How Sad Girl Creamery turned a mental health journey into ice cream joy

Two photos side by side, one of people creating ice cream tacos and the other of rows of ice cream tacos.
Sad Girl Creamery’s SueEllen Mancini uses her ice cream platform to raise awareness for depression, eating disorders and bipolar disorder by sharing hotlines and other access points to health professionals.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

SueEllen Mancini knew something was wrong.

She began dealing with mental health issues as early as age 14, at first explaining it away as teenage angst. But in her 20s, the pastry chef said an undiagnosed condition began to affect her personal relationships to a greater extent. So she sought help, amid a culture where discussing mental health issues in the open remained uncommon. At age 26, Mancini was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Thus began her progress toward better mental health and spreading positive messages about awareness — a path that’s been paved with lots of ice cream.

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After moving to L.A. and launching her project Sad Girl Creamery, Mancini has, in a surprise to even herself, become one of L.A.’s foremost advocates for both icy sweets and mental health awareness.


“It was a very long journey for me, and it still is,” she said as she prepped her weekend wares, emulsifying chocolate and coconut oil in a commercial kitchen in Culver City.

SueEllen Mancini stands against a green wall, arms crossed.
When SueEllen Mancini named her company, she recalled depressive episodes spent eating pints of ice cream. The name Sad Girl Creamery became a nod to both that and one of her favorite films.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

In addition to selling rich and vibrant pints that riff on beloved Latin flavor profiles with swirls of cajeta, mezcal, chocolate with flan or her newly released flavor, a hibiscus-and-watermelon sorbet, the owner and pastry chef behind Sad Girl Creamery regularly posts on Instagram to raise awareness for a range of mental health diagnoses, stigmas and issues.

To her thousands of followers, she addresses a range of topics that one doesn’t typically see from the freezer aisle: self-harm, eating disorders, the anniversary of the creation of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

“I just started realizing, ‘Oh, this is a really comforting thing and it can be a way for me to talk about my own experience and share that with people in my culture,’” she says.


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A start in Houston

Mancini started making ice cream 10 years ago, a few years before her own struggles with mental health came to a head. Her entree was through pastries, launching straight from high school into working at bakeries and a cupcake shop in Houston. She eventually gravitated toward ice cream and started with simple flavors: malted milk chocolate, salted caramel.

A move to L.A. in 2018 helped open her eyes to even more flavors and encouraged her to outwardly embrace her Uruguayan and Chilean heritage for the first time.

Four of Sad Girl Creamery's ice cream pints stacked on a metal table.
Pints of ice cream from Sad Girl Creamery.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

“When I visited the first time I immediately saw how Latino-focused it is, the whole community, and that made me feel close to my own culture,” she said. “That made me want to be closer to that side of myself that I had never paid attention to. ... I come from an immigrant family, I grew up that way. I share all those experiences, but I had never expressed it.”

She got a job making ice cream and baked goods at the now-shuttered Tartine Manufactory complex in the Arts District, then worked in the cannabis edibles industry for a spell. When the pandemic hit, some of her friends and industry colleagues began to launch their own homespun operations as their restaurants and cafes closed — inspiring her to take the leap too. Mancini purchased a tiny tabletop ice cream machine, making pints out of her house.


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Her first pop-up, at a friend’s DJ event at Echo Park Lake in 2021, saw her slinging flavors like cajeta latte, caramel flan and strawberry jam tres leches, plus a paloma sorbet. Since then her flavors — always building upon childhood-favorite and pan-Latin flavor profiles — have expanded to ice cream layer cakes and novelties: guava-jam ice cream cheesecake bars; her ice cream take on the snack cake Gansito; and chamoy-tinged mangonada cones. She crafts milk, dark and white chocolate hard shells for Sad Girl Creamery’s popular Choco Taco-inspired ice cream tacos, corresponding to the flavors of ice cream packed tightly into the hand-formed cone “tortillas.”

An overhead of Mancini, left, and her mother making ice cream tacos in their Culver City commercial kitchen.
SueEllen Mancini, left, and her mother, Maria Lupes, craft their fan-favorite ice cream tacos in their Culver City commercial kitchen.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Mother, daughter team up

Now she makes ice cream with her mom, Maria Lupes, who moved to L.A. from Houston. Lupes is still mastering spinning the ice cream, Mancini said, but she makes the batter for their tacos and hand-forms each one — hundreds every week.

They usually spend two weekday mornings in their commercial kitchen, arriving as early as 5:30 a.m. On Fridays they traverse L.A. and Orange County, dropping off pints to eight retail locations: Sara’s Market in East L.A., El Sereno Green Grocer, Flask in Highland Park, the Golden Poppy Market in Cypress Park, Ignite Smoke Shop in Hancock Park, Altadena Beverage and Market, Exotics Only in South Gate and Alta Baja Market in Santa Ana. Weekends are reserved for pop-ups and catering, often drawing lines and selling out at their in-person appearances.

Lupes didn’t expect to enter the ice cream business but said she’s not surprised she wound up working with her daughter — their time in the kitchen is a kind of extension of Mancini’s high school years, when they sold knockoff designer clothes together at a booth in a Texas flea market. Now, they work in a kind of assembly-line format, filling ice cream tacos and dipping them in chocolate hard shells and then into nuts, pretzels or other toppings before laying them flat on sheet pans, then continuing the cycle.


“She saw I was struggling, and wanted to learn,” Mancini said. “I was like, ‘I guess we’re doing this now!’”

For Mancini, the ice cream isn’t simply her trade but a tool.

Two blue gloved hands dipping ice cream tacos into some melted chocolate.
The ice cream taco is a fan favorite.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Mental health is still far from fully accepted as a public concern in many areas of U.S. Latino culture, Mancini noted.

“We were brought up to think therapy is for white people complaining about their problems,” Mancini said. “Like, ‘You don’t need that, you’re strong.’ I think sometimes when you grow up in immigrant families that came from hardship, everyone’s just stuck in survival mode.”

When she received her diagnosis, she was shocked. Then she felt waves of relief, finally being able to explain a decade of behaviors.

According to the American Psychiatric Assn., not only are Latinos more likely to experience a “lack of culturally tailored services and culturally competent mental health professionals” in the U.S. but they face an additional barrier to seeking aid due to cultural stigmas against it. A 2011 study on mental health stigmas within Latin communities found a high incidence of members of the community seeking distance from those who recently have been or are being treated for depression, and noted that being labeled depressive can signify “personal weakness.”

When Mancini finally launched her own ice cream operation, she named it in ode to the Sad Girl character played by Angel Aviles in “Mi Vida Loca,” a film shot in L.A. and one she grew up watching. Then, she began to notice how fitting it was, thinking back on the time she spent depressed on the couch eating pints of store-bought ice cream and marathoning shows on VH1.


An assortment of ice cream tacos on a baking sheet.
Clockwise from bottom left, Sad Girl Creamery’s vegan peanut mazapan pretzel taco, strawberry tres leches shortcake taco, milk and cookies taco and Che taco, at the creamery’s commissary kitchen.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Fully aware that mental health has become a pointed tool of commerce — with brands and companies relying on it to sell serums, bath bombs, vacations, home goods and anything else that can be marketed as related to self-care — Mancini tries to keep her outreach and public posting on the subject as personal as possible. She does not use it to sell her ice cream but instead to spread awareness via the platform she’s amassed through her sweets.

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The moment she began posting about her mental health journey, followers flooded her Instagram DMs to thank her for raising awareness, voice solidarity and ask for resources.

But Mancini said she wants to be clear: She is not a medical professional, and simply tries to provide resources such as hotline numbers and websites.

A woman seated on a table and a woman seated on its bench, both wearing Crocs, striped shirts and jean shorts.
SueEllen Mancini, left, and her mother, Maria Lupes, outside their commissary kitchen in Culver City.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)


Balance remains a struggle for her business too. Eventually, Mancini hopes to debut a Sad Girl Creamery ice cream shop, though she and her mom currently lack the capital to do so. Until then, they try to find the sweet spot between expansion and getting the most out of their rented, shared kitchen space.

The spatial constraints don’t send Mancini spiraling, though; the life that she’s carved out with Sad Girl Creamery has helped maintain her sanity, wonky blast freezer and all. And through her budding ice cream business, she says she’s helped others with theirs too, one pint and post at a time.