We Scream

Moonscoops isn’t just about frozen treats – owner Lisa Belle Marsh also cares about creating a fun, friendly environment for those colorful, indulgent treats to be enjoyed.

Beware the tidy question, for underneath it lurks a web of complicated half-answers and, mostly, even more questions.

The tidy question in question: Why aren’t there more businesses selling hand-crafted ice cream on the Monterey Peninsula? Pose this query in a casual setting and you’re likely to elicit a “great question” or “huh, yes, why is that?” from interlocutors. Monterey County enjoys a robust tourist economy – according to the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau, tourism is the number-two industry in the county writ large and the leading industry on the Peninsula. The region also boasts a relatively temperate climate, with towns along the coast (Carmel and Pacific Grove spring to mind) offering visitors a relaxed, quaint, vacation-by-the-seaside experience.

In Monterey, Alvarado Street’s lone artisanal ice cream shop, Revival, (the owner of which declined to comment for this story) regularly has a line out the door and down the block, an observation that suggests the demand for handmade, small-batch frozen treats is there (nevermind the inevitable boost in price tag over, say, a Häagen-Dazs bar from the convenience store). The takeout-only window at Monterey Bay Creamery on Fisherman’s Wharf has also been known to have a line.

So why don’t more ice cream entrepreneurs get churning?

Lisa Belle Marsh holds a romantic vision of an ice cream parlor – the kind of place that might have spinning stools at a counter and a red-and-white awning outside. “It’s family fun,” she says. It’s the opportunity to turn to your children or friend or lover and say “let’s go have a treat together.”

Marsh had this image in mind when she designed the interiors at her new business Moonscoops, an ice creamery in The Dunes shopping center in Marina. She built comfy banquette seating (that can be easily wiped down after sticky fingers) and painted the interiors a soft, sweet pink, welcoming families or friend groups to sit and stay for a while. And they do – mostly after dinner, Marsh says – tucking into colorful, overflowing cones, often topped with whipped cream and sprinkles.

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On the menu at Moonscoops is organic soft serve ice cream (sourced, not made in house), oversized homemade cookies and – the star of the show – around 20 different flavors of dairy-free “moon ice,” Marsh’s own creation that she describes as a cross between Italian ice and sorbet.

Marsh isn’t sure why the local ice cream marketplace is so open, but she’s game to brainstorm. It’s true that starting an ice cream parlor is an investment – the equipment alone can easily run “in the thousands,” she says. There are also smaller margins, Marsh says, even compared to restaurants.

For those working with dairy there are mandatory state-level certifications and licensing, which require that businesses making “frozen milk products” have a separate “clean room” just for the manufacturing and packing of these products. The health and safety requirements of ice cream production also mean that it is not allowed under a cottage food license, the Monterey County Health Department confirms. This route – making a relatively small amount of a food item from your home kitchen as a way to test consumer demand – is popular among would-be food entrepreneurs in an area where real estate is at a premium. But it’s off the table for ice cream, which might offer a partial explanation for the low number of local ice cream businesses.

And then there’s a bigger and, for Marsh, more existential question: Do people care? Ice cream, in one form or another, is nearly everywhere. There’s Ghirardelli on Cannery Row; Baskin-Robbins in a couple of locations; and La Yaquesita in Seaside serves the nearly-local (Santa Cruz) brand Marianne’s. These are familiar, solid brands and, given economies of scale, often cheaper than the artisanal route. Plus, if you insist on an unusual flavor, boutique brands like Dolcezza or Jenni’s have proliferated in grocery stores in recent years.

But Marsh hopes people do care. She hopes they care about the ambiance of being outside their homes for a treat, and she hopes they care about trying something new and different. At least enough to stop by and taste a moon ice.

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