From rainbow bagels to matcha tea lattes to unicorn milkshakes and everything in between, creating the most colorful and innovative foods has been #trending both in the restaurant world and on social media. Milkcraft, a Fairfield-based ice cream shop known for using liquid nitrogen to create their Instagram-worthy cones, opened up its doors to West Hartford on May 30th. I sat down with General Manager Sean Brennan to discuss the new location, their delicious and slightly edgy concoctions, and why liquid nitrogren. With a commitment to locally sourced ingredients, colorful cones, and a hip environment, Milkcraft is closely following other popular food trends that have been popping up in larger, metropolitan cities. Although he did not disclose specific details, Brennan did say more Milkcraft locations are in the works so “stay tuned.” Read my full Q&A with Sean Brennan below.
Q: How have the first couple of weeks been?
A: Yesterday marked one week for us. The outburst of people coming in for ice cream has been phenomenal. Rain, shine, cold, people were out, it’s been awesome and I appreciate everyone who has come out.
Q: You have the shop in Fairfield already and there’s already a huge presence on social media. How did you build up to get people to notice you and come here in West Hartford?
A: It kind’ve came out of nowhere just as the store did. We make all of our own flavors. The owner had a restaurant in Fairfield many years ago. We visited that single location and said let’s do something different here. Social media is our biggest drive and we’re so grateful to have social media be a part of our culture. All of our design and décor goes right along with that—we try to make everything fun, trendy, interesting and cater to people. With this location, we had a paper on the window for a long time [announcing the opening] and last Tuesday when we opened we just took the paper off the wall and waited for people to come in…and they did.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the concept behind this type of ice cream and the process of making it?
A: They’re all chef-driven flavors and we try to do something a little bit different. Not everyone’s gonna like it but you know, to each their own with everything. We have our cry baby flavors which is just a classic vanilla and chocolate and like everything you can add your toppings as you please. The bubblecone originated from Hong Kong, it’s a classic Hong Kong street food, you see people walking around with these waffles that are covered in powdered sugar. Almost like a fried dough and our recipe is traditional to that style. The Creameebun was our own signature- the doughnuts are made here in Fairfield County, we just warm them up, put our ice cream between them, and that’s that. The process starts with just a cream, just a classic milk cream, no GMOs, no additives. We also have a dairy-free Strawberry Sorbet. We literally just keep pumping out these flavors non-stop, we don’t really see a need to add anything new…maybe in the future, we would add some flavors or specials, but for right now we’re doing great as it is.
Q: Why did you decide to use liquid nitrogen in your process?
A: We wanted to do something different. We said if we’re gonna do this and have chef-driven flavors that are unique just to us, how can we make our ice cream one-step further. My general idea is you can see someone scoop ice cream all the time, but how often do you see someone pour liquid nitrogen into your ice cream in a small form right in front of your eyes.
Q: What’s been the most popular flavor combination?
A: Our S’mores and Cookie Butter is the most popular, those are the machines that never stop, the gears just keep on turning with those. Whoever’s manning those machines does so not stop. You see the blue cookie butter ice cream all over Instagram and Facebook, so that’s our most popular. The palette is different in West Hartford than it is in Fairfield and there’s a lot of different comings of flavors here that weren’t as popular in Fairfield, such as the Miss Piggy (All Natural Maple Cream, Heritage Farms Applewood Smoked Bacon, Vermont Maple Syrup) and the Bourbon Breakfast (Madecasse Vanilla Bean, Corn Flakes, and a touch of “Whistle Pig Maple Bourbon”). We can cater to anyone and anything.
Q: Do you have any major plans for tackling the summer rush?
A: We’re just gonna keep that line going. I just went to get coffee and there was no line and I came back and now there’s a line of upwards of 20 people now and it’s just going to keep going. It’s 3pm now and it’s going to be nonstop until 10:30pm. This past weekend, we had people waiting for two hours and we served the last people at 11:45…45 minutes past our closing time, which makes us consider extending our hours a bit.
Q: Do you have any key resources that you consulted with before embarking on the Milkcraft craze?
A: Dave, the owner, is a restaurateur who has created many concepts and worked in many restaurants. He is super smart so I like to just follow his example because he’s been very successful in what he does. He went to school for ice cream, which you wouldn’t even think there is a school for ice cream but there is. It really paid off in knowing how to use the proper amount of liquid nitrogen so you don’t put too much in. Liquid nitrogen is so cold that if you were to pour it on the ground it just evaporates but if you get it on your skin, you can get a pretty large burn…it’s about the same as hot boiling water.
Q: How do you think Milkcraft fits in to the other food trends that are popping up on social media?
A: There are other liquid nitrogen ice cream shops. What makes us unique is our flavors and our signature toppings. We make most of our own toppings—hot fudge, caramel— and everything is made on demand so you’re getting a hot waffle with cold ice cream. Sea Salt Caramel ice cream is not something you see everywhere and we are sort of creating a trend by doing this in an open-face environment. We’re just doing something new and different.
*Some responses have been edited for clarity