“The Ice Cream CEO” Transcript
Michelle Rousseau: Hi, this is Michelle Rousseau.
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Kerry Diamond: I can't wait for you to listen to today's interview, because it covers my favorite subject: ice cream. Today's guest is Natasha Case, the founder and CEO of Coolhaus, the brand that's changing the ice cream world one scoop at a time. Natasha not only stopped by Cherry Bombe HQ, but she brought some ice cream sandwiches and her new dairy-free flavors, which are excellent.
Kerry Diamond: We love Natasha for putting great ice cream into the world, and for being a fearless business leader. Before I speak with Natasha, let's hear a word from our sponsor.
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Kerry Diamond: Here's my conversation with Natasha Case of Coolhaus.
Kerry Diamond: All right, so I want you to drop some stats for us, because you have built Coolhaus into such an impressive business. So, tell us the state of the state, today.
Natasha Case: Yeah, Coolhaus is growing so much, it's really exciting. This year, we're in about 7,500 doors, and that's everything from the Whole Foods where we just launched our dairy-free sandwiches, which I'm super excited about, to a Wegman's, FreshDirect, your local bodega, often, here in New York. To the Krogers, Publix, Safeway. We are international too: Caiman Islands, Caribbean, Asia, Middle East. The footprint has grown a lot.
Natasha Case: We're going to do probably about 17, 18 million in sales this year, so we're super excited about that. With about 35 SKUs, pints, sandwiches, and bars, expecting to sell multiple millions of the sandwiches.
Kerry Diamond: What is your goal?
Natasha Case: I would say, I really believe that Coolhaus could be the ice cream brand of the millennial generation, like that household brand that is accessible and that you can get in a lot of places, but is of phenomenal quality and has a really authentic and unique story behind it. And is women-founded and led, is representing a huge change in how brands are built, and the kind of people behind them.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, let's talk about that. Because you now have, all your products are stamped with a W.
Natasha Case: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: And when people see that, what is that all about?
Natasha Case: So, it's amazing. We started to incorporate that into the branding because we were seeing that we're really becoming the biggest women-founded and -led ice cream brand at grocery. And we said, "We really need to share this more, in a way that's clearer, with our fans." Because you may think it's the obvious thing about your brand, the most obvious thing, but then it takes a lot for people to really get the information. So, we need to make this clearer.
Natasha Case: We went and we got the certification, which is kind of a funny process. They come and audit you, at your office, like, "You're going to follow me to the bathroom?" You know.
Kerry Diamond: So it's an organization that does this.
Natasha Case: There's several, yes.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Natasha Case: There's several, and so, we went through one of them, and we kind of moved it to the front of the packaging. And then, that's been there for a couple years. And that is the thing that, more than anything else, as far as the call-outs, really is the biggest touchpoint for people on social. They're coming to say, "Oh, I didn't know Coolhaus was woman-owned; I want to support this." Or, they kind of showcase that when they post about us.
Natasha Case: Recently, we went through a round of our first ever focus groups, which is a fascinating experience. That's like ...
Kerry Diamond: Ooh, I've done those before, for other people I've worked for.
Natasha Case: Okay, yeah.
Kerry Diamond: It's never what you think it's going to be, ever ever.
Natasha Case: Yes. There's so many surprises in all directions. And it's such a fascinating thing, to stand behind that one-sided mirror.
Kerry Diamond: You work so hard on building this company, and shaping it. And you know what it stands for. And then, when you talk to people outside the company, you're like, "Are we talking about the same brand?"
Natasha Case: Yeah, no. There's so many surprises. And sometimes people take things so much farther than you even did. We were asking them about the women-founded and -led seal, and I just thought like, "Oh, that's cool for them to know. They're going to see that that's something different."
Natasha Case: Well, the specifics that their mind goes to ... They were like, "Well, if it's women-founded and -led, she probably has a family, and I'm not only supporting her, but I'm supporting her family." I mean, in this case happens to be true, but total assumption.
Natasha Case: Or, "She's going to make flavors that I like better, because she understands me. She's more thoughtful about the creation of the flavors, and the brand and what it stands for." Or the sustainability element. All these things that come into people's heads that are ... It's like, there's work to do in terms of making it resonate more, and tapping into that, but the fact that people are already going there is amazing, actually.
Kerry Diamond: So, for you, why is that important? That people know this company is women-founded?
Natasha Case: Well one, I think that it's the exception, not the rule. And so, people need to see that change is happening, and they need to see that it's possible for them, too. If someone ... It's so much easier to become the change that you can see. So, making sure that it's known, for our generation, for the next generation, for an older generation. Whoever it may be that feels inspired by the fact that the dial is moving.
Natasha Case: I definitely think it is a different perspective in terms of flavor development. The thoughtfulness is, I think ... There's some meaning behind that. I do find, with female entrepreneurs, there's just a very deep level of consideration and carefulness in the details. And I think you do want to make that known, so that people can be aware of a different level that might be going into this product.
Kerry Diamond: That's so interesting. You said, about being the change. I was watching ... I'm going to get back to Coolhaus, and you're going to be surprised how I do this.
Natasha Case: I love it.
