Head to the underground creamery up high, and you’ll likely catch a glimpse through its pickup window of founder Josh Deleon at work, but don’t expect him to stop what he’s doing. Later, there will be a line of impatient customers meandering down the sidewalk outside, and they will only want one thing, ice cream.
They can see me clearly, but I will continue to work, he said. I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I try to make as much ice cream as possible.
The self-taught ice cream maker has been whipping up unique flavors since her pop-up days in 2020, garnering long queues and storylines comparable to clothing scraps exclusive to the streetwear brands like Supreme. Its sought-after, catch-them-if-you-can flavors include sorbets and cobblers that incorporate fruit and crumble or graham cracker, such as its basil-infused ice cream with cinnamon blueberry compote and corn streusel. Honey. It also offers other deeper, richer flavors, like the decadent CCCs (or three Cs, most often a combination of chocolate, caramel, and cookies), salted caramel swirled Oreo ice cream, or its Chocolatey Limited Edition, Turtle Power, which is loaded with salted pecans.
It’s not just her ice cream that feels exclusive. Deleon, too, has earned a reputation for being elusive, a disposition he makes no apologies for. After all, he never really wanted to be in the limelight or the face of a food company, he says, hence his underground model. Instead of operating a traditional scoop shop, Deleon’s hosts ditch the dates when Hell releases its weekly flavor inventory through an online platform, selling its ice cream for $14 a pint in minutes. Customers then collect their flavors from a pick-up display case, highlighted by a neon and neon ice cream cup, during specific time slots on Sundays and Mondays.
But the ice cream wasn’t always Deleons MO.
A University of Houston alum with a degree in mechanical engineering, Deleon says ice cream became a vice and a hobby during his powerlifting days, when he and other crazy guys bonded over meals. of cheating and indulgences. The metric was simple: Does [this junk food] worth your time or your calories?
Deleon, who recalls devouring around 300 pints of junk-flavored ice cream during this time, began reviewing different types of cold comfort food on his Instagram @EatsGoneWild before deciding in 2018 that he wanted to try make it himself.
The first flavor was, naturally, cookies and cream, a combination of sweet cream ice cream with Oreo cookies thrown in. The recipe was good, but his ice cream was trash, he recalls, noting that he had little understanding of what ice cream should have looked like. Still, it motivated him to do it right. He stayed the course by going through more cookbooks, experimenting with more ingredients, and using his engineering degree to learn more about the mechanics of making ice cream. I thought, This is how I want to share my creativity, he says, but he wanted to go way beyond the run-of-the-mill flavors often found in grocery stores or even the bountiful flavors offered at Houston ice cream shops. The local scene is saturated with creative takes from places like Craft Creamery, which offers brisket and pho flavors, and Fat Cat Creamery, which Deleon has collaborated with, but he always felt there was room for more.
He cut back on his full-time hours to spend more time making ice cream, storing his creations in crappy little Sharpie-labeled deli cups in his home kitchen. Like her critics, Deleon shared the result of her creations on her Instagram. His direct message inbox was flooded with dozens of inquiries, and he began selling ice cream through a Google doc that was only accessible to those who asked or asked for it directly. There was never any indication on my Instagram page that I was selling anything, but people were contacting me and asking, how can I buy this one?
As his popularity grew, more and more people within the restaurant industry and customers began to encourage Deleon to venture outside his apartment to sell his ice cream, and in 2020, Deleon hosted his first pop-up in Sugar Land at OMG Burger. The line wrapped around the corner, he recalls. I realized I screwed up at that point, he says, noting that the demand far outweighs the supply; a week and a half of spinning ice cream in his home machine sold out in 45 minutes.
I think the fact that I show enthusiasm makes our clientele more enthusiastic, and I use great ingredients just because I like them. I am very particular about my products. He explains his preference for quality dairy products, high-quality chocolates like Cadbury and Diamond Crystal kosher salt, which he says has less saltiness and is more forgiving. Details like that matter.
Still, Deleon decided to pursue his dream head-on, implementing spreadsheets and Google Docs as a way to anticipate orders and under-promise and over-deliver, all while scheduling set pick-up times. Sometimes people would order in groups, he said, and a whole squadron would come for their ice cream.
But after his second pop-up, he hit a new roadblock: someone had reported him to the Texas State Department of Health Services, and his business was not protected by Texas Cottage Lawshe had to either find a storefront with proper equipment to run a food business or close his doors.
I was a little scared at the time, so I legitimized it, says Deleon. I officially created the company. Soon after, he started labels, calling it underground ice cream. He started working with a restaurant However at the old Black Labrador near Montrose Boulevard for months, but after parting ways with the business he had to look for a new space.
In August 2021, after a hiatus of at least six months from making ice cream, Deleon signed a lease with Van Teamer, owner of Pudgys Fine Cookies in the Heights, where they now share a kitchen. Deleon has started packing his ice cream into his side space, which dispenses through a window.
Since relaunching his ice cream drops in May 2022, Deleon says he’s experimented with more than 500 flavors, which he rarely repeats, constantly adjusting combinations of toppings or swirls. Each week, he offers two to three flavors in small batches across the hot plate platform, which gives customers a few minutes to check out. But even that is overly generous: the ice cream sells out in 30 seconds or less, with Deleon receiving around 4,000 orders, of which only around 10% are fulfilled.
It’s a very simple type of deal, but it’s buying something other people can’t get, so I think that makes it more special, says Deleon.
Many of its early flavors came from junk food and nostalgia, with a particular focus on Oreo cookies and Nabisco candies. Since then, however, Deleon has tried more complex flavors, mostly fueled by his curiosity.
I have flavors of autopilot, he said. But when I do something new, it’s a little more personal. All of this takes a bit of work. It will hit all the notes. I wouldn’t put anything unless I think it’s awesome.
At the same time, he says, he doesn’t make ice cream to please people. Instead, his business is fueled by his own curiosity and goal to push himself more to experiment, he says. Some people love it, and some people hate it. People who like it, we have the same taste preferences. I just love that you order it, secure it and go about your day, he said.
Much of Deleon’s unique model is the result of working largely alone, making ice cream sometimes 11 hours a day with the help of his brother and fiancée, who now largely handles his marketing and… social media. Deleon says he hopes to eventually expand his business and has already received offers from several investors, but he turned them all down.
I put in so much work to create a great product, and having an investor means other people telling me what to do. I don’t want that to happen, he said. I have two hands and 24 hours in a day. My job stems from a hobby, and I do things a certain way, and I’m just not ready to train people. I have my own curiosity that I must satisfy.
But again, he doesn’t really have time to think too much about the future. He has a higher priority in mind.
I’m elusive for a reason; I make ice cream.
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