ramie: We didn't know much about Sonoma before we moved here, but we trusted our decision. We hoped the community would love homemade ice cream—and they have. It's like the universe put us here.

What's your recipe for success? Joe: California provides us with fresh ingredients, so I have everything I need to develop new flavors. Beyond that, we look at how we can support other small businesses, including farmers. Ramie: The goal has always been to keep it simple, while celebrating where we live. We're in the middle of a place with incredible produce and people who love to try new things.

Where do you get your summer fruits? Joe: We like developing relationships with farmers. I show up every Monday and Friday at a Sonoma strawberry farm and purchase lots of berries for our shop. I met a peach farmer and his family at the Sonoma Farmers Market, and now I buy peaches from him every week. I make peach ice cream every day of the month in the summer. I like to freeze enough of the strawberries and peaches so that I can use the fruit in fresh batches during the offseason. Our customers appreciate that.

What are your most popular ice cream flavors? Joe: Butter brickle is our most popular flavor, and strawberry is our top fruit seller. People love our strawberry ice cream because it tastes so fresh. Ramie: Peach bellini flies out of the shop, and it's one of my favorites. It's made as a sorbet, using fresh peaches and Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine.

How many taste samples do customers typically request? Ramie: People have asked to taste every flavor—but then they laugh so we know they're joking. Joe: One person asked to taste 10, even though there was a line of people waiting out the door. But the average request is two to three tastes.

The aroma of freshly made waffle cones fills the air at Sweet Scoops, where ice cream flavors vary with the seasons and the Hencmanns' creative whims. Mia Borloz, above, digs in. Photos above and top left: Steven Knudsen/Sonoma County Farm Bureau. Photo top right: courtesy Sweet Scoops

What's your process for creating and introducing new ice cream flavors? Joe: I like experimenting to see what pairs well with fruit. Maybe I'll start with a strawberry base and make it chunky or smooth, then try cream cheese or feta with it. I'll have Ramie and her brother, Chase (Joe's new assistant ice cream maker), try it before I take it to the public. If it's a hit, it's added to my list of flavors—or it gets modified, or we say goodbye to it. Strawberry basil was an experiment. It's one of our most popular summer flavors.

What's it like to be in the middle of one of California's most popular food and wine destinations? Ramie: It inspires us. Joe often eats something at a restaurant and then thinks about how he can use those flavors in an ice cream. There are incredible restaurants, ingredients and chefs in Sonoma who aren't afraid to try new things. Joe: It's great to be in the middle of all this. It inspires me to continue to grow and try new things. I want to create ice cream that's at the same level of food as at a high-caliber restaurant.

What's so great about using local ingredients? Ramie: Using local ingredients means we are supporting our community. We've received incredible support from our neighbors and we want to do the same for them. We also want our customers to know where the food is coming from. We get a lot of people visiting from other parts of the country where fresh ingredients are not available. It's made me appreciate how invested Californians are in local, seasonal food.

Tell us a bit about your customers. Joe: We're building a community of regular customers. It's fun to see it happening. There's a mother and her 3-year-old son who come in every Wednesday from Glen Ellen. There's another mother and her two kids who visit us three or four times a week. The boys never change their flavor choices. Some customers make regular trips here from their homes in San Francisco. I look forward to seeing them. Ramie: We're involved in the community and our kids are school age, so our customers are also our friends.

Describe a typical day at the shop. Joe: There is no typical day. (Laughs) I make ice cream six days a week, and go back and forth between making ice cream and scooping. I love to talk to people and I love to make ice cream, so it doesn't feel like work. Ramie and I are both very involved in the business, and we work hard juggling our family life and being present with our kids.

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