Kerry Diamond: But, I was watching Beyonce's Homecoming this weekend, like the rest of the planet. She had quotes in between some of the footage, and she had a quote from Marian Wright Edelman, who is the founder of the Children's Defense Fund. But she had given ... I think she might have been valedictorian of her college, and there was a quote from her valedictorian speech.
Kerry Diamond: And she said, "If you can't see it, you can't be it." And I was like, "Aha! That's where it's from." And guess what year it was from?
Natasha Case: When?
Kerry Diamond: 1959.
Natasha Case: Wow.
Kerry Diamond: Isn't that amazing?
Natasha Case: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: I mean, we're still talking about represent ...
Natasha Case: I know.
Kerry Diamond: We've been talking about representation for a very long time. But the Beyonce concert film was filmed at Coachella.
Natasha Case: Yes, oh, beautiful. Well played. Great sequitur.
Kerry Diamond: And Coolhaus kind of took off at Coachella. I know that's a big part of your early story.
Natasha Case: Totally. Basically, almost exactly 10 years ago.
Kerry Diamond: So now we're going to go back to the beginning.
Natasha Case: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: So tell us ...
Natasha Case: Time travel, woo.
Kerry Diamond: God, where do we even start? So tell us about the Coachella story. So, you roll up at Coachella, and it went well.
Natasha Case: Yes, well, even getting there, quite a challenge. So basically, we had the idea for elevating ice cream, in particular ice cream sandwiches, to do something more that represented our generation's point of view. And especially, I think, women's point of view.
Natasha Case: We wanted to elevate ice cream. Especially ice cream sandwiches, though. They had been particularly bastardized, and I think novelties is a whole other game, and we can get into some of the thoughts on that.
Natasha Case: And so, we wanted to do this. We had bought a beat-up postal van, that kind of was masquerading as an ice cream truck. It was $2,500, and we were really just paying for the chrome rims, because there was no engine, the doors and windows didn't operate. But that's what we could afford; we didn't have money for a scoop shop, we didn't understand grocery, so that was going to be it.
Natasha Case: And then, we needed a big place to launch at. And we had both been to Coachella for a few years, and we begged and begged them to let us sell there. We were the first food truck to go to Coachella. So they had no protocol for it. They're like, "Great, okay, you can go in the campground. Just stay away from us. We don't want to hear anything from you." We're like, "Great, we'll accept it."
Natasha Case: So, the morning of Coachella comes around. And remember, the truck has no engine. We had figured out that if we joined AAA Platinum, we got one free 200-mile tow. And we pretended the truck broke down, even though it never drove, and they towed us to the desert.
Kerry Diamond: That is an insane story.
Natasha Case: Yeah. It's funny, thinking of it, it seemed like such a normal ... The way we solved the problem, this is how we're getting there. It didn't even seem like a crazy thing to do.
Kerry Diamond: How did you know how much quantity to bring, all of that?
Natasha Case: Well, we didn't. We way overestimated, so better that way around. I don't think we understood, 100,000 people at Coachella, well, how many people are in the campground, and then how many people are actually going to buy dessert? It's usually 10% of a captive audience are going to buy dessert, if there's no other competition.
Natasha Case: So, we had way more than we needed, but worked out, because we actually went back for Stagecoach, one or two weeks after. There was no Coachella Weekend 2, back then.
Kerry Diamond: So that gave you enough ... So, tell me what happened after that.
Natasha Case: So, yes. The sales was some proof of concept, but really the thing that I think made it like, "We have to do this, and this is going to go to the next level," is, actually a friend of mine was writing for Curbed, at the time. And he said, "If it goes well, send me a logo and a description, and I'll do a little piece on Coolhaus."
Natasha Case: I said, "Great, it seemed like it went well enough, I'm going to send him the information." And he wrote this article, it was like not even very nice. It was like, "If you're really bored, and you want to do something weird and check out this weird truck, maybe you'd think about it. It's called Coolhaus." I was like, "Thanks, Dan, for that."
Kerry Diamond: "Jeez, thanks."
Natasha Case: But it went viral. It went from there to Apartment Therapy, to Dwell, to LA Times, Angeleno. I had all these editors calling me on the way home. And meanwhile, Freya, her phone had died the last day of Coachella. She charges it on the way home.
Natasha Case: We had basically booked the Twitter handle, and she had set an email alert for each new follower, because when you have 10, you know, it doesn't matter. But she was getting emails every couple seconds, literally. And she called me, she was like, "I think we've been hacked, and we need to shut this down." I was like, "No, that's real. Something is happening."
Kerry Diamond: Wow, very cool. So, Freya being your co-founder, and your life partner.
Natasha Case: Yes, exactly. Sorry, yes. The other founder of Coolhaus, my life partner, my wife, the first lady of Coolhaus now, as I like to call her.
Natasha Case: So that was really, I think, beyond the, okay, the basic infrastructure was in place, shows you how valuable having a story to tell. And a connection with media and journalism, and journalists who want to share it, is so huge for your brand, especially early on.
Natasha Case: Basically, by the time we got back, it was like, "This is happening. This is taking off." We had people calling in to try to book the truck, and that was really like, "We're doing this."
