The owners of Cashew Cow, Tucson’s first cashew ice cream parlor, hope everyone – not just vegans – go nuts for their dairy-free product. By Gillian Drummond and Joan Calcagno. Cover photo by Danni Valdez/Shutter2ThinkPhotography.
When the temperatures are reaching 100ºC and more during Tucson’s summers, those brave enough to stick around here have their choice of cooling desserts.
There’s ice cream – a food category enlivened lately with the opening of Hub and its offbeat home-made flavors. There’s gelato (thank you Frost, Allegro and more). There’s the Mexican delicacy of raspado – shaved ice with flavored syrups. And there’s the home-grown chain of Eegee’s restaurants, whose frozen fruit drinks are a local summer staple.
This summer, another frozen dessert is entering the fray. Cashew Cow, a dessert parlor opening in historic Broadway Village, will sell ice cream made of cashews. And while cashew-based ice cream has been a sweet treat for vegans for some time, the two partners behind this new venture want to draw in more than the non-dairy crowd.
One of their slogans will be ‘We all scream’. Make that vegans, non-vegans, those concerned with their cholesterol, and those who just like eating ice cream, however it’s made.
Jennifer Newman is one of the latter. But this gourmand has high standards. She holds up brand leader Häagen-Dazs as her favorite ice cream. So when Jennifer and her picky palate were drawn in to the cashew ice cream her friend Jeremy Shockley was experimenting with, she knew he was onto something.
Jeremy had tried almond and coconut versions of ice cream. “They were OK but they never matched the traditional indulgence,” he says. A visit to Pure Food and Wine, a raw food restaurant in Manhattan, changed everything. “They make a fresh young Thai coconut meat cashew coconut oil ice cream. It’s very indulgent. I thought ‘Even my nephew would eat that. I could get into this’.” A look at their recipe – published online – proved it was a laborious dish. “You’re hand cracking coconuts on a daily basis,” he says.
He thought non-dairy ice creams that were being marketed as health food products or to niche consumer markets were “missing the point” – the point being that ice cream is an indulgence. Then, on a dog walk one day and daydreaming of his own future cash cow, he came up with the name Cashew Cow.
Jeremy, a recording engineer and technical supervisor whose work had taken him to Los Angeles and Connecticut, threw himself into two and a half years of intense study of dairy science and chemistry. Jennifer, meanwhile, with a background in restaurants and a Masters in nutrition, was the ideal business partner.
An obscure cultural reference brought them together at a Tucson dog park. She was wearing a T-shirt from the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade – something Jeremy recognized from his time back east – and the two got talking. Both had lived in Tucson (Jeremy during high school, Jennifer until she was 11), both had spent time in New York City, and both had returned to what they consider their home town. Added to that, they had mutual Tucson friends.
With Jeremy’s love of branding and advertising (he formerly did branding and marketing for Maya Tea Company), and Jennifer’s in nutrition (from cheese department manager in New York, to nutrition counseling and non-profit work), they say they balance each other out. And each of them was at a similar point in their lives and careers, a now-or-never moment. Says Jennifer: ‘The random jobs I had in New York, some of them never made sense to me. It was always like ‘I need to find the career’. This is something I’d been looking for for a long time.”
The Cashew Cow product uses whole cashews, a low glycemic mineral-rich sweetener (he won’t say which), and a touch of coconut. There are no flavor syrups; flavoring comes naturally, from whole food ingredients. Meanwhile, the cashews bring vitamins, minerals, fiber and heart-friendly monounsaturated fat.
The pair have been testing their product at farmers’ markets and events around Tucson, quietly wowing exactly the demographic they want – that is, everyone. “I want vegetarians standing shoulder to shoulder with the guy with barbecue sauce on his shirt,” says Jeremy. Adds Jennifer: “Everyone wants ice cream.” And if that ice cream happens to serve beneficial fats by way of whole cashew nuts, all the better.
“We wanted to make a nutritionally dense food rather than a reduced indulgence product,” says Jeremy. “It’s ice cream. Ice cream is frozen emotion. You come to it because you want to celebrate something or to feel good. So you have to formulate based on indulgence.
“Our dream customer is someone who knows nothing about nutrition but they can come in and grab our product and whether they know it or not they are eating healthy. They’re getting whole-food nutrition and they have no idea.” His aim for his product is that it’s delicious, and fun, while at the same time doing customers some good.
The space they have taken up in the burgeoning Broadway Village was designed by Repp + McClain. This will be the architecture and construction company’s fifth project here; they have outfitted Session Yoga yoga studio, Italian restaurant Falora, the new bar, Sidecar, and Sugar Sweet Bakery, which is next door to Cashew Cow.
At less than 1000 sq ft, the space brought challenges. Repp + McClain partners Rick McLain and Page Repp say it was important to accommodate everyone, from the grab-and-go customers, to those who want to sit, to kids hanging out at the cashew-shaped kiddie table.
Jennifer and Jeremy have had fun with the decor and the branding. There are cone-shaped bar stools and side tables, the nut-shaped kids’ table and hanging pendant lights above the counter that change color via remote control. The wooden-topped benches along one wall are modular; they can be taken off the wall and arranged into different seating configurations. The walls have strips of steel so they can attach art with magnets and change it up frequently. Jeremy credits friend and furniture maker/contractor Matthew Williams of Sticks & Stones with the design and build of the furniture.
They’re calling their mascot – which appears on their logo as a cow with a cashew-shaped body – Johnny Cashew Cow. The flavors – and there will only be six to start with – include names like Sacred Cacao Chocolate, Bean Me Up Coffee and Cream of the Cropsicle (orange and vanilla). At around $4 a scoop, they are choosing a price point similar to the likes of Hub.
Their years of getting the business off the ground have included a lot of hurdles and some steep learning curves. Jennifer says she had to Google ‘business plan’ at the beginning, only to find that heading up the business side of of the project “came naturally”. Jeremy has been his own personal chemist, creating the product and its flavored varieties from scratch. Vanilla was his toughest. The synthetic version, vanillin, is a single molecule, whereas vanilla beans have several hundred flavor compounds.
There have been problems with the concrete floor, with plumbing and with the cooler. There have also been two dog deaths, with each of them having to put down their dog months apart from one another. Jeremy has slept in guest rooms and on sofas, and in seven different houses in three years. But they believe in their product, and the spin-off products they say are in the pipeline. Friends and family members – who make up the private investors backing the business – believe in it too.
And now, says Jeremy, who’s hoping to open the doors within the next few weeks, it’s time to have fun.