Talking Shop: An hour for ice cream? Sure

In a classic episode of "The Office," Steve Carell's Michael Scott told his underling, played by John Krasinski, "It's never too late for ice cream, Jim."

And if the scene at Creamistry in Irvine on Thursday was any indication, it's never too early either.

A pair of friends arrived scouring for dessert at 11 a.m. no less. Ignoring the advice of mothers everywhere, they chortled, lunch could wait.

But the rendezvous wasn't meant to be, as evidenced by "Awws" and a particularly loud "Oh, no!"

The electricity was out — a death sentence for Orange County's first liquid nitrogen ice cream parlor.

Some sweet-toothed customers lingered, praying fervently to the power gods, while others left amid promises to return. The lights blinked on before 1 p.m., and within minutes, it was business — and long lines — as usual.

Owner Jay Yim said the community's reaction is the same every day — overwhelming.

Creamistry, a blend of the words creamery and chemistry, celebrated its soft opening Sept. 11 so Jay and his wife, Katie, and their staff could practice. When they went in at noon, the plan was to invite passersby to sample their frozen fare.

That wasn't to be, though.

Thirty minutes after the doors opened, nearly 40 people spilled onto the sidewalk. The queue continued to grow, and the last guest was served at midnight, said Jay, whose team, donning aprons and goggles, had prepared an estimated 1,000 scoops before closing.

"On Day One, we didn't expect such a big line, so we ran out of nitrogen," he said. "The second day, we ran out of products. It's a good problem to have."

Despite the help of 20 employees — a number that is expected to grow in the coming days — the Yorba Linda-based couple worked 60 hours straight for the first few days.

In the week since, Creamistry has received ample flak online with visitors griping about the one-hour-plus wait. However, foodies continue to flock to the Crossroads shopping center seemingly undeterred by these warnings. At last count, the number of daily confections served stood at 700 — with the Yims settling into a more manageable routine than the first-day frenzy.

"Every six-ounce cup is individually made for you — that's why it takes time," Jay, 33, said. "We have all six mixers running open to close, and we are putting ice cream on the counter and calling people's names every minute. That's as fast as we can go."

Gourmands pour in, captivated by the hiss and the sight of vapor clouds created when the liquid nitrogen comes into contact with premium, organic and sorbet bases. The lengthy list of fruit, nut and cream flavors — green apple, cherry, amaretto, black sesame, churro, Matcha green tea, coconut and salted peanut, among others — is evolving.

Chocolate hazelnut and cookie butter are the best sellers so far, Jay noted, adding that most customers pick the safe route with their combinations. That's not to say, though, that people have ignored concoctions such as Oreo ice cream with bananas and blueberries topped by strawberry sundae.

"It does not get any fresher; it's all made right in front of you," he said. "We handcraft every scoop. It's like a factory just for you, one scoop at a time."

Jay, who was initially exposed to the concept of liquid nitrogen ice cream 10 years ago, is no stranger to the food services industry. His grandfather owned an ice cream store in Korea, and his father operated a chain of bakeries in Southern California. His expertise lies in culinary equipment, a skill he brought to Creamistry.

"I developed the liquid nitrogen machines, the ones with the handle like a cappuccino machine," said Jay, who said creating liquid nitrogen ice cream this way is safer than doing so by hand. "It took me so long to open the store because that development took me a year — trial and error with over 50 devices, mixing and matching parts, customizing with metal fabrication. Those are all mine; you can't buy them."

Jay and his wife dislike preservatives and genetically modified organisms and have a keen affinity for fresh, organic and healthy produce. Freezers are conspicuously missing at Creamistry because, the Yims say, they don't want to prolong the shelf life of items.

"It's at a higher cost, but I think consumers understand and are willing to pay a little extra for better quality," Jay said of his offerings, which range from $4.75 to $9.

After visiting nearly a dozen locations, the duo walked into the 1,450-square-foot store near Culver Drive and Barranca Parkway about eight months ago. It was love at first sight, Jay recalled.

Stacie Ellis, senior director of marketing at Irvine Company Retail Properties, wrote in an email, "We're always looking for unique concepts that we feel the community will enjoy, and there wasn't an ice cream shop in the vicinity, so Creamistry was a great fit for the center."

The sun-dappled site, outfitted with booths and high stools and located in a busy plaza within walking distance of schools and apartments, has been a good choice, Jay mused — as has the idea, which has already drawn six people serious about setting up franchises. It's a great start, he said, considering that six is only slightly less than the number of days Creamistry has been around.

Although there's no place to add more mixers since it's "chaotic" behind the counter with 10 employees standing shoulder-to-shoulder, the staff has gotten faster. The group is amping up for a grand opening in four weeks that will feature members of Irvine's City Council at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a party with giveaways, twisted balloons and face painting.

Jay is also working on adding iPad stations so visitors can place their orders and avoid the line.

"I am very happy," he remarked. "When Katie and I sit down, we say, 'We are blessed.'"

If You Go

What: Creamistry

Where: 3972 Barranca Parkway, Suite D, Irvine

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily


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