Kerry Diamond: So, when Coolhaus ... I mean, I remember when Coolhaus launched, because there was just nothing like it. You were inspired by architecture, and it was such a kooky story. You were like, "Wait a second." It's like architecture-inspired ice cream. You couldn't help but pay attention.
Kerry Diamond: So, let's go back, because you studied architecture.
Natasha Case: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Not ice cream.
Natasha Case: It's true. From architect to ice cream lady, totally normal.
Kerry Diamond: So, you're in school studying architecture, you get your first job. What was your first big gig?
Natasha Case: So, my first real job out of grad school was Disney Imagineering. I think on the dream job scale, it's up there. It's an incredible place to work.
Kerry Diamond: I've read a lot about Imagineers, but for the folks who haven't, tell them what that means.
Natasha Case: So, Disney Imagineering, they're most famous for the ride design at the theme parks. But it's also the hotels, the hospitality. Why it was such a great place to start out is, it's like Disney, they're masters of storytelling. They create these characters, and these stories, that stay with people for their entire lives. And then, specifically Imagineering is about bringing that into space, and into the design world.
Natasha Case: So, it was definitely crazy timing with starting there, because I was there for maybe two or three months before the recession hit. So, it was clear that the path was not going to be as predictable as I had originally thought.
Kerry Diamond: What wound up happening?
Natasha Case: It started getting a little stressful, dismal, at the office. A lot of layoffs, and just a hiring freeze. And I had been, since college, playing around with the intersection of food and design, food and architecture. I felt there was so much there to talk about, so much unexplored. And also just, we eat with our eyes. A huge part of how we take in food has to do with the presentation and the packaging.
Natasha Case: So, I had thought, "I want to kind of play around with this idea. And this is a way to make architecture also more fun and accessible for people." Because I felt like it was very intimidating, and I hate things that are intimidating. I think things that are cool should be more accessible, not less accessible. And so, that had taken the form of different high-concept dinner parties, and different products. But it was really like an art project.
Natasha Case: When the recession hit at Imagineering, I started baking cookies, making ice cream, naming the combinations after architects. And it was really just a passionate hobby, and something I was doing to lighten the mood.
Natasha Case: And I met Freya, really, just ... I had been doing this for like two weeks. And she was like, "So, architecturally inspired ice cream sandwiches. Okay." She called them "the elitist ice cream sandwiches." Ironically, because my whole point was to be not elitist. And I was like, "Yeah, it's kind of elitist, I guess."
Natasha Case: She was like, "What's your cost per unit?" And I was like, "Oh, I don't know, I went to Whole Foods, I spent $80." She was like, "Okay. We're going to go to Whole Foods, and we're going to write down what everything costs. And then we're going to make a little pro forma." I was like, "Ugh."
Kerry Diamond: That's awesome.
Natasha Case: Yeah, I was like ... But now, I love that kind of stuff. But it was so ... It shows how lucky it is, one, to have a co-founder, and someone who could really have a complementary skillset, who could think about the things I wasn't thinking about. And frankly, who even thought of it as a business in the first place. I didn't really ... That's when it became, I think, a business potential.
Kerry Diamond: What was Freya doing at the time, that she understood things like cost of goods?
Natasha Case: She was in real estate development. She was actually project managing architects, so it was perfect. And she had been interested in getting into the food world, so she was moonlighting at a restaurant after work, just to learn the ropes. So she had been thinking that way, as well. So it was really just the happenstance of it all.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us some of the first few combos, and their names, because the names are great.
Natasha Case: Let's see. The original combos, we always had Mies Vanilla Rohe: chocolate chip, Tahitian vanilla bean. And that is now 14% of our sales overall, in grocery. So that's over, like a couple million of our wholesale business is just that sandwich, which is pretty phenomenal.
Kerry Diamond: And Mies Vanilla Rohe?
Natasha Case: Mies Vanilla Rohe, yes, after one of the Bauhaus founders.
Kerry Diamond: Did you have to ask Mies' survivors?
Natasha Case: Well, he's a van der Rohe, not Mies Vanilla Rohe, so you know, there's ... Let's check with the legal team on that. "What's the ref, I don't know?"
Natasha Case: There was Frank Berry: snickerdoodle, strawberry. And Frank does know about it, has booked up multiple times.
Kerry Diamond: Frank Gehry.
Natasha Case: Frank Gehry. Actually, one of the first events we ever did was going to his office. And one, I think ... I know he's had the sandwich since then, but maybe at that time he was having lactose difficulties. So he was like, "Oh, lactose intolerant, can't have your sandwich." And he's also, he's tiny. So he couldn't quite see into the window of the truck. And he was like ... He said something, he was like, "Oh, you're ..."
Natasha Case: There was a huge line, his whole office came out to eat. He was like, "You're making a lot of money off us." And we're like, "What does that mean? Does that mean everyone's lining up, or?" You know, we pondered that for days.
Natasha Case: We had Thom Mayne-go, after Thom Mayne, which was our dairy-free at the time. He's booked us many times. And then, Mint-imilism, after minimalist design.
Kerry Diamond: Fun.
Natasha Case: I think the last one was ... Which is not really a flavor we do much anymore, Oatmeal Cinna-Moneo, after Moneo. Yeah, so. That was kind of the original core. They were very classic. They're like reinvented classics. But it's interesting, because we've become so much more ...
