On this sunny Los Angeles Friday, I’d like to present to you a sneak peek of my lovely conversation with Belinda, one half of the founders of Cocobella Creamery, a new dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free and FLAVOR-FULL ice cream shop in Hollywood! We were sitting outside the shop, me with a scoop of Sunbutter Cup ice cream and chatting about being vegan, our journeys, and her adventures in opening Cocobella.
Kiki: Are you vegan?
Belinda: I am. I’ve been vegan for four and a half years.
K: What is your plant-based journey?
B: I started with researching for health purposes because I have a family history of cancer. It stemmed from my mom having the most recent cancer experience, so we were just trying to find preventative ways for us to take care of our bodies and maybe help to inspire my mom to go that direction. My sister heavily influenced me because she was the one who first started looking into it. Back then, the information wasn’t as accessible as it is now. She started off doing raw, and I became interested immediately because my background is in the kitchen industry and learning about raw was quite the challenge because I went to Le Cordon Bleu and learned everything with butter and meat in the French style of cooking/eating. That was the traditional way and the classic cuisine that every body knew, so to have this come about was so fascinating to me. It became so interesting to me that I just stuck with it, because you know, you can’t turn back!
It’s only people who have been down that path that really understand. It just clicks, every step of the way. The connections just keep happening and you build stronger connections, and you meet like-minded people and then you have stronger bonds with other creatures and it’s just a completely amazing evolution of an experience. It’s exciting because at that point you just want to share it with everyone!
There’s a stigma attached to [being plant based] still, but I think eventually people will understand the boundaries and I think we’re at a time now where a lot of people are forced to look in the direction [of plant based]; they’re seeking that information more then they did before which is what i’m experiencing here at Cocobella.
K: Okay, so what was the specific influence for Cocobella?
B: I have a sensitivity to dairy. I started researching different types of dairy alternatives and how to use it in specific products and what kind of results you would get and it was really interesting.
K: How did you decide on the base that you chose for the Cocobella flavors and what was the formulaic process?
B: It’s basically finding the right formula. And that’s what I was able to learn from culinary school which was great because that technique you can use as the formula for different ingredients; it’s just about finding the right ratio of fat, liquids and proteins and just really, numerically, finding the formula of what’s going to give you that result.
Coconut is one of the higher fat alternatives, so that’s our base. Based on my research, nut sensitivity is becoming more common and I see that a lot of different dairy-free ice cream alternatives use nut bases and to create a base without nuts was a challenge we wanted to take on; it’s really become our brand to be really allergy friendly.
We have sunflower seed butter for one of our bases, it’s my favorite, and there’s less of a sensitivity to seeds generally then nuts. And we do offer one flavor that has walnuts, just to have that option available.
K: What’s been your reaction from people coming through?
B: We get a good amount of people coming after lunch or dinner from Doomie’s. And from other people trying other food in this plaza, which is great, because there’s so many different restaurants in this here. It’s a great spot, because I feel like it’s close enough to the tourist area [of Hollywood] that tourists can come, but far enough that the locals feel like they can come and chill out. I really love this location. I think the most traffic we’re having are people who are lactose-intolerant but not vegan; that’s definitely who we want to market to. The vegans will come, we know that, so it’s good that we’re attracting people who aren’t necessarily plant based.
We really wanted to keep it classic. Because [ice cream is] a childhood memory of mine and something I really miss. I love the artisanal new trend that is happening with ice cream but I also wanted to go to a place and have “mint chip” and “cookies and cream” and not feel like crap after eating it! So that was the mission [at Cocobella]; keep it traditional, keep it familiar, still have a handful of funky flavors. I think my favorite part are the people who still eat dairy and come in very skeptical and very hesitant but then are so taken and that instant change of facial expression is the most gratifying part for me.
K: Is this your first location and first-time restaurant owner experience?
B: This is the first location. I’ve helped to open a couple of restaurants but this is my first one for myself so it’s really exciting. I’m doing it with a friend [Alice]; we’ve known each other for about three years. She also is obsessed with ice cream, she’s also vegan, (a very long time vegan) and we just sat down one day because we would always be the two to seek out places like this, and we just thought “why can’t there be a place that has good [vegan] ice cream!?” So here we are!
K: What’s the next chapter?
B: We want to open other locations! We opened in April, it’s been about 6 months, we’ll give it a bit longer and then we’ll look at different places to try to spread the love. The goal is to expand!
K: Do you have any final thoughts/suggestions you’d like to share?
B: I think first and foremost, you have to do what you love and what you’re passionate about, for sure. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out. So it’s your choice what you want to experience. Take it day by day, be patient and have compassion always. My experience has been really creating a good team, a Cocobella family, to help represent what we’re about and they do amazing work and we’re so grateful for our staff; they’re perfect and I think it’s important to remember that daily and to acknowledge it. The collaboration means everything to us.
Do yourself a favor and go visit Cocobella as soon as you can! They are rolling out some fall flavors soon…
Also check out my other blog about my favorite places to get vegan ice cream in Los Angeles! Yes please!