If you’re a tried and true mountain dweller of the past four years, you’ve likely seen the small wooden ice cream cart painted in summery hues of blues and greens topped with a colorful umbrella making its way up, up, UP Lexington Avenue and onto the corner of Patton. You may even be aware that the darling little two-wheeled buggy with a hand-painted sun adorning its side was the start to one sweet story for miss Susie Pearson. As a long-time lover of baking, the young and energetic founder of the beloved ice cream sandwich company Sunshine Sammies, found herself working desk jobs in the years prior to founding her sweet startup. She knew that just wasn’t quite the right fit for her spirit and left the office to work for friends and local tempeh makers Smiling Hara in their production facility at Blue Ridge Food Ventures and farmer’s markets. She says that hands-on experience and time spent in food production with them was a huge help and inspiration in churning her passion in the kitchen into something she could call her own.
After seeing so many entrepreneurs at the markets and in that production space, Pearson knew she wanted to do something she felt passionate about for herself. So, she started making cookies and talked to Kevin and Lucia Barnes, the owners of Ultimate Ice Cream, about hand-scooping their ice cream in-between two of her homemade cookies, recreating a classic sweet treat in their own homegrown style.Their first summer in business, they also made an arrangement with Short Street Cakes to use their facility after-hours–coming in, setting up, baking and breaking down all in one shift. For one woman with an idea, miss Pearson had found herself nestled into quite a community of fellow food-makers and entrepreneurs. The next step was how they’d sell these delectable collaborative desserts.
“A lot of people who sell frozen things from carts use dried ice or use a charged cold plate but it was all really expensive and buying a finished cart with all of that was just more than we (me and my boyfriend Luke) could do at that time,” Pearson shares, sitting atop a bar stool staring out at Lexington Avenue behind the Orange Peel. “ So Luke was like, well I can make one using solar panels, because he’s handy, plus it was way more affordable, and a much more efficient option anyway. It ended up working really well and saved us a ton of money and so our little ice cream sandwich solar push cart company was born and aptly named Sunshine Sammies.”
The duo took to the streets with their solar-powered ice cream sandwich cart in the summer of 2013, sharing that between tourist foot traffic and a consistent crowd of supportive locals, their first summer was a huge success. They already knew they’d need a second location, or vehicle, and invested in a vintage delivery van, which they restored, and dubbed Sunny. The next summer they took Sunny on the road, hitting festivals and events in Raleigh, Atlanta, Knoxville and beyond as their solar-powered cart held down it’s Asheville home on Patton Avenue. “It was fun,” she said smiling and recalling summertime on the truck. “Luke and I did all the festivals together. We got to see some new cities that we hadn’t been to. It was hot and we were smushed into this small space together. It’s like a 1973 vintage truck. It’s fun and a lot of hard work like any food truck owner will tell you. You’re in it because you like to do it. It’s not some cushy set-up.”
Pearson decided to move on from their first home in the Short Street production space to a shared facility alongside their friends at Ultimate Ice Cream and local jam makers Imadris Farms in East Asheville. “Susie came to us when we opened our creamery and community kitchen space where we make our super premium ice cream in small batches,” Co-Owner Lucia Barnes of the husband and wife duo of Ultimate Ice Cream shared. “Baking days were the best because the aroma of her cookies filled our workspace. We are happy to have taught and helped a local business that is a part of our Asheville community.” At the end of the summer of 2016, Pearson was walking inside downtown motorcycle repair shop Moto Vicious with a handful of cookies as a thanks to the owner for allowing them to park their downtown solar cart next to his garage. He shared with her that they were going out of business and best wishes for the following year. She looked around and knew that this space would be their next home and set off in making it happen.
In July of 2017, she giddily opened the doors to her first stationary ice cream sammie locale. We took it over last winter and started working on it, filing all the permits with the city and all of that fun stuff,” she laughs. “That was a learning experience. Then we opened at the end of June six months ago after Luke spent months of time refinishing the floors and welding the bar together. He really made this space what it is. So this will be our first full winter being open because we’ve always been mobile and just shut it down. It’s funny, we were listening to Christmas music and making ice cream sandwiches the other day and I was just laughing about how that felt here in our own space.”
With their very own brick and mortar space to call home, the company now produces every piece of their pie–ice cream, cookies and all. They also source as many of their ingredients as locally as possible and have a lot of fun whipping up new flavors using ingredients from fellow Western Carolina makers. Their in-house menu boasts a full list of local collaborations and interesting flavors you wouldn’t expect to find on an ice cream menu. Rayburn Farms is one source of several one local partner, who they source baby ginger and hibiscus flowers from. “Normally you get dried hibiscus leaves to make a tea or something like that. But when you get the actual pods like in a flower form, there’s a whole seed and if you cook it down it gets gelatinous. Then we’re on the phone telling Michael at Rayburn what’s going on and we’re all figuring it out together which makes it that much more fun.”
At around $4-$5 a sammie, this craft ice cream certainly boasts more flavor and care than what you’ll find at most groceries in the frozen section. “I would rather not sell ice cream if we can’t make it with the good stuff that we want to. Most of the time people come in and we let them sample and they can tell it’s well made and that we’re supporting local farmers and makers in co-creating this product.”
The two push carts and Sunny the truck are all still part of the Sunshine Sammies family as well as their wholesale production. Right now, you can find several flavors of ice cream sandwiches in 100 Ingles locations, several Earthfares, the French Broad Food Coop and a variety of other venues and spaces like locally owned downtown theater Grail Moviehouse as well as many WNC hotels. When asked about sweet treat competition amongst other WNC-based dessert makers, Pearson shrugs and says it’s non-existent really. In fact, most of the ice cream makers talk to one another about upcoming events and shows to make sure they can all share and not overlap. “I think people shop around too and like specific things at each business, like a certain flavor here and another flavor at The Hop or Ultimate. We try to focus on what we do and have fun with what we do. You can’t worry about what other people are doing. You just gotta do your own thing to the best of your ability and I think that’s how they all feel too.”
You can visit Sunshine Sammies at 99 South Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville. Their winter hours are Thursday-Sunday. You can also find the nearest grocery that carries a selection of their sandwiches closest to you on their website. For catering information for your event or wedding, you can also contact miss Pearson through a contact form about the possibility of having old Sunny out for your special event.
Learn more about Food Life Magazine, including where to find a hard copy of this local food-based publication here, http://www.foodlifemag.com.