Inspired by his oversized labra doodle named Jackson and love for ice cream, Josh Charlip's latest business venture — an artisanal ice cream sandwich company named Eskimo Jack's — is expanding this summer. Founded in February 2011, Eskimo Jack's is sold in 13 area Busch's Fresh Food Markets and Charlip's family-owned Bagel Factory Cafe eateries in Birmingham and Troy. He also operates a food truck and two food carts. DBusiness Daily News spoke with Charlip on the local food truck scene, menu inspiration, and his expansion plans.
1. DDN: How did you come up with the concept for Eskimo Jack's?
I found out about this ice cream sandwich concept from this little hole-in-the-wall ice cream sandwich shop in Westwood on the University of California Los Angeles campus. I went out and visited it, and I brought (the idea) back here. I felt that there was an opportunity for (selling) at events. There's a cappuccino guy, Dippin Dots, but nobody was really doing this gourmet ice cream sandwich concept for events, and it's really taken off over the last year. I love cookies, and I love ice cream. There's a passion of food, but also a passion of building a business from the ground up. Eskimo Jack's is named after my dog Jackson. He's a 70-pound labra doodle, a beautiful, furry, brown dog. The original logo was a cartoon image of his face inside of a parka.
2. DDN: What have you learned about the local food truck industry and what separates you from your competitors?
There's a great demand for it, and there's really still that wow factor. I think food trucks have been around the coast for a while, but in Detroit it's still a novelty. My product is a gourmet product, it's all natural, we use really fine ingredients, and the food trucks tend to follow that foodie pattern. It's a really unique, gourmet product and people know that and expect that. There aren't a lot of dessert trucks out there. There aren't a lot of ice cream trucks. The way I separate myself is we custom make our sandwiches right there on the spot. People are able to come up and choose their two flavors — their flavor of cookie and their flavor of ice cream — and we make the sandwich for them. Because we're making our own ice cream flavors and our cookies, we're able to change out on a daily basis what we're offering, so you're never going to get the same combinations to choose from with us.
3. DDN: What is your process for creating new flavors?
Right now we're manufacturing in my Birmingham bagel shop (Bagel Factory Cafe). As far as ingredients, we make it ourselves. If we're making a fruit flavor, like strawberry ice cream or blueberry ice cream, we'll get fresh strawberries and fruit at Eastern Market or locally at any supermarket. What inspires us is just looking around and seeing what flavors are really popular. Salted caramel has become a popular flavor. Another really popular one is banana with vanilla wafers. We make a pistachio cardamom ice cream. The truth is, ice cream is a comfort food so people look for vanilla, they look for Oreo, mint chip, which we do have, but there's also that segment that's willing to reach out and we're able to meet that demand.
4. DDN: What's the most rewarding part of your work?
Having started a business from nothing, watching it evolve over four years from one cart, seeing the demand grow and now taking that to the supermarket, creating the brand and creating the packaging, creating the flavors — that's really what gets me going.
5. DDN: What's next for Eskimo Jack's?
We started our first partnership in Florida, which is with a single cart. We take the cart and we start with events in a city and create demand. By doing that event and creating awareness we will then be able to take it to the supermarkets. Five years from now I hope that we have a hundred partnerships and distribution all over the country. We're in 13 Busch's right now, (and we) could get to 35 by the end of the summer. Part of the issue is finding a big enough manufacturing facility to keep up with production and meet the demand. The goal is to start franchising within six months to a year.