Meet the Vegan Ice Cream World's Most Influential Duo

Q&A with Autumn Martin and Kari Brunson

Co-owners of Frankie & Jo's in Seattle, Washington

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I have been making caramel for years and am surprised the idea to put fresh-pressed kale juice in it hadn’t come to me before.
— Autumn Martin

Describe what makes Frankie & Jo's unique.

Autumn Martin: Frankie & Jo's is a plant-based ice cream shop. We make amazing ice cream without using dairy—instead of using cream and milk from a cow, we make our own from nuts. We love ice cream and want to change the way people think about it. We have a responsibility to maintain our traditions, but find better ways to make the foods that we are emotionally and culturally tied to. We are radically delicious and magically unique, using vegetables and adaptogens and make flavors sweetened only with organic California dates and/or maple syrup. Okay, I am going on here, but we also are gluten free, soy free, and do not use any gums or stabilizers in our recipes. An ice cream from plants that is nurturing to our bodies and our joy!

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What is your earliest ice cream memory?

AM: I have so many photos of my dad and me eating ice cream together straight from the Dreyer's tub when I was a months-old baby. My family later became Häagen-Dazs fanatics and honestly there has NEVER been a moment in time when our freezer did not have multiple pints of Häagen-Dazs in it.  

KB: My mother had an incredible garden in my hometown of Southwest Virginia. She used to let me stay up past my bedtime in the summer and we would manually churn an ice cream flavor of whatever fruit she harvested that day. As a little girl it felt like hours waiting until the ice cream was getting hardened on the sides (it was minutes) and then she would let me do a couple of turns of the handle until it was perfectly creamy. Strawberry was definitely my favorite.

 

What are your brand’s most popular flavors?

KB: Year round, it is a tie between our Salty Caramel Ash (an activated charcoal salted caramel) and the Chocolate Mint Brownie (a mint ice cream with organic cocoa nibs and chewy chocolate brownie pieces). We come out with three seasonal flavors each month and right now our two most popular are the Taro Root Sea Foam (a taro root ice cream with an aerated caramel and cocoa nibs) and the Fermented Berries and Cream (a mix of vegan crème fraîche ice cream and with local berry ice cream with lemon almond cake throughout).  

 

What is your favorite flavor/offering?

AM: My favorite standard is the Jamocha Chaga Fudge. Last month we did an Almond Butter Kale Caramel that had me pretty floored.

KB: I have a savory palate, so I love our California Cabin. It is a smoked vanilla and pine ice cream with a cardamom and black pepper shortbread cookie. It was one of the first recipes Autumn developed for us and I will never EVER get sick of it.

 

What is the most unique flavor you've ever offered?

AM: This is a trick question! Most of our flavors are pretty unique. The almond butter flavor with kale caramel is near and dear to me—I have been making caramel for years and am surprised the idea to put fresh-pressed kale juice in it hadn't come to me before.

 

Is there a flavor you love(d) that didn’t find an audience?

KB: Recently, we did a flavor called Hello Sunshine that was pineapple, yellow pepper, and key lime. I loved it—it was loosely based on a juice I used to make with my other company, Juicebox Cafe, and thought it was so refreshing with a scoop of our vanilla. But, people did not want to eat yellow peppers in their ice cream and it barely sold.

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What inspires you?

AM: Mmmmm, I always love this question. It allows me to slow down and go deep into my heart and conjure up the images and feel memories of all that fills me with love. My family, my dad and his genius. My childhood. Being outside, touching my feet to spongy moss, pressing my nose into sun-baked pine needles, laying on slabs of granite next to a river, surfing in the ocean, swimming in lakes, watching the natural world perform its minutes and days of unspoken and un-dictated life. Praying. Meditating. Listening. My dog Proud Paw, who I spent nearly 11 years with and now have sweet, sweet memories of. Driving. Driving is where so many of the days' senses are woven into ideas that I can then sew into an idea fabric, my work. I drive my vanagon to Nevada and California often, and am voice transcribing ideas all throughout the drive.

KB: I love the bounty of the farmers' markets in the Seattle summer, which inspires me to do big projects such as making vegan kimchi, or pickling something untraditional, or creating a new (to me) dish for dinner. I also need to travel and see other types of people, food, landscapes, and overall culture. Being in the same place all the time is stagnant and boring for creativity. Lastly, I am obsessed with learning how other companies came to be. The podcast How I Built This cannot produce enough episodes to keep up with my listening habit and I hope they never stop.

 

How did you get into the ice cream business?

AM: I have been a pastry chef and chocolatier for 18 years, so the "sweet" side of the food industry is my life. I found out I was allergic to dairy in 2001, right as I was getting into baking and starting out in culinary school. I didn't follow a dairy-free diet until 2008, when my symptoms started to get real. This meant settling for store-bought vegan ice cream (meh), and set me on a mission to create a vegan ice cream that I would want to eat—and my standards are pretty high. I spent a few years developing recipes and I birthed Frankie & Jo's. It literally brings me so, so much joy. In fact, Frankie & Jo's is named after my two late grandmothers, Frances and Joanne. My family is my world, and naming this company after the woman who birthed my parents fills me with so much love.

KB: My amazing business partner Autumn presented the idea of Frankie & Jo's to me in the summer of 2015. We had never worked together, but knew each other from the success of our other businesses and thought it could be an amazing partnership. We took time to talk through each other's strengths and weaknesses, dreams and ambitions, and realized we were definitely a match. We worked for over a year to further develop recipes, build our brand, and hire and cultivate an amazing opening team (most of whom are still with us today). Our first scoop shop opened in November 2016 and our second shop opened in March of this year, with many more on the way.   

 

How did you learn to make ice cream?

AM: I taught myself! Read lots of books, watched videos and made a ton of mistakes.

 

What is the secret to scooping ice cream?

AM: You have to start with a wet scoop. It can't be dripping, but there has to be a fine layer of water between the material of the scoop and the ice cream, which acts as a release mechanism. Then, you must limit your scoops into the tub—one or two only. The more you try getting the perfect scoop, you are just mixing your water into the ice cream and losing that release. If you use your shoulder muscles instead of only relying on your wrist, you will gain good muscle and tire less fast.

 

Cup or cone?

AM: Cup. If cone, most certainly our maple waffle cone. We make our gluten-free batter daily, I mean, c'mon!

KB: Cup all the way. The cone always sets me over the edge!

 

What is your topping of choice?

AM: I love crunchy bits and a drizzle of the vegan caramel we make at Hot Cakes, my other business.

KB: I am a purest—so no toppings.

 

A surprising thing you’ve learned about ice cream or ice cream fans.

AM: People will stand in rain, in the winter, in a long line, for ice cream.

KB: People love creativity and color when it comes to what they eat. It is just as important to enjoy the look, feel, and smell of what you are eating in addition to how it tastes. And if it photographs nicely, even better!

 

Best advice for those who want to get into the ice cream biz?

AM: Skip the gums and stabilizers! Everybody these days is putting all sorts of things to keep ice cream creamier and chewier for longer on the store shelf and it's just not cool! Be a purest—it's better for our bodies and the environment. Also, develop more vegan options in your line-up—let's all try to reduce the amount of animals necessary for our daily lives. And, keep it simple.

KB: The idea of an ice cream shop is not original. There are tons of companies doing this all over the country. One of my favorite sayings is "Eyes on your own paper." The success of Frankie & Jo's is largely due to the fact that we have created our own path in the industry while not looking to others to dictate our way. We innovate and create to satisfy our customers, but also to satisfy ourselves. This focus creates a loyal following, without the noise of worrying about other potential competition. When you focus on what you do best, you can exist with tons of potential competition around.

 

Any industry mentor or person who inspires you?

AM: Oof. So many. I always think back to my very fist restaurant job at Canlis. I learned from the most kind and gentle and detail-oriented people there. They taught me structure, how to maintain a sense of calm and refinement under pressure, how to pay attention to DETAILS, feeding my passion, and not to waiver so much.

KB: Ruth Reichl.

 

Any advice for making ice cream at home?

AM: Try adding juiced or pureed vegetables to your next batch!

KB: I do not make ice cream at home! The cobbler always has holes in his shoes, right?


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