Natasha Case: Or, part of what people come to know us for is the real unique flavors, the out-of-the-box. But we started with just elevating classics, which I think is also ... I'm really glad that that's a big part of it as well. You have to nail it on the classics.
Kerry Diamond: What is your most popular flavor today? Is it the Mies flavor?
Natasha Case: Yeah, the Mies. The Mies is number one. We are introducing, next year, just a double chocolate cookie with Tahitian vanilla bean. Because I think, as far as the business model, we need ... You want to do the interesting stuff, and there's definitely always a cult following for certain very innovative flavors. But like, you need more than one chocolate chip vanilla. You need those top, top SKUs.
Natasha Case: So I think double chocolate vanilla is going to be interesting, because it's like that's the classic, when you think ice cream sandwich, with the wafer cookie. Although, this will not be a wafer cookie, but I think that's going to be up there, as well.
Natasha Case: And then, as far as pints, the Street Cart Churro Dough is quickly rising to number one. I did bring you guys, it's delicious. With brown butter and a shattered chocolate, as we call it, swirled throughout. And then I would say, close second, maybe the Cookie Dough, the Cookies and Cream sandwich, are really up there. Chocolate Molten Cake, which is gluten-free, as a pint: really good.
Kerry Diamond: You just mentioned gluten-free; let's talk dairy-free, because that is such a big thing right now. When did you go into dairy-free options?
Natasha Case: We just launched our dairy-free line this year.
Kerry Diamond: You just did, okay.
Natasha Case: It's actually vegan, but per the focus groups, vegan is scary for some people. And no, it's been a really, I think, incredible moment for the whole dairy alternative. And I think it's one that's ... I think it's so cool, as a brand known for dairy, because we really are still very much dairy-first. But to be able to embrace dairy-free in the same way, and to really innovate.
Natasha Case: Because with a dairy flavor, there's so much creativity that's possible. But, you have milk, cream, sugar. You have kind of a huge core to the product that's already set in stone. Dairy-free, it was like a complete blank canvas. Like, "What's it even going to be made of?"
Natasha Case: We looked at the market, we saw a lot of coconut. We saw a lot of cashew. Which, some of them are great, but we definitely saw that that's dominating. I feel that a lot of coconut flavors taste like coconut after.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, because they do.
Natasha Case: Yeah, they do. And some people might love that. Cashew, you lose the nut people, and it is sometimes a textural issue. So, we found peas. And we thought ... It's a really clean kind of sourcing. A lot of it's domestic, or Canadian.
Kerry Diamond: I've had pea milk.
Natasha Case: I love pea milk. Ripple, I think is fantastic. That was definitely an inspiration. It delivers more protein, it's like a more effective way to get the plant protein. It's just a really interesting, versatile, product. So, we end up going with peas, brown rice, cocoa butter, is the base of the dairy-free.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, interesting. I love the whole dairy-free trend. I mean, knock on wood, I'm fine with dairy. But at the end of the day, ice cream is all about making people happy, and the fact that there are people excluded from that?
Natasha Case: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: It's so nice now, that it's just opened up ice cream to everybody.
Natasha Case: Someone at Smith Canteen ... I was like, "Oh, I brought samples, and there should be enough for you guys as well." She was like, "Oh, no, I don't have dairy." I was like, it's so nice to be able to be like, "I have something for you." And I completely stand by it on the quality level of the dairy, and that's something that was non-negotiable for us, when we were doing this. It was like, "This cannot be a compromise."
Kerry Diamond: No, and I think today, you can just kind of go back and forth. You know, whichever ...
Natasha Case: I call myself "flexitarian." I'll just, whatever's good.
Kerry Diamond: Exactly.
Natasha Case: And that's what I want to do. I was like, "That's what this has to be." For the people who are lactose intolerant, for people who are vegan, or for people who just love delicious things. I hope that ... I think a lot of dairy consumers are opening themselves up. So it's a really exciting time to ... I'm glad ... And it's pioneering, still. We're at the very ...
Kerry Diamond: Totally.
Natasha Case: It may feel, for those of us in LA and in New York, "Oh, this has been happening." We're at the forefront.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. It's amazing to me how the ice cream category has exploded.
Natasha Case: Yeah, oh my god.
Kerry Diamond: What is behind that?
Natasha Case: Okay, I think that definitely awareness of a better quality product being possible has changed a lot of ... And that's happened cross-category. So many, you can almost go product by product. And so many different things have been elevated, in terms of how they're made, how they're sourced, what's behind them. Just also being more personal brands, with the people behind them.
Kerry Diamond: You mean just brands in general? Everything's kind of been elevated?
Natasha Case: I think, yes. Yes. The actual ice cream category, if you look at the big, big numbers, it goes up a few percentage, it goes down. But it's just, what are people buying within that space? Are they choosing to buy something better?
Kerry Diamond: But why ice cream? It's such a tough category to get into. It's such a perishable product.
Natasha Case: It is the most perishable product, probably, you could be in. I think, I would be shocked for someone to find a category that isn't really tough. You could be, "I want to make-"
Kerry Diamond: Magazines are so easy.
