The New Cool: Ice Cream Goes Indie
Vienna’s longstanding gelato tradition is giving way to new products, packaging and potential in the ever-growing realm of frozen fabulousness
New frozen yoghurt and organic ice cream shops have taken Vienna by storm. Small storefronts are replacing sit-down Gelaterie
Photos: David Reali
Milk. Sugar. Eggs. Cream. Add your favourite flavour and stir vigorously over ice and salt… ma garda te! A classic Italian gelato and long a Viennese tradition.
Now, fast forward, to Vienna in 2012. Over the past decade the number of ice cream parlours in Vienna has oscillated around the 100 mark, declining sharply in 2009 and 2010 according to the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. But since 2011, novelty ice cream shops have been popping up all over town, at least a half dozen new shops in 2011 alone. Today, there are more options than ever before to tantalise your taste buds, and cool down.
Tradition reigns in Vienna’s 10th District, where the Tichy family has been making gelato the Italian way since 1955. Inside the salon, waitresses in pink-and-white striped uniforms called out orders and bustled back and forth to serve the Eismarillenknödel, Tichy’s most famous ice cream creation. The first bite is rich enough to make you put down your spoon, but with the intense flavours of vanilla and apricot and the crispy hazelnut crust, your resistance melts away and you reach for another spoonful.
In the back of the salon, pink velvet booths and glass chandeliers take you back to the old Wiener Kaffeehäuser; it’s a “venerable”, as Kurt Tichy Jr. described it in a soft voice. On a hot day in May, he stood behind the counter in a white culinary lab coat – he was surprisingly thin for an ice cream-maker! – as more and more customers filled the tables, ordering enormous cups of colourful ice cream topped with heaps of Schlagobers.
“It’s klein aber fein (small, but select)”, he smiled. “I don’t see any need to expand.” Or to change, in spite of a lull in the business he admitted to having noticed.
But he may need to think again: Ask anybody! Today, if you’re looking for a treat, the new place-to-be is not your typical Tichy. What everyone is lining up for is organic butter-cookie ice cream and elderflower frozen yoghurt.
FroYo, Frogurt, and… Kurt?
Developed in New England in the 1970s, frozen yoghurt, sometimes call Frogurt or FroYo, is nothing new for an American, but just like Mickey D’s or good pair of Levi’s, this too has found it’s way to Austria.
“It was a word game – an attempt to give frozen yoghurt its own identity”, Ronald Jacobs told The Vienna Review. A well-built 29-year old with his hair pulled back into a ponytail, he is one third of the team that opened “Kurt” in May 2011.
“We had the word yoghurt…” Jacobs mused, “Gurt, Joghurt, Yo…Gurt. We played with the word.” And what came out was “Kurt”.
Jacobs was sitting on a yellow chair outside the shop on Schultergasse in the 1st District, beneath a crisp round sign of a flying cow, a sort of latter-day guild mascot. He needed a change from California where he lived with his wife Shelley Fopiano, working in hospitality.
“Nothing [like frozen yoghurt] existed in Vienna”, Jacobs pointed out. Knowing the city, he and his wife wanted to meet its high culinary and environmental standards. “We want to be the least invasive and the most eco-friendly.” You scoop 100% organic yoghurt out of a sugarcane cup with a corn-starch spoon.
After nine months of slaving over the concept, Jacobs and his partners gave birth to Kurt: Pure Frozen Yoghurt. When they started serving last year, they took it slow, offering just three flavours and rotating them monthly. You can tune your “Kurt” with any combination of 20 toppings, including fruits, syrups, chocolate, nuts. Even when the weather is under par, dozens of slim girls hang around Kurt, apparently keen on this low-fat alternative to the Italian classic. This success has made it possible for the team to expand and open four new shops in Vienna, Bratislava and the Netherlands.
“Word of mouth has really worked well for us”, Jacobs said with pride. Each customer would come back with two friends the next day and another two the next. One young woman, yoghurt in hand, took a seat across from Jacobs, gazing fondly into his eyes… completely forgetting about the yoghurt melting in her hand.
Maybe it isn’t just word of mouth.
Anna, Berta and Mizzi
These are the names of three of the 35 cows mooing away happily in Krumbach, Upper Austria. The farmers-turned-gelataii, Andrea and Georg Blochberger milk these cows themselves, and sell their organic milk to nearby schools. In 2011, they had excess milk, which they didn’t want to go to waste, so the couple thought to produce Vienna’s first organic ice cream. They founded the Eis Greissler, the “Ice Cream Corner Store”.
The tiny storefront on Rotenturmstraße draws a diverse crowd. Japanese tourists, 1st District grannies and hard-core hippies all wait patiently in line for the 18 extraordinary flavours, like goat cheese, truffle and pear, even asparagus on occasion. Eight flavours are vegan: They really aim to please… everyone.
The aforementioned hippies, Nina and Steffi waited their turn, pondering what flavours they wanted. “This is the best ice cream I’ve ever had!” Nina exclaimed, passionately. She’d obviously been there before. “The pear ice cream tastes just like biting into a pear.” Really? Steffi started salivating.
The novelty of flavours like poppy seed and goat cheese was what tempted the kids. Sofia and Letizia got their mother to drive in from the suburbs to taste the ice cream at the Eis Greissler. Mom had read about the organic ice cream, Bio-Eis in a newspaper and Sofia had also heard about it from a friend. At that moment, outside the shop, they looked triumphant, trying to manage their overflowing cones.
For parents, it’s an easy choice: “I would always go for Bio”, their mother said. Apparently, she’s not alone.
Keep ‘em coming!
Interestingly, while we were devouring our truffle and goat cheese cones outside Eis Greissler, a couple gaped in awe of the seemingly infinite Schlange.
“Ist das der Kurt (Is that Kurt)?” Another voice passed by. “This can’t be the line… Oh, ok, I guess it is.” The second patron retreated to the now far-away end of the line. We realised we had just been witness to the beginning of a major new trend, of which these two are prime examples.
This inexpensive luxury dessert has succeeded in making visible waves in the placid waters of culinary Vienna. Even though the Viennese are creatures of habit, frozen yoghurt and organic ice cream shops are sprouting up all over.
Georg Blochberger called his product, “honest ice cream;” but it’s more than honesty, it’s the innovative thinking about a simple product, whether it’s organic ice cream or frozen yoghurt. The new take-away frozen delectables have a solid market identity that people feel good about promoting.
Organic milk. Brown sugar. Fresh fruit. Mix with ice… maybe not much has changed. Go ahead! Taste for yourself.
Vienna’s Frozen History
Eissalon am Schwedenplatz
1., Franz-Josefs-Kai 17
10., Reumannplatz 13
1., Tuchlauben 15
Zanoni & Zanoni
1., Lugeck 7
4., Wiener Naschmarkt, stand 326-331
1., Rotenturmstraße, corner at Schwedenplatz
Foxy Frozen Yogurt
4., Faulmanngasse 1,
1., Rotenturmstraße 14,
16., Yppengasse 1,
Kurt: Pure Frozen Yogurt
1., Schultergasse 2,
Yogurt Bar – Frozen Yogurt – Pure & Fresh
Opernring 3-5, 1010 Wien