Alec’s Ice Cream takes over Three Twins production facility in Petaluma
Launching an ice cream company in the middle of winter may not seem ideal, but then again, the same could be said for launching a food product during a global pandemic. As consumer tastes would have it, ice cream is considered a comfort food by many, and so along with other “necessities” like beer and toilet paper, ice cream has actually seen a surge in sales over the past year.
This is the world that Alec’s Ice Cream was born into when Alec Jaffe leased Three Twins Ice Cream’s vacated Petaluma production facility early last summer. This month, he unveiled his brand and its first five flavors: Tahitian vanilla bean, chocolate, mint chocolate chip, salted caramel latte and honey blueberry lavender.
Jaffe has been developing his business plan for several years, but the timing and location seemed to fall into place this year. By early 2020, he had perfected several of his flavors on a small scale and was looking for an opportunity to launch his ice cream. His first idea was to open a dessert-bar style scoop shop offering everything from scoops to custom ice cream sandwiches. However, opening up such a shop would be expensive and fraught with pandemic-related risks. As luck would have it, the Three Twins space had just become available after the longtime local ice cream producer shuttered in late 2019. The factory was about the same entry cost as setting up the fancy scoop shop that Jaffe envisioned.
“This also gave me the opportunity to relocate to Petaluma,” said the Southern California native. “If I had done this back home, I would have had to ship in my milk, which can cause quality issues, among other concerns.”
Jaffe wanted to be close to where he sourced his primary ingredients, which he buys from just a dozen blocks away at the Petaluma Creamery.
“There is also a wealth of dairy-related knowledge here that I wouldn’t be able to find in Southern California. Although we are looking to innovate wherever we can, there are certain things that just don’t make sense to reinvent and that is where that knowledge base comes into play,” he said.
Ever since he was a young boy growing up in Laguna Beach, he has loved ice cream. He’s clearly not alone. The International Dairy Foods Association reports that each American consumes roughly 23 pounds of ice cream a year, with California coming in above the national average. However, Jaffe took it a step further than most kids.
When a school assignment called for students to bring something homemade to class, he decided it was time to try his hand at making ice cream. He was 12 years old at the time and with the help of his mom’s Cuisinart, he whipped up a batch of ice cream to share with the class. As expected, it was a huge hit.
He continued to dabble in homemade ice cream while attended high school, and then transferred to USC, where he played football as a running back until a shoulder injury sidelined him.
After college, he worked in sales for Anschutz Corporation (also known as AEG), whose major holding is the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (AEG also owns shares of several sports teams, including the L.A. Kings, Lakers and Sparks, plus several more sports franchises in Europe.) Alec worked with a lot of food accounts, include Southern California’s popular Tapatio Hot Sauce, which introduced him to the ins and outs of the food production business.
When the opportunity arose, Alec joined a business-to-business start-up, but the company did not last.
“I learned a valuable lesson,” he said. “To have the best chance at success, you really do need to start with a superior product. That was something that they lacked but is something that we feel we have at Alec’s Ice Cream.”
With some free time on his hands, Jaffe went back into his parents’ kitchen to explore the idea of making ice cream full time. He started with the same Cuisinart he had used for his class project when he was 12 years old, but it was only a few weeks before it broke and he had to upgrade.
From idea to ice cream
After a few months in the kitchen fine-tuning his recipes, Jaffe started to sell ice cream to friends, family and from a cooler directly to beachgoers. By January, he made the decision to go professional. With a limited background in food, he recruited his brother Zach, who was a chef at the well-respected Hippie Kitchen in Jefferson Parish, just up the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans.
“Finding this turn-key facility was pure luck,” said Jaffe. “And Zach has taken over ownership of the production side. We wouldn’t be here without his hard work.”
The switch from making 1.5 gallons at home to 450-gallon batches in a factory was not easy for the team.