By Jamie Siebrase | Aug 13, 2017
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Ice cream
Basinger and Kopicko had plenty experience in the restaurant industry when they relocated from New York to Denver's Baker neighborhood. While the couple loved their new 'hood, they noticed right away that it was missing an important amenity: an ice cream parlor.
"We had jobs, but they weren't great jobs," Basinger recalls, adding, "Sam and I both made ice cream at home, and we decided to start a shop."
But Sweet Action wouldn't be a typical ice cream shop. "We were the first in Denver to make our own vegan ice cream," Kopicko explains, noting that Sweet Action's nut-milk ice creams taste exactly like their non-vegan counterparts.
Vegan ice cream quickly became a cornerstone of the burgeoning business. As Basinger puts it, "It's one of the ways we can really connect with our customers." The company engages consumers with its fresh, local ingredients, too.
Milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla: "When you're making ice cream, there aren't a lot of ingredients, and it's important to choose the right ones," Basinger begins. He and Kopicko source Colorado products whenever possible, and they prefer real food over artificial flavors and stabilizers.
Unlike many competitors, Basinger says, "We also use real sugar as a sweetener instead of corn syrup." The result is a better taste and texture -- and that justifies added costs.
It's the same with just about all of Sweet Action's supplemental ingredients. Peach ice cream, for example, is made with real Colorado peaches, which have to be ripened, chopped, blanched, peeled, and pureed. It's a labor-intensive process that's well worth the effort.
The company makes all of its ice cream by hand: hand-packaged wholesale pints included. "We have a tight operation. We pump out 600 to 700 gallons of product weekly, all across the state," Basinger says. The bulk of Sweet Action's sales are concentrated along the Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, but the company routinely fills orders from as far west as Aspen, and it recently began shipping pints in dry ice directly to consumers all over the country.
Sweet Action originally manufactured all of its ice cream -- retail and wholesale -- in its flagship Baker shop. "We were at 110 percent capacity for two or three years," says Basinger. "When you make ice cream, you put it in a freezer set at negative 30. We were limited by the space of our hardening cabinet."
In 2016, he and Kopicko bought a 5,000-square-foot wholesale production facility a couple miles southwest of their retail shop. "We were happy with the equipment we were using at the ice cream shop, so we replicated that same production space here at the factory," Basinger explains.
Sweet Action supplies ice cream for a number of local restaurants, hotels, and specialty stores, including Marczyk Fine Foods, the company's first wholesale client.
"We still have our retail ice cream shop on Broadway, of course, and all of the ice cream that we scoop in our shop is made there," Basinger notes, bragging, "It's still the busiest and best ice cream shop in Denver."
Case in point: Food Network named Sweet Action the Best Ice Cream Shop in Colorado earlier this year, and data from mic.com indicated that Sweet Action was one of the top 10 Best Ice Cream Shops in the nation, based on reviews, check-ins, and foot traffic.
How exactly does a small, neighborhood joint manage to explode like Sweet Action did? The company's biggest catalyst might just be flavor innovation.
Nothing against the traditional 31, but Basinger says, "We've always wanted to push the envelope on what was acceptable." In addition to a steady line-up of basic mainstays, Sweet Action scoops up some of the weirdest varieties on Earth.
The company's Honey Jalapeno Pickle Ice Cream, made with pickles from The Real Dill, has gained a cult-like following. "That's a flavor we thought we'd do one batch of and call it, but it came out so well we have to make it annually," Basinger says.
