Ampersand in Fresno Serves Up Tasty Goodness
Sep 27, 2015 09:40PM ● Published by Brandi Barnett
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The Search for Delicious Is Now OverOctober 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Michael Gregory
Ampersand. Ampersand. Say it out loud, slowly: am-per-sand. The way the sibilant follows the stop, how it just flows? Beautiful. Forget the linguists who claim the phonetically perfect phrase is cellar door (though never unpleasant to whisper), but ampersand, well, it just rolls off the tongue. Or perhaps we should say it melts on its tip.
This past Memorial Day, Jeff and Amelia Bennett opened Fresno’s Ampersand Ice Cream – just in time to beat the summer heat. But their original small-batch recipe has been so popular that a single scoop has been hotter than the 100-degree weather.
But why Ampersand – that squiggly logogram (&) that represents the word “and”? Well, says Jeff, “we wanted to be that ‘and’ symbol that connects ice cream and community.” Once they found out its actual name, “it gave us a name and a vision to finalize that piece that we were looking for.”
The Bennetts wanted to become a fixture in Fresno, a fixture of the community. They believed small-batch, homemade ice cream met one of the city’s needs, but they didn’t expect to make such a quick imprint. The day they opened their doors, “the line was halfway around the block,” Amelia says.
The Bennetts couldn’t possibly have dreamed of this kind of success, but maybe the signs were there from the start. Jeff was living in Santa Barbara when the couple met online five years ago. For their first date, Amelia drove to Santa Barbara, where they shared scoops at Santa Barbara’s famous McConnell’s Ice Cream and talked about the future.
“Well, we talked on our first date about owning a business someday,” Amelia says, and though maybe not ice cream, “definitely something was on both of our agendas.”
The two married not long thereafter, and after Jeff moved to Fresno and experienced a Central Valley summer, perhaps the decision was made for him. Jeff says they asked, “What does Fresno need, and how can we fill that? We live in a great city and it’s emerging and it has a lot of” – “A lot of potential,” finishes Amelia. The ice cream shops in Fresno were mostly chains.
The Bennetts began experimenting with recipes at home. “We started with Alton Brown’s recipe online,” says Amelia, “and from there started learning more about the science behind it.” They shared their creations with family.
The couple honed their recipes and began using local products, like Tulare’s Top O’ the Morn Farms dairy. “Usually all our specials are coming from local farms that bring us their goodies,” says Amelia, like berries, honey, peaches – whatever is available.
At any given time, Ampersand carries 16 flavors, rotating between 18 or 19 standard flavors, and with one or two specials over the weekend.
“Our most popular flavor by far,” says Jeff, “is our Whiskey Caramel Swirl,” a vanilla swirled with caramel whiskey sauce made in house. “That truly has outshined all other flavors by customer popularity, and following that is our Honeycomb,” made from homemade honey brittle. While those have been their most popular flavors, they of course have staples like mint chip and rocky road.
Other flavors have been more surprising. “Strawberry Balsamic has a pretty big following,” says Amelia, “and Berry Basil for a while.” But the most unique flavor, she says, had to be the Peach Habanero. They also partnered with Scout Olive out of Clovis to make an olive oil based ice cream.
And the Bennetts don’t plan to slow down where creativity counts. They’ve already paired with Fresno’s Mad Duck Brewery to create an oatmeal stout ice cream, and to celebrate Oktoberfest, they’ll work with the brewery to make a whole line of beer-flavored ice creams.
The idea behind Ampersand is doing right by doing small batch, which isn’t necessarily the easiest way, since it’s slower and limited. “We make our ice cream in four-gallon batches, so we don’t always have every flavor,” says Amelia, though they try to keep popular flavors well stocked. “But our small-batch,” says Jeff, “is what makes our quality what it is. It’s unique to us, and unique even to bigger cities.”
“We never expected how busy we’d be,” says Amelia, with Jeff adding, “Yeah, we’ve been probably triple, if not quadruple busier than we thought.” Which isn’t exactly a bad problem to have, unless you’re a customer craving one of those hard-to-get flavors on a hot summer day, only to find out the small batch has been finished. Well, there’s always tomorrow. But with so many people rushing to get their hands on the latest premium ice cream in the valley, you better rush to see if it really does melt on the tip of your tongue, or you’ll just have to be satisfied by letting the word ampersand roll off it instead.
Ampersand Ice Cream • 1940 N. Echo Ave., Fresno
(559) 264-8000 • www.ampersandicecream.com
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Tuesday - Saturday, 11am – 11pm
Hours may be limited to availability