The marquee at Portola’s recently restored Avenue Theater now announces a new main attraction: Churn Urban Creamery, a pop-up ice cream operation gone permanent that’s opening to the neighborhood this weekend.
With her mobile ice cream cart carrying flavors like lemon thyme, coffee and chicory, and vegan rosemary olive oil, Churn proprietor Rica Sunga-Kwan has gained fans across the city. Many Churn flavors include ingredients grown in Sunga-Kwan’s Outer Sunset garden, Beach Cottage Urban Farm.
While Sunga-Kwan still calls the Outer Sunset home, she’s charmed by the Portola, a diverse, largely un-gentrified neighborhood just south of Bernal Heights. And, appropriate to Churn, the Portola is known as San Francisco’s Garden District, a nod to the neighborhood’s history of greenhouses and flower growing
”I like the fact that it’s still filled with locals,” Sunga-Kwan said last year, “and being a native San Franciscan, that’s important to me.” Elsewhere on the San Bruno Avenue retail strip, new business like brewery Ferment, Drink, Repeat and a branch of Four Barrel Coffee have taken root.
Churn’s opening this weekend is the culmination of a two-year remodel of the 2646 San Bruno Avenue space, vacant since a BBQ restaurant departed in 2007. It now features an open kitchen, where customers will see Sunga-Kwan churning her egg-free base on site, baking mix-ins like cookies, and processing fruit for ice cream.
“There seems to be a mystery involved with how ice cream is made, and we want to be fully transparent with what goes on,” she says. Churn will serve eight flavors to start, expanding eventually to 16.
Churn’s new Avenue Theater home received a major facelift in 2017, when its classic neon sign was restored with city funds. That was in part to attract tenants like Churn, which was recruited for the space by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Sunga-Kwan will soon add to the theater’s facade with a bit of her own neon: Working with local sign experts Randall Ann Homan and Al Barna, the Office of Workforce development, and Oakland’s Arrow Sign company, she designed a dynamic new sign to be installed in the coming weeks.