By AYAKO MIE
The kitchen at the corner of Harrison and 24th streets filled with the scent of minced ginger and aromatic oil. But later that Wednesday, it wasn’t a French or Italian dish that came out of the oven, but ice cream out of the freezer: candied ginger and McEvoy olive oil.
“Ice cream can be sexy, and I am creating ice cream for adults,” said Jake Godby, chef/owner of Humphry Slocombe, an ice creamery at 2790 Harrison Street. The idea of a conventional creamery was “too cute” for Godby’s punk-rock tastes, he said.
Apparently others share his sensibilities. Opened in the dead of winter and in the worst possible economic climate, Godby said he gets more than 400 customers on a weekend day. They line up outside the storefront to pay anywhere from $3.25 (single) to $4.40 (double) for such flavors as balsamic caramel, foie gras and hibiscus beet. “We are too busy for a one-man operation,” said Godby.
Customers said the well matched combinations of seemingly mismatched ingredients work. “Bourbon and cornflakes? It actually tastes good,” said Ed, a regular customer who asked that his last name be withheld because he was skipping work to have Secret Breakfast. That’s the name of the bourbon and cornflakes concoction, one of the most popular flavors.
Even kids love it.
“It is yummy,” said 4-year-old preschooler Ayman Alghazali, who came to the ice creamery with his mother Naeema Omar. “I think their naming is really cool and interesting,” Omar said, opting for chocolate ice cream with a sugar cone.
To some, Humphry Slocombe’s product signifies what makes the city different from others. “I’m a really big foodie, and it’s a quality ice cream,” said Mike Brown, a four-year resident of the Mission and a repeat customer. “This place typifies all the good things of SF—independently operated creative. Who can think about vanilla with lavender?”
Originally from Ohio, Godby moved to the Mission District 15 years ago, and worked as a pastry chef in restaurants like Coi on Broadway. Two years ago he decided to open his own establishment. A bakery requires too many people, he said, but “everybody loves ice cream.”
Humphry and Slocombe are characters in the British sitcom Are You Being Served? that Godby watched when he was at Ohio State University. “Alice Waters named Chez Panisse after a French movie, so I took mine from a British one,” he said.
Opening was not easy, he said, and the delays with PG&E meant he couldn’t open in the summer as he’d planned. So he got an ice cream tattoo. “I thought if I get the tattoo, I could not turn back,” he said.
Godby’s effort was rewarded with unexpected speed. Within two weeks of opening, Humphry Slocombe had a wholesale contract with Karen Leibowitz, a manager at Mission Street Food Service.
Leibowitz went to taste Humphry’s ice cream on opening day and quickly added it to their dessert menu. “We thought it was interesting, delicious and innovative. We also wanted to support small businesses,” Leibowitz said.
Even Sean Vahey, general manager at Humphry Slocombe, said he was surprised at how quickly the business took off. Vahey, who used to be a food and beverage manager at the Four Seasons in San Francisco, said they’ve depended on word of mouth. “Our guests just came and liked our product, he said.
Blue Bottle Coffee, which Godby uses for his creations, has started carrying Humphry’s ice cream. “Their Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee had a good effect on our coffee, and I think there will be a mutual benefit in sales,” said Michelle Ott, office manager at Blue Bottle.
Hunphry’s is the second new creamery in the Mission, the birthplace of San Francisco’s oldest ice creamery, Mitchell’s Ice Cream. Bi-Rite began producing in December 2006. Already the two have competed for business.
“We used to carry ice cream from Bi-Rite, but now we switched to Humphry Slocombe,” said Scott Youkilis, executive chef and owner at Maverick at 3316 17th St. Godby invented candied ginger and balsamic caramel for Maverick.
“Jake [Godby] is more one-on-one,” said Youkilis. “He sat with us for hours to listen to what we want. Bi-Rite moved towards volume selling.”
Humphry’s is also popular at Spork Restaurant at 1058 Valencia St. Their “after-school special,” of vanilla ice cream with chocolate-covered potato chips and caramel is the top-selling dessert. “We are seeing a bump in our dessert sales,” said Ryan Corbett, manager at Spork.
Bi-Rite ice creamery at 3692 18th St. feels unthreatened by the sudden rivalry and welcomed the new creamery into the Mission. “Humphry Slocombe is focused on more adult flavors, and we carry more old-fashioned and traditional flavors,” said Kris Hoogerhude, one of Bi-Rite’s owners. “I think it is great, because the Mission has room for experiments.”
The Latino businesses agreed. “Salt and pepper? Is that ice cream?” asked Raul Lopez, manager of the taqueria La Espiga de Oro. “It’s good. It brings people to the area and keeps the neighborhood clean.”
Eric Wolfinger, a baker and photographer based in the Mission, said, “Some people call this gentrification, but I think it’s being a incubator for food ideas. Twenty-fourth Street was going down. But because of something like this, something that people are interested in, it raises the tide of all the boat.”
Godby has more modest expectations. “I just want to be a good ice cream guy who is really good at making quality ice cream,” he said.
Next on the menu? “White miso and pears.”
2790 Harrison St. 415.550.6971. www.humphryslocombe.com
(First published on March 10, 2009)