Ice cream can (and should) be enjoyed year-round, but the official start of summer signals an excuse to make ice cream a part of your daily dairy routine. Who would want to meet a friend for a pint of beer on a hot day when there are so many enticing spots to grab a pint of the best frozen treat?
The Triangle’s ice cream landscape has continued to evolve over the past few years, with options ranging from tucked-away country wonders like Broken Spoke—a Hillsborough farm stand with weekend soft-serve hours—to the more established FRESH, which first opened in 2011 and serves the Triangle in its three locations in Raleigh, Apex, and Cary, and chains with a cultish following like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which opened recently in Brightleaf Square in Durham.
Still, there are plenty of hidden gems and new churners in town, many of which use ice cream as a vehicle to share their heritage and tell their stories. The coming summer months offer ample opportunities to taste them all and find your favorites.
Auntie’s Ice Cream owner Samantha Kotey is on a mission: she sees ice cream as a way to share African culture.
“A lot of the love I’ve experienced and observed with African cultures is demonstrated through food,” Kotey says. “The carriers of that, the holders of those rituals and traditions, are auntie’s. If you go to an auntie’s house you’re always going to be welcomed with some sort of dish.”
The daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, Kotey was raised in Houston, Texas. She credits her upbringing in Fort Bend County, ranked among the most diverse counties in the United States, and her summers spent in Ghana with instilling her passion for sharing culture and connecting through food. Kotey moved to North Carolina in 2008 to attend Duke University School of Law, and after graduating and working in Washington, D.C., for a couple of years, she chose to return to Durham in 2014.
She launched Auntie’s Ice Cream in September 2020 when she realized that there was a space in the market for African-inspired ice creams. Auntie’s does not produce ice creams that would be found for sale in Africa but rather pairs African ingredients and spices with classic flavors. Flavors like Ghanaian hot chocolate use dried chilies from Ghana giving a kick to the familiarity of chocolate ice cream.
She started out selling scoops at the Black Farmers’ Market, which has pop-ups bimonthly in Raleigh and Durham, with a menu of flavors that represent each cardinal region of Africa; a number of those flavors include ingredients sourced directly from Africa.
“The chocolate, the coffee, the ginger—that all comes from Africa,” Kotey says. “People bring it for me when they’re traveling, suitcases full.”
She now does pop-ups about once a month at places like the Durham Hotel and Rofhiwa Book Café in Durham. To hear more about upcoming pop-ups, you want to join Auntie’s listserv.
Until now, customers of Bold Batch Creamery (formerly 12 Paws Ice Cream) have had to preorder ice cream to be picked up at a specified time from a specified location.
But this summer, Bold Batch’s Maura McCarthy will be opening a scoop shop at Little Blue Bakehouse, a soon-to-be coffee shop, bakery, and incubator kitchen in Raleigh. Bold Batch is known for flavors that pack a punch with high-quality, often homemade mix-ins that McCarthy—who started her business in Raleigh in 2020—does not skimp on.
She goes above and beyond, sourcing from and collaborating with local businesses (such as croissants from Layered Croissanterie and ube jam from Bad Oven).
Becoming more immersed in the local food and restaurant community has complicated McCarthy’s outlook on the recent Jeni’s opening.
“It’s difficult because when I first started I was inspired by Jeni, but I don’t love that her shops are usually placed really close to mom-and-pop shops,” she says. “My heart hurts for the other small ice cream shops in the area because that’s hard competition. Her ice cream is legitimately excellent, and she’s put together a very well-oiled machine …. It’s complicated. Before I made my own ice cream I’d be like, ‘Why does Charlotte get all the Jeni’s?’ But it feels very different now being on the other side of it.”
Visit the Bold Batch website to order a pint (or a few).
Shafna Shamsuddin was born and raised in the United Arab Emirates. The daughter of immigrants from Kerala, India, she moved to North Carolina to attend UNC Charlotte in 2006.
After several false starts pursuing work and further education in the fields of earth science and clinical psychology, Shamsuddin turned to ice cream.
She set up shop in a production facility in Hillsborough and founded Elaka Treats in 2020 to cope with homesickness and missing her family—and of course, the food.
“It was pretty lonely being here by myself,” she says.
Shamsuddin uses fresh produce in her frozen treats: ingredients like plantains, zucchinis, and apples serve as the base for her ice creams, while dairy is used sparingly. Every flavor is infused with cardamom; the namesake of the company, elaka, is “cardamom” in Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala.
While Shamsuddin still misses her home and her family, Elaka Treats honors her roots and has helped her find a welcoming community in North Carolina and a way to express herself. “Elaka Treats is all me; you are getting me packaged in pints and cups,” Shamsuddin says. “What I’m doing is sharing a little bit of me with the whole world.”
“I knew that this was something that nobody was doing—executing experiences as a frozen product, as an ice cream flavor,” Shamsuddin continues. But it’s not only the flavors but the experiences that make the small-batch, handmade ice creams from Auntie’s, Bold Batch, and Elaka stand out in a crowded market to find a place in customers’ palates and hearts.
Find Elaka Treats at the South Durham Farmers’ Market, the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, and the Tuesday Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market.
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