FREEZE brings specialty ice cream, granitas to Milwaukie
Like many people, Greg Baartz-Bowman wants to save the world. But the Milwaukie resident has a decidedly specific goal — he wants to change the way brick-and-mortar ice cream shops serve their products one dish and spoon at a time.
With the news that the world's oceans are full of rafts of plastic and reading about the devastating effects of plastic on wildlife, Baartz-Bowman said it makes no sense to him that ice cream is served in a single-use plastic bowl with a single-use plastic spoon.
So he decided to "do the dishes to save the fishes" by opening FREEZE Ice and Cream, in the downtown Milwaukie Station cart pod, with a unique business plan.
His cold treats are served in a melamine bowl with a metal spoon. When visitors to the pod finish their treats, they are asked to put the bowl and spoon in a dishpan filled with soapy water. Then they are encouraged to turn the number on a large counter above the dishpan.
"I ask them to turn it and join the crowd of people who have said no to single-use plastics," Baartz-Bowman said. "It does make a difference; it does add up. Everyone who brings the bowl back feels good about themselves."
People who want to take the ice cream or granita to go are asked to bring the bowl and spoon back the next time they visit the pod, Baartz-Bowman said.
He noted that his business plan has generated some interesting discussions, with one man even telling Baartz-Bowman his plan to keep plastics out of the environment was silly.
But that man came back three days later, returned his bowl and spoon and turned his number over and said "he changed his mind from a silly business plan to a nice one," Baartz-Bowman said.
His plan is financially sound, he noted, adding that he figures he can use the bowl 100 times and after 30 times it has paid for itself.
"I save dollars by doing the dishes; you wouldn't (serve food on a single-use plastic plate) at home," Baartz-Bowman said.
Good weather helps
FREEZE Ice and Cream opened at the Milwaukie cart pod across from the downtown MAX stop in May, and Baartz-Bowman discovered the downside of owning a business dependent on having good weather.
"If it's below 70 degrees and raining," people aren't clamoring for ice cream, he said.
But with the days of summer, people are out and about discovering the food carts. And part of that is finding out what organic, small-batch ice cream tastes like and discovering what a granita is.
It's not exactly a sno-cone and not exactly shave ice, but when asked about the granita, Baartz-Bowman simply hands out a sample of the icy treat and people love it, he said.
He first discovered granitas while traveling in Italy many years ago.
"It was a hot day and I saw a little corner shop; I knew I wanted something refreshing," he said.
When he went in, he saw a lady with a big fork scraping a layer of ice in a tin dish.
"I got a bowl and said, 'this is so tasty.' It's been something in the back of my mind since," he said.
Two years ago, on a family vacation to Hawaii, Baartz-Bowman tasted shave ice, remembered his granita experience in Italy, and turned to his wife and said he had found what he wanted to do.
Because Baartz-Bowman worked in the restaurant industry in the past, he already had learned some valuable lessons about making delicious treats.
"I use organic ingredients and prepare them correctly. I try to stay out of the way of the ingredients so that the fruit shines through," he said.
He also prides himself on never saying no to a customer. Recently, a family with several children stopped by for ice cream cones, and the mother told one of her sons that he couldn't have a cone because he was lactose and gluten intolerant.
"I gave him a nondairy ice cream in a gluten-free cone, and he was the happiest child in the world," Baartz-Bowman said.
He makes some of the ice cream from scratch right in the cart, but because he couldn't keep up with demand on hot days, Baartz-Bowman stocks Tillamook ice cream as well.
He also makes all the granitas in the cart, cooking up fruit on a single burner, straining out the seeds and putting the mixture in a tin pan in the freezer.
"Before it gets rock hard I take a big fork and start scraping and scraping. You can't get crystals like these from a machine," Baartz-Bowman said.
He loves making flavors with some depth to them, so right now he has strawberry basil, blackberry, lemon blueberry, pineapple and apple celery, among others. All are made with fresh fruit.
Another specialty treat you won't find anywhere else is his ice cream cake with granita frosting.
He layers ice cream in the Neapolitan style, tops it with a granita and then comes up with fun names for the product.
The red-white-and-blue has been popular this summer with layers of raspberry and vanilla ice cream topped with blueberry granita. The black-and-blue is another flavor showcasing blackberry, vanilla and blueberry.
Baartz-Bowman also has root beer floats on tap in the cart and said kids really enjoy watching him make those.
The best part of being a pod cart owner is meeting new people, Baartz-Bowman said, adding that he is a longtime Milwaukie resident who is thrilled to be able to walk to work. He also gets a kick out of the history of his cart, which he bought secondhand from Voodoo Doughnuts. He and son Alden, 18, repainted the cart a cheery purple, replacing the original hot pink.
Baartz-Bowman said the cart will be open from 3-8 p.m. most days, depending on the weather.
"We open at 3 p.m. on Sundays and we do have a pop-up booth at the Milwaukie Sunday Farmers Market and the Happy Valley Saturday Market," he said.
He sells FREEZE Street Popsicles at these markets and actually makes the pops the old-fashioned way with rock salt, ice and molds.
"The kids love it and parents love the fact our popsicles cost only $1," Baartz-Bowman said.
The cart will be open through October, but as winter approaches he thinks the cart will be inactive, although Baartz-Bowman can see making ice cream in holiday flavors for Thanksgiving and Christmas. People could place orders online and then pick up the ice cream from the cart.
The biggest reward of owning FREEZE Ice and Cream is helping the environment and making people happy.
"You don't find that in every business," Baartz-Bowman said.
"Getting that feeling from people is one of the payoffs; my soul is getting fed from this."
What: FREEZE Ice and Cream
When: 3-8 p.m. most days, depending on weather, through October
Where: Milwaukie Station cart pod, 11301 S.E. 21st Ave., across from the downtown Milwaukie Max stop. FREEZE also has a pop-up booth selling old-fashioned popsicles at both the Happy Valley Saturday Market and the Milwaukie Farmers Market on Sundays.
Treats: FREEZE Ice and Cream offers ice cream, granitas and ice cream cakes
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