Natasha Case: Right, right, exactly. Like, anything's hard. I think like, "Oh, beverages. Yeah, there's, people consume them a lot more. But then, it's way more crowded. And it costs a lot more to get into that space." Other kinds of snacking, other kinds of ...
Natasha Case: You could go, really, to anything, and you would find your difficulties with it. So, I would say there's probably maybe less people overall who attempt ice cream, and that's why it is a small world. Like, you all kind of know each other.
Natasha Case: I think you keep getting to certain thresholds, too, where it's smaller and smaller. My friend Jane Wurwand, who does Dermalogica, or who's the founder, and who created that brand. She's amazing, and she says ... She has a way better accent, so it sounds better with her British accent. She says, "It's very crowded at the bottom, and it's very quiet at the top."
Natasha Case: And it's true. So, like, the farther you go along, you're like, "Oh, there's actually really only a handful of brands," who are nationally distributed, who have the capability to keep scaling, who have the potential to be that household brand. Or maybe there'll be several. And you're like, "Oh my god, we could really do this. We could go all the way."
Natasha Case: So, yeah, it's really, really, fucking hard, but show me something that isn't.
Kerry Diamond: So that begs the question, have you met Ben or Jerry yet?
Natasha Case: I haven't met them. I've spoken with a good number of Unilever folks, and I've found many of them to be so, so lovely. I actually have not met them, that's a really ... That would be a good one. I would love to get to know them, and I've heard great things about how they still stay involved in the brand.
Kerry Diamond: Have you met Haagen or Dazs?
Natasha Case: That's ... No one, is there anyone, really, behind them?
Kerry Diamond: I'm kidding.
Natasha Case: I mean, of course-
Kerry Diamond: No, I think they made that name up.
Natasha Case: They definitely did. I think it's from Jersey. But like, they're really interesting to me, because they represent ... There's nobody ... People don't really know anyone who is behind that brand. There is no face. There's not really a story, besides the quality element of the ice cream.
Natasha Case: And I think that it's interesting, Ben and Jerry's was one of the first really more personal brands, where we're like, "It's them, and their counterculture, and they represent something." Haagen-Dazs, to me, is the sleeper giant in the category, because they're still really widely consumed. I think their quality has actually maintained pretty well, considering their size.
Kerry Diamond: I think their ... I'm going to go on record: I think their vanilla is dynamite.
Natasha Case: Yeah, it's really good. Although, I will say, because we did this as a tasting, a blind: try it next to Coolhaus Tahitian vanilla pint, and I've just got to say, I mean ... I always thought Haagen-Dazs was so good, and I hadn't really done the comparison recently. And I do feel very proud of our vanilla.
Kerry Diamond: I love a blind taste test.
Natasha Case: Yeah, it's so much fun. But I think, people don't see going after Haagen-Dazs in the same way. Because, I think it's not as cool, they don't have that brand element.
Kerry Diamond: Right, that's so interesting.
Natasha Case: But like, I see Coolhaus kind of in a way as a lovechild of Haagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry's. We have kind of that edgy, that story, the counterculture of our generation. But then the texture, we were going more for a Haagen-Dazs, the simplicity, the classic flavors elevated.
Natasha Case: Haagen-Dazs' number one SKU is their bar. And so, they're big in the novelty world, which Ben and Jerry's has really not done nearly as much of. Going at Haagen-Dazs, that's kind of our strategy in some ways, that I think is a different take on things.
Kerry Diamond: It is such an interesting brand to look at because there really is no story behind it.
Natasha Case: No.
Kerry Diamond: And they've succeeded despite that.
Natasha Case: Yeah. They were already so big, by the time ... Would that be effective now, if they were to start?
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, it's a great question.
Natasha Case: I don't think so.
Kerry Diamond: And then, I feel like Ben and Jerry's was one of the first brands I can think of, I'm sure there are others, but that was values-first.
Natasha Case: Totally.
Kerry Diamond: And that they weren't afraid to put their values out there.
Natasha Case: 100%.
Kerry Diamond: One thing I really would love to know about you is, how you have developed as a business owner, as an executive, over the years, because you did not start out aspiring to be a small business owner.
Natasha Case: No.
Kerry Diamond: How have you learned what you've learned, over the years? You radiate confident, competent executive.
Natasha Case: I appreciate that.
Kerry Diamond: How have you gotten to that point?
Natasha Case: Maybe it's my seating posture.
Kerry Diamond: Yes, it's the pose.
Natasha Case: Well, one, you have to be willing to embrace change, and grow a ton, if you want to found a company, be a CEO. You're always growing, always evolving. If that doesn't excite you, I think then maybe you're in the wrong game.
Natasha Case: I think you have to have a lot of conviction. You do have to have a lot of confidence. Vision. There's certain things that are either just inherent, or you really have got to get in touch with, kind of on that deeper level, that are not necessarily the learned skills in the same way. But something that can really inspire people to even get behind what you want to do.
Natasha Case: And I think that energy is really important, really powerful. And I realize now, looking back, you almost want to ... It's like you want to bottle that, because there's such a magic to the beginning. Even though in a way you know nothing.
Natasha Case: And then I think you start to acquire your skillset, and like I said, you have to just be willing to evolve all the time. Hopefully, you can be around a team, or around a product, that helps with that, and you're learning from each other, and you're bringing different skills to the table.
