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The Museum of Ice Cream Gets Its Ice Cream for Free

But you have to pay for it

A scoop of a custom flavor created by Maryellis Bunn
Patricia Chang

A $38 ticket to the Museum of Ice Cream buys several minutes of wallowing in a pool of sprinkles, unlimited photo opportunities, and one scoop of ice cream served by a rotating local vendor (plus a few other sweets along the way). That adds up, according to representatives for the busy attraction, to 120,000 scoops per month. But thanks to a little-publicized arrangement, it’s all free for the MOIC, as ice cream purveyors donate hundreds of gallons of product in exchange for valuable brand exposure. That’s well enough for medium and large ice cream makers, but small, local ice cream shops — the kind the museum purports to celebrate — are feeling frozen out.

When the museum opened earlier this month, it started with mini sundaes from the beloved local creamery Bi-Rite. For its five week engagement, Bi-Rite provided 690 gallons of gingersnap ice cream, 104 gallons of strawberry basil sauce, and 200 pounds of ginger crumble (which, according to a chipper MOIC guide, was all crumbled by hand). The results, served to MOIC visitors inside a room with a retro diner theme, were delicious.

To select their vendors, MOIC co-founder Maryellis Bunn says she and her team first go undercover to taste test local offerings. “There’s some replication we’ve done — Salt & Straw we did in LA. But we’re looking to support the art of ice cream,” she says. Other vendors for the SF MOIC include CREAM and It’s-It, both moderately sized operations based in the Bay Area.

Bi-Rite’s custom flavor
Patricia Chang

Annabelle Topacio and Ian Flores, owners of eight-year-old Dogpatch ice cream shop Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, were excited and flattered when they got a message from the Museum of Ice Cream. “Once we looked it up, we thought that it could be great,” says Topacio. “We have a daughter, she’d love it, we thought.”

But when a museum representative asked if they could handle making — and donating — 175 gallons of ice cream per week for four to five weeks, their reaction changed.

“We were upset at the idea [of donated ice cream], because we’re artists. When you think of a museum, you think you’re supporting artists,” says Topacio.

“We don’t even make that much ice cream a week,” says Flores, who estimates the food cost alone could have been $30,000.

The Museum also approached Garden Creamery, a freshly opened Mission District ice cream maker serving colorful, Hawaiian-influenced flavors that are also endlessly ‘grammable. “We’re tiny, “says co-owner Erin Lang. “It’s basically my boyfriend and I making everything.” Ultimately, the request from the MOIC wasn’t an option for Garden Creamery, either. “We couldn’t give away free ice cream and keep up with the shop,” Lang says.

Larger artisanal ice cream makers found the proposition perfectly worthwhile. Andy Nguyen, co-owner of Afters Ice Cream which is currently supplying the LA MOIC, says he was more than happy to donate a five-week supply of a special brownie flavor. And for Bi-Rite, a donation like this isn’t out of the ordinary — Sarah Holt, a representative for Bi-Rite, says the company makes financial and product donations to hundreds of local organizations every year. This was “an opportunity to celebrate the fun and happiness of ice cream,” she says, “and to introduce Bi-Rite Creamery to even more locals” in what Bi-Rite characterizes as a partnership.

Patricia Chang

Tyler Malek, the head ice cream maker at whimsical Portland-based creamery Salt & Straw, was also game. “I've loved being featured there,” says Malek, whose company has expanded to LA and SF. “Honestly, the space and artwork completely transports you into a different world; it's the same spirit and imagination I try to channel in my ice cream.”

The Museum of Ice Cream is now trying to do the same, serving its own ice cream at the end of museum tours. Dreamt up by Bunn, flavors like Sprinkle Pool and Piñata are available for $4 a scoop, though the producer of the ice cream is not public knowledge.

Garden Creamery, meanwhile, has found a different outlet for its product: The Color Factory, another ticketed, Instagram-focused experience in San Francisco. “The Color Factory wanted to work with us because we are a small vendor, and they were fine with paying us,” says Lang. There, she’s serving mini-cones of bright yellow soft serve to guests as they exit a three-foot-deep pit of yellow balls.