May 29, 2017 Last Updated 12:22 AM, Apr 14, 2017

Case Study: Peaks Frozen Custard LLC

Category: Frozen

Owner: Timothy J. Wolfe and family    
1026 NE 65th St., A101, Seattle, WA 98115

Business profile: Family owned and operated frozen custard café.

Inspiration: After moving from Wisconsin, the land of our birth, 20 years ago, we have truly been suffering with Seattle’s lack of frozen custard and uninspiring ice-cream outlets. So along with a mid-life crisis and longing for not just quality frozen desserts — but the best of the best we were accustomed—to we decided to share it with our now beloved Seattlites.

What are you trying to do differently? Peaks is unique in that we are a café and a frozen custard shop in one. We are open early to late, so we serve our customers as a coffee shop, lunch spot and frozen and baked dessert house. Our interior is quite unique for a frozen custard shop. We have a soft seating area with a fireplace, a great and greatly utilized kids’ play area, as well as large expandable antique tables and chairs and outdoor “sidewalk café” seating. In addition, we used many recycled items in construction and décor; our counter is made of bowling lanes from a much loved and iconic local bowling alley (Sunset Lanes in the Ballard neighborhood), our bathroom doors are old large oak doors from a local demolished apartment building, we decorated with used windows hung horizontally from the ceiling and lit from above, even our paint is re-conditioned paint from our local ‘re-use’ store. Peaks also has partnered with a local, highly sustainable small dairy to source our custard base—Snoqualmie Gourmet. We are proud to support other small businesses and proud to be part of forward thinking sustainable practices.

Number of flavors: While offering three or four flavors daily, we also offer a different flavor EVERY DAY. So we have hundreds of flavors.

Most popular flavors: Anything with our home bakery rocks people’s worlds. Otherwise it’s Raspberry with a tart raspberry swirl and Butter Pecan with freshly roasted and lightly salted pecans that are chopped to just the right size so they are in every bite. An all time favorite is our “Dark Turtle”; this is those pecans again, but in our delectable chocolate with a rich caramel and home-made fudge swirl. Of course at Peaks you can create your own treat, and we gladly make it for you. Can I go on? Our espresso based flavors are also very popular—we try to have one once a week. We use our locally roasted espresso beans, hand crushed and infused in the custard overnight, strained and then frozen—this goes smashingly with a caramel swirl or layered with our home-made rich and chewy brownies (“Brownie Buzz”). Of course chocolate and vanilla are to die for and offered daily.

Favorite ingredients: Our own home bakery! At least once a week we include a berry cobbler, cake or other delectable baked good layered into our custard as it’s made. The scooping process then blends the bakery item in beautifully.

Cost for a scoop: $2.85, and every dish comes with a home-made waffle cone wedge if not served in a cone.

How often do you change flavors? DAILY!!! Because our custard is in prime serving condition for just two hours, we offer Vanilla and Chocolate each day along with a unique “flavor of the day”. This gives us hundreds of flavors to offer customers annually and is very fun for us too!

Do you use flavor bases? We use only all natural extracts. Our Vanilla is a blend of the traditional and exceptional Madagascar with a smoky toned Indonesian vanilla—this is an exceptional vanilla and the favorite vanilla in town. Frozen Custard does not do well with much added liquid flavor, so highly concentrated extracts or infusions allow us to maintain the extremely smooth and creamy texture.

Signature products: The Affogato—a scoop of custard drowned in a fresh hot shot of espresso. The Lahar—a scoop of custard blended with ice and coffee. The “cake and eat it 2” sundae—a slice of any home bakery served a la mode with choice of custard flavor and fudge or caramel drizzle.

Type of machinery: Continuous flow custard machine hand-made in Kiel, Wisconsin. Extremely expensive, but designed to make the very best frozen custard.

Type of display case: The custard is not displayed, as in gelato—it is in a special dipping cabinet that keeps it at 18°F. This is the optimal serving temperature for frozen custard, providing the perfect texture and enhancing the subtle flavors along with the pronounced ones.

Favorite tool: The homemade waffle cone rolling pin and tray. The “pin” is a solid aluminium cone with a handle—you place the round flat waffle on the tray, which has a cone shaped curl of aluminium, then insert the pin and turn to complete the cone. It’s a great presentation for customers both visually and for the sense of smell!

How do you market product off-season? Peaks has forged a unique relationship with local non-profits. We will either donate our staff and product to be scooped fresh at their auction or donate our space with a percentage of proceeds going to the cause. In addition, Peaks is involved in a unique neighborhood sponsored radio show. We connect the reporter to the non-profit and get them some air time as well as connecting their cause with Peaks’ support of their cause. Since most auctions are held on our off-season, this works quite well and, given that three of us have social work backgrounds, feeds our need to be deeply involved in our community.

Number of staff: about eight.  

Average number of customers per day: We typically serve 200 – 300 customers daily.

What’s next? Selling our product through other unique businesses. We have developed a five-ounce to-go container that is sold at other delis or can be offered as a dessert at restaurants. The custard, once frozen solid, must be brought up to 18 degrees to serve. This is an interesting and unique offering for customers.

One thing you wish you’d known before getting into the business: Quite honestly, it has been a Herculean chore to educate the entire Puget Sound region about the uniqueness of Frozen Custard. We have an almost 80% return customer base, so once they try it,  they stay true. We are beginning to learn to say “Frozen Custard Style Ice Cream” so people know immediately the category of treat it is. Otherwise people’s imaginations wander to dark places like frozen baked custard on a stick!

Best part of the business: Watching the eyes roll in joy and the little sounds of pure ecstasy when a custard virgin has their first try. We get to witness this many times every day and it is why we’re here!

Advice to frozen dessert retailers: Quality local sourcing! Use it!

Special features: Cozy interior, kids play area, open late.

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