Natasha Case: I'll say for me, in the beginning, it was kind of like, "Oh, Natasha's the creative and sales, and Freya is like the business one." Which I was like ... It frustrates me, I really don't like getting put in that box, and I also think for creatives, you can't be, "Oh, I'm just going to find someone to do the numbers." You have to at least understand what's going on, and then maybe hire someone so that you don't get taken advantage of.
Natasha Case: It's funny because, now, if people think of me and Freya, they're like, "Oh, Freya is an ideas person, and Natasha, she gets the job done." I'm like, "Oh, that's so awesome." We've kind of absorbed these different things from each other, and it shows how much, I think, you can change and grow.
Natasha Case: I think over the years, I just came to really know and understand business, and really become passionate about it, become passionate about the different elements of what makes it all work, because I think that that is what a business is. This isn't a homework assignment, this isn't an art project. It has to work.
Natasha Case: And that's the beauty of the creativity. It almost, to me, sometimes I think it takes more creativity when it has to be applied, and when it has to function, than when it can just kind of exist in a vacuum. I've come to really enjoy that.
Natasha Case: And then, now, we're 10 years in. We've grown quite a bit. We are building our team with some phenomenal people. I have a new partner, president of the company, Denise Sirovatka, who has a couple decades of experience in CPG, a little more. She helped grow Udi's from $500,000 to $100 million in just a few years. She's amazing, I'm learning so much from her. She's just blown my mind every day.
Natasha Case: And I think with a partner like that, in a way you come back to the specialization. Okay, well, now that you have the team and you feel really sure of all that they can do, now I can really dig into the product development, the innovation, the branding, the marketing. And you want to be spending all your time on what you really feel like you can contribute the most. So it's kind of the full circle.
Kerry Diamond: Let's talk fundraising, because that's something that's of big interest to our listeners.
Natasha Case: Great, I love that.
Kerry Diamond: So you self-funded at the beginning. You pulled together that $2,500.
Natasha Case: Yeah, my credit card.
Kerry Diamond: Short version, tell us the steps that it took to get where you are today.
Natasha Case: The credit card. So it was like no, even ... I used to be like, "Oh, we started with $5,000," let's say. No, it was actually debt; it was money we didn't have. So no money, just debt.
Natasha Case: And then, we started cashflowing right away, because we spent nothing launching. And then, the next round was a friends and family. We needed about $40,000, so it was tiny. Because-
Kerry Diamond: Right, that's like nothing.
Natasha Case: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: I don't mean that sounds like nothing, because I know for a lot of you out there listening, you're like, "What do you mean? $40,000 is make or break for me." But you need so much more than that.
Natasha Case: Right, well, it was just because basically we had the illegal truck that I then, I had to go to court, and then it was amazing. It was the People versus Natasha case.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's funny, it sounds like a movie title.
Natasha Case: Yeah, totally. So, they were like, "You need to build a proper truck." And so, the $40,000 was to build a real truck, that was permitable. And a little extra change, but yeah, a tiny amount.
Kerry Diamond: But you said you had cashflow, so you did have some other money coming in.
Natasha Case: Yes, but not enough ... Enough to run the business, but not enough to build this new truck, that was like ...
Kerry Diamond: Got it. Because I'm thinking, salaries, the truck, ingredients. $40,000 doesn't seem like it's going to cut it.
Natasha Case: Right. Exactly. So, because the business was functioning from the major operating costs, it was basically working ... So then, we needed more trucks because we weren't keeping up with the demand in LA, and we wanted to launch in New York.
Natasha Case: So, I found this organization called Opportunity Fund, and they're amazing, and I'm really excited for your listeners to hear about them. They are now, become the nation's biggest microlender. They're the number one lender to food trucks, because the truck is the asset that they can help you borrow against. And they can do it pretty quickly.
Natasha Case: But they lend from people who are selling something like goods on a street corner, who need $1,000, let's say, to keep their business going, now all the way up, I think the biggest loan they do is $250,000. And that was such an important catalyst moment. I think if we couldn't keep scaling, that would have been a glass ceiling for us.
Kerry Diamond: And did you just apply with the Opportunity Fund online?
Natasha Case: Yes, you can apply online, or I'm happy to connect anyone who's interested to, I'm now on the board.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, fantastic.
Natasha Case: I'm their poster child. Yeah, southern California board.
Natasha Case: So, that was amazing. And then, the next round-
Kerry Diamond: And asking for a friend, are they low-rate loans? What's the ...
Natasha Case: They are, they're very fair. Basically, they're serving the market in between ... It's so hard to go and get a line of credit, real small business loan, still. And they're kind of the anti-payday-lender. So they're really filling that void of where the bigger banks just can't really help. So it's pretty similar rates, depending on the size of the loan. Very, very fair, very good payback rate.
Natasha Case: And also, they are amazing people who actually care about the people that they give the loans to. It's not just, "Here's a check, goodbye." They promote so many of the companies that they work with, so they're really, really cool.
Natasha Case: Okay, so, then, we were running the trucks. Now we're two years in, and we said, "The truck business is ... It's amazing, and it's very magical. It's this cool boutique element. But it didn't really have the scaling potential, we could see. And we wanted to revisit the two channels that we really couldn't afford or understand in the beginning, which was grocery and scoop shops.
