Eating fresh in California

Food Artisan: Treat Ice Cream Company in San Jose, CA

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Treat Ice Cream
San Jose’s best kept secret… and Treat prefers to keep it that way

No bright colors. No endorsements. Just quality ingredients and tried and true flavors.

“Want a sample?” Bob asks. He sees me peeking over into the room where he and another employee are filling buckets

with smooth, creamy looking ice cream. He walks over to a long, stainless steel spigot, and in a few seconds I’m handed a cup sporting a generous swirl of vanilla. This was no ordinary vanilla, however.

“There are four types of vanilla in there”, Bob says. “Mexican vanilla, Tahitian vanilla, French vanilla, and Madagascar vanilla.” This was as fresh as ice cream could get. Not even frozen yet, the flavor complexity was able to shine, an ice cream experience I will probably never have again.

The hidden entrance to Treat

While most people won’t get a chance to taste ice cream straight from mixing machines, you can get extremely close. The catch is, in order to enjoy Treat’s ice cream, you have to earn it. You can have the best navigation system, and be staring Treat in the face, and still not know it’s in front of you. Harry Potter fans, this is the closest experience you can get to Platform 9 ¾. The vast majority of people seeking the best ice cream in town become disoriented, discouraged, give up and leave. Instead of looking for a storefront, look for a back entrance. Only with this tip did I manage to even get into the correct parking lot (I didn’t even know it then). The parking lot is small, the roads aren’t the best-kept, and there are no signs directing you; just your senses. Finally, a sign: Treat Ice Cream Co. It sits high up, not much bigger than the window below and above it. Two screened shut doors dare me to come in. Going against everything my parents taught me, I walked up to this dark, strange door and opened it.

In 1978 Treat's ice cream freezer shut down, melting a few thousand gallons of ice cream into the streets

Bob Mauseth, 43, is the youngest of three children. His father, Al Mauseth, 88, started Treat Ice Cream Company in 1951, after earning a degree in science from the University of California, Davis. Today Al is semi-retired; he still comes in everyday for a few hours. Treat is a private label wholesale ice cream manufacturer, catering to Bay Area restaurants, independent grocers, and local ice cream shops. Unlike any other business, Al spends no money on advertising; his ice cream is so famed that customers come to him, and often are put on a wait list. Today, however, with sites like Yelp, individuals are discovering that they can buy Treat’s ice cream directly from the source—a mere $5 for a half gallon or $20 for three gallons.  And they come sporadically throughout the day as I do, wandering in, wondering what rabbit hole they’ve fallen into. As they become more unintentionally popular, the crowds will come.

While Al can undoubtedly secure big accounts with more customers, he prefers not to. Instead of spending money on more manufacturing space (70% of his 3,000 square foot building is used for storage) or hiring a sales team, Al puts money behind his products. Bob stands to take over the company when Al decides to fully retire. With business becoming more competitive and their products gaining popularity, one would think they would sell their ice cream directly. However, it looks like Bob will keep things the way his father did. When asked if they would ever get a retail store, Bob laughs. “No. We come in, make ice cream, makes shipments, and are done by 4 o’clock.”

While the Mauseth men forgo spending money to expand the business, they put money towards quality ingredients to cater to the customers Treat already has.

“We get our strawberries from Watsonville, and we’re one of the few places around that actually use fresh fruit and prep it ourselves—no artificial puree”, Mario says, another employee of Treat. He is stirring a vat of sticky, red liquid. Behind him sits a large bag of cocoa from Guittard Chocolate Company, located 45 minutes away in Burlingame. While Treat tries to get quality ingredients locally, they shell out big money for other ingredients. For their big selling flavor mango, Mauseth imports the fruit all the way from the Philippines.

Mario stirs the pot in a space right next to the door I came through. There’s no place to sit, let alone an area to stand.  A whiteboard lists recommended and seasonal flavors, while two basic sheets of paper list their regular ice cream flavors, low-fat flavors, sherbets, sorbets, and frozen yogurt. In an adjoining room are machines where 1,200 gallons of ice cream are mixed and frozen each day. The containers go into a freezer space that has a capacity of 4,000 gallons. Outside the freezer is a small table with a telephone and minimal office supplies.

The business is a seven man operation, and the number has fluctuated by one or two over the company’s 60 years. “Everyone is here today, except for one driver”, Mario says. He has been working for the factory for seven years, and “loves it”.

Lunardi's remains one of Treat's larger accounts, where they stock Treat's ice cream next to premium ice cream heavyweights, like Haagen Dazs.

Another employee, sits five feet away at the “office table”, hand-stamping stacks of lids with Treat’s logo.

“I’ve been here on and off for three years while I’m going to school. They’re really great about that, helping me out.” He says. “People come in expecting a place to sit and eat. We’re a factory. Most people don’t even know they’re eating our ice cream if they get it anywhere else. They just know it’s good.” After he stamps each lid, he re-stacks them in a separate pile, where they wait to cover popular flavors such as Tin Roof Sundae—vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered almonds and ribbons of their popular fudge (which they make from scratch each week).

“It’s like an ice cream sundae, but without the cherry on top.” Mario says. The ice cream itself is incredibly simple—quality vanilla with sticky rich chocolate swirled throughout and a pleasant nutty crunch. The missing cherry that would otherwise be the crowning jewel, the bright beacon advertising the ice cream’s greatness, is completely unnecessary.

(Try to) find Treat on the corner of E. Santa Clara and 19th Street in San Jose. Park as close as you can to Wienerschnitzel, and on the same side of the street, behind the gray furniture store Muebleria Uruapan is another gray building, and behind that, a parking lot.  Look for green doors, sniff for chocolate. Ice cream Nirvana awaits you. Otherwise, visit a Lunardi’s grocery store. Locations listed online. More photos can be found on the Real Time Farms website here!

Nom nom noshing,
California Fall Food Warrior 2011


Written by charlotte

October 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm

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