Brothers Ari and Andrew Cohen co-founded Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Ice Cream in 2011 on a mission to make a tasty ice cream that was also free of dairy, gluten, and soy. With a creamy base that stands up to conventional ice cream, and flavors like turmeric, roasted cashew, and green tea, the brothers have won over dairy and non-dairy eaters alike. In 2016 they opened a parlor on Solano Avenue in Albany, and you can now visit them at their second location in the Emeryville Public Market. Pints are also sold at East Bay grocery stores. We talked to Ari about the alternative food industry, and how they make an ice cream that’s delicious (trust us, we’ve tried it) and uses real ingredients.
Hi Ari. So, what made you decide to make an alternative ice cream product?
The origins go back to when I had to change my diet. I found that I was not only lactose intolerant, but also gluten and soy sensitive as well. The funny thing is that I was a cereal guy, I really loved cereal. So, I was motivated to find an alternative milk. I started making this pecan date nut milk that was really good, and people would even tell me it would be great as an ice cream. At the time, I was transitioning out of my previous career, and Andrew (who is also lactose intolerant) had extensive entrepreneurial experience. We quickly recognized that neither of us really liked any of the non-dairy ice cream out there and that there were other families that probably felt the same way.
One issue with alternative food products is that people often focus on what they don’t contain (like gluten or lactose) and ignore what they do contain, like lots of unnatural ingredients or additives. There’s an automatic assumption that those identifiers mean something is healthy, which isn’t always the case. Was that something you thought about in the recipe process?
There have been two keys to making our ice cream. One, it has to taste good. Two, from a health standpoint it has to have really good ingredients. That has been our mission statement, and as you get into the food business you realize very quickly that the industry pushes you to cut the bottom dollar. One example is vanilla extract, which is an important ingredient. I wanted to have a pure extract and I would meet with these vanilla vendors who would push products with something like propylene glycol in the ingredients, for instance, and they would say it doesn’t matter if it’s unnatural because it’s FDA approved. But I don’t want propylene glycol, which is like gasoline, in our ice cream! Our ingredients are natural. There are real bananas, real chocolate, real coffee. There are no additives, preservatives, or chemicals. We didn’t do that to sell it, but it’s a huge selling point.
Let’s talk about nuts: why did you use cashew, and what are the health benefits?
We started off partnering with an organic nut butter company in Oakland, using their almond paste as our base. A couple years in they told us that the almond market was getting unstable, and that we should switch to making it with cashews. And in fact, it was when we got into making cashew ice cream that we took off.
Cashew is very creamy, it has no skin, zero cholesterol, zero trans fat, it’s good heart-healthy fat. It’s also high in manganese and other nutrients. Basically, it’s a highly praised nut. And it makes our ice cream very high in protein. Overall, as I mentioned, because we use really good ingredients, if you take the sugar out you’re basically talking about a health product.
You guys grew up in Berkeley, ground zero for the good food movement and ingredient-centered food, do you feel like that has influenced your business practices?
My mom was actually a baker in the ‘60s and ‘70s for a company called Equinox that sold food out of a VW bus at the corner of Walnut and Vine, in front of the original Peet’s Coffee in North Berkeley. She was an incredible baker, and there were always pies and bars on the counter when we got home. So, I think there’s always been an organic culture of making food in our family, and I think in the Bay Area we’re more thoughtful about that process. Later, I started recognizing that food really can be medicinal or it can be a damaging thing. Living in the Bay Area has definitely made an impact on our relationship to food and how we use it.
Thanks to eszter+david for the profile photo of Ari and Andrew in this journal piece.
eszter+david are an Australian-born, San Francisco-based photographic team with David behind the camera and Eszter looking after all things production related from pre to post. Their photography encompasses many genres including hotel/resort, lifestyle and environmental portraiture and their assignments see them shooting around the globe. eszter+david thrive on working across a broad range of projects and subject matter to keep themselves inspired, see more of their work here.