Natasha Case: And then, we're like, "Okay, we're really going to need more money now." And so, then we did an angel round, of a million dollars, to really do those two things.
Kerry Diamond: What does "angel round" mean?
Natasha Case: So, an angel is typically non-institutional money. So it could be a high-net-worth individual. Oftentimes, it can be ... Now there are angel networks, but it could be someone in your warm community, that you may know of. So it's like, there is maybe some personal connection, but they're not someone that you see in every holiday, very often.
Natasha Case: And in this case, the million dollars came from Bobby Margolis, who ... For those children of the '90s, at Cherokee Jeans. And was just a titan of business. So, he was amazing, because it wasn't just money, it was him as a mentor and a coach.
Natasha Case: And he very much came out of the counterculture, kind of Ben and Jerry's era, so I think he saw us as ... Seeing himself in the business in that way. And his son-in-law became president of our company, and his daughter has an amazing celebrity PR agency. So it was a super ...
Natasha Case: That is something that I can't emphasize enough: it was really smart money. Bobby really wanted us to focus on grocery, and saw the scalability there, and saw the potential to exit. So we really started pivoting more to focusing on that, and building that.
Natasha Case: And that million dollars lasted us basically seven years. Yeah. Because we grew the business, maybe not as quickly as it could have for a few years in there, but profitably, and very responsibly. And so, we didn't need to constantly take in money as we were growing.
Natasha Case: Then came 2017, 2018, and we've now done a pretty substantial strategic private equity round. It was technically a $12 million, but really more $7 for growing the business. So it was pretty substantial for us. But it was good, because we had kind of waited it out, both Freya and myself are pretty heavily equity invested, and I think it was just really, really good timing. And they had brought so much to the table.
Natasha Case: Again, going through due diligence with them, which is the process when they're really checking out all your financials, and your team, and the plan. Even if the deal hadn't worked out, I learned so much from going through that with them. I was like, "I know that this is going to be meaningful." And a lot of them have been operators, and have really been there, so I think that has been meaningful for us, as well.
Kerry Diamond: Do you wish you had raised that money earlier?
Natasha Case: No, I think this actually was just the right time, honestly. But it had to happen then, we couldn't wait any longer.
Kerry Diamond: I only ask because I had heard a venture capitalist speaking, and he or she said, "Women bring me fully built out businesses, men bring me ideas."
Natasha Case: Yeah, that is true. I think a lot more women think they have to prove it, and earn it, and men more often think they deserve it. Or, they take a better stance of, "Someone should be so lucky," to invest in their business. And I think probably the answer lies somewhere in between.
Kerry Diamond: So, what's next?
Natasha Case: So, we-
Kerry Diamond: You're a mama.
Natasha Case: Yeah. I'm a mom, I have a two-year-old son, Remy, and that's been phenomenal. It's been, actually ... I think when you love what you do, when you have a kid, it just makes you feel more passionate, because you're kind of doing it for them.
Kerry Diamond: And a mom who does ice cream, what's cooler than that, when you're a little kid?
Natasha Case: And he loves ice cream. Let me tell you. He knows, he sees the packaging, and he just goes bananas. And we are working on growing our family again, so I'll keep you posted on that.
Kerry Diamond: Aw.
Natasha Case: Yeah, we're building the team, we've added a couple really great players to the team, who I'm really excited about, in operations and marketing. We have a ton of innovation in the works.
Natasha Case: We are working on a multi-pack. We are working on bite size, like a bonbon; elevate the bonbon. Reinvent the Choco Taco. We have so much cool stuff. I'm super excited.
Kerry Diamond: I've been able to tell throughout this interview, you're super psyched about novelty.
Natasha Case: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: You've mentioned novelty a few times.
Natasha Case: Yes, it's-
Kerry Diamond: But that's what we loved as kids.
Natasha Case: Totally. It's such a different thing.
Kerry Diamond: The Chipwich, all the Good Humor stuff.
Natasha Case: Yes, exactly. It's amazing.
Kerry Diamond: And Good Humor, if you're listening? I don't know, hire Natasha to come redo your brand. Because you've let your standards slip, big time. I mean, have you had one of those ... I grew up loving those chocolate éclair bars. You get one of those now, from the local bodega or whatever, they're so sad now.
Natasha Case: Well, not trying to just rag on, for example, Choco Taco, but even that, people could still consider it yummy, but if you actually taste the ice cream, it's just air. It's just not good ice cream.
Kerry Diamond: I think when you look at the ingredients, it's not ice cream.
Natasha Case: Yeah, it's not ice cream. And even if it could have good ingredients, the amount of air in it is like, it's not dense. It's not creamy. Because really, that is a huge, huge element of what makes ice cream good.
Kerry Diamond: I mean, I appreciate them trying to have an affordable product.
Natasha Case: Sure.
Kerry Diamond: But, do they have to sacrifice quality that much?
Natasha Case: Exactly. And there's definitely a market, that's been proved for ... Okay, you could definitely take things a major notch up, and make it great.
Natasha Case: See, that's the thing. I think Coolhaus, what's interesting too is, as I mentioned, tell it like it is as far as the premium ice cream landscape. For example, some of our competitors, they are two and three dollars more than us. We are ... Part of what we are trying to do is really have incredible quality, but really keep it ...
Natasha Case: Our blended average of a pint I think is like $5.69. We're trying to be as fair as we can about that, because we also don't want to miss a huge part of the market that's going to say, "Well, I want the great ice cream, too, but I'm not going to buy a $9 pint." So, that's definitely a consideration.
Natasha Case: But, we looked at Choco Taco, and it's like a multi-million dollar SKU, over let's say the last few months or something. And it's that one flavor, there has been no reinvention, and the quality's not there. So I think you kind of see opportunity. And novelties, that's such a specialization for Coolhaus. Nobody is really able to play in that space, I think, the way we are, because it is a whole different set of development.
Kerry Diamond: And you started as super-classy novelty.
Natasha Case: That's it. Yeah. The "elitist."
Kerry Diamond: All right. Speed round time.
Natasha Case: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Favorite kitchen tool?
Natasha Case: I guess the teapot, because I just love to make my matcha.
Kerry Diamond: Song that makes you smile?
Natasha Case: You know, I've been really into Kurt Weill. And I feel like that, it's just like chill happy music.
Kerry Diamond: Last thing you cooked?
Natasha Case: Let's see. Greens from the garden.
Kerry Diamond: Your own garden?
Natasha Case: Yeah. Chard, kale, we have so many great things growing right now.
Kerry Diamond: Ooh, I'm impressed. Okay. Favorite ingredient to cook with?
Natasha Case: Can I say to make a drink with? Does that count as cooking?
Kerry Diamond: I love it.
Natasha Case: I love Antica. Carpano Antica vermouth is, I think, so, so good. The sweet vermouth.
Kerry Diamond: Wait, say that again, slowly?
Natasha Case: It's Carpano Antica, or Antica Carpano. It's like, if you love a good Manhattan, if you love the Negroni, if you love anything with the sweet vermouth, it just makes it so, so much better.
Kerry Diamond: Good tip. Oldest thing in your fridge?
Natasha Case: We have so many pickled things, I'm sure one of them has been around since we moved into the house four years ago. Maybe some of that kimchee, or ...
Kerry Diamond: It gets better with age, right?
Natasha Case: Yeah, right.
Kerry Diamond: Dream vacation destination?
Natasha Case: I'm dying already to go back to Tokyo, and Japan. I'd love to go to Thailand. Really, really curious about Thailand. I would say Thailand or India, at this point.
Kerry Diamond: If you were trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be?
Natasha Case: Oh, wow. That's an amazing one. These are great questions, I love it.
Kerry Diamond: Thanks, Natasha.
Natasha Case: Am I allowed to say ... Have you seen the Amy Sedaris, her cooking show?
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Natasha Case: Because I know, the show obviously makes fun of it, but I know she's actually pretty passionate at home, entertaining. I feel like she would be great, because we could really talk about food, but she would just be so funny. And we could go off on many other topics. So yeah, I think I would pick her.
Kerry Diamond: I feel like we should have a bell that goes off when someone gets picked for the first time. You are the first person to pick Amy Sedaris. We love her.
Natasha Case: She's kind of outside the box, as far as the food.
Kerry Diamond: Totally. But you would spend the whole time laughing.
Natasha Case: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: And you might starve to death and not even realize it, because you'd be laughing so hard, for days on end.
Natasha Case: Right, we would not be making any recipes from her show.
Kerry Diamond: I hope not.
Natasha Case: No, we would probably die.
Kerry Diamond: No, we love her. We actually tried to get her for Jubilee. Amy, if you're listening, we love you.
Natasha Case: Yeah, she's amazing.
Kerry Diamond: We want to get her for the show, too. One day. One day.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you for coming by, again.
Natasha Case: Of course.
Kerry Diamond: Now that we know your office is in the hood, hopefully we'll see you more.
Natasha Case: Fantastic, I would love that. Thanks for having me.
Kerry Diamond: Have a great summer.
Natasha Case: You, too.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to Natasha for stopping by, and bringing us some great treats. If you haven't tried Coolhaus ice cream, well, you've got to. Treat yourself, and support a kick-ass, female-fueled business in the process.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to our sponsor, Handsome Brook Farm pasture-raised organic eggs, for supporting this season of Radio Cherry Bombe. You folks are egg-cellent.
Kerry Diamond: Our theme song is All Fired Up, by the band Tralala. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess Zeidman. Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media.
Kerry Diamond: If you listen to our show via Apple Podcasts, be sure to subscribe. If you are a Stitcher kind of gal, make sure to add us to your playlists. You don't want to miss a single episode.
Kerry Diamond: Thanks to everyone for listening, you're the bombe.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Madison Trapkin: Hi. My name is Madison Trapkin, and I'm the founder of GRLSQUASH, a women's food, culture, and art publication based in Boston, Massachusetts. Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? All the other women making indie food publications, like Emily and Anna Kochman of Milky Mag, Jaya and Jessie Nicely of Compound Butter, and of course Sara Keough of Put A Egg On It. Because these women inspire me to keep fighting for small print, and to keep pushing for activism through food and art.