In the past five years, HelMel ice cream wizard Tai Kim has built a tidal wave of good will through word of mouth at Scoops, his popular shop behind LA City College. Now food blogger Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang is expanding the concept to Palms, where he plans to open Scoops Westside in the next 3-6 months, depending on permitting and build-out.
Kang has frequented Scoops since his days as a USC undergrad. He’d study there at least three days per week on his commute home to Eagle Rock. “[Tai] started talking to me about how he approaches ice cream, which is flavor driven and handmade,” says Kang. “He’s like, ‘I want people to experience flavor combinations that maybe they’d only see in fine dining settings or far-flung countries.’” Kang regularly explored flavor combinations with Kim, both at Scoops and on eating excursions. He introduced Kang to ingredients like pandan leaf and dragon fruit. “He was kind of like a mentor to me about understanding flavor,” says Kang.
Kang worked in finance after graduating from USC and started seriously thinking about getting into food service eight months ago, after returning from an around-the-world sojourn. He ended up partnering with Jeff Leung, who he knew from USC, and his brother Justin Leung.
“The value of Scoops is not only a unique product, but also the customer experience,” says Kang. “It’s about how anybody can come in and experience flavors they’d never experienced before…I think the coolest thing about Scoops is that regulars come in and they don’t even have to ask for samples. They just point, because there’s an understanding as a customer that it’s almost like a ride-along…You don’t come in to try the vanilla, the strawberry or chocolate. You come in to try the Guinness chocolate or strawberry balsamic.”
“This is 100% me in terms of concept and execution,” says Kang. Kim will make and supply the ice cream, but Kang will choose flavors daily, accounting for his preferences and what he thinks his customers will like. He’ll offer 14 flavors of ice cream and sorbet per day (some non-dairy), which will be available by the cup, cone or take-home pint. Scoops Westside will serve shakes and he’s considering old-fashioned options like banana splits and sundaes with hot fudge. Ice cream sandwiches might appear in the future, if Kang finds a complementary cookie supplier.
In terms of design, expect some similarities to the HelMel original, including a flavor to suggest board and gallery space for local artists. The space isn’t large, but you’ll find seating both indoor and out. Music will also play a larger role than at the original.
Kang plans to feature a full pourover coffee program, fueled by Intelligentsia. “I’ve had coffee from all over the country, many different producers, and they’re the best, without a doubt,” says Kang. He plans to select the coffees every couple weeks, depending on “whatever Intelligentsia has in season or that’s freshest.” Coffee will be available by the cup, but don’t look for espresso (or affogato).
Kang said his goal with Scoops Westside is “to be part of the community… There are something like 10 schools, elementary to high school, within a couple mile radius of that location. I want to be a place where families and kids can come and enjoy good ice cream, and at the same time, be accessible to people to know Scoops now and not have to drive up to East Hollywood.” He also wants to provide a location for people in the restaurant and food service industry – “especially bloggers and food media” – to have a place to congregate, write and exchange ideas. Yes, Scoops Westside will have free Wi-Fi.
Another difference from the original Scoops is that Kang has social media savvy. “[Tai] believes in word of mouth. He believes in slowly building up a customer base, which is fitting with his personality,” says Kang. “For me, I like to reach out to people with Twitter and social media. People want to feel connected to something instantly, which is what social media lets you do.” Given that, he’s already launched a Scoops Westside Twitter feed @ScoopsWestside.
Kang hopes to have more than one location, but he made it clear that, “I have no idea what those locations might be, and if I do expand, it would be at a rate where not I’m comfortable, but Tai would be comfortable with production levels. If we do expand, it will be steady and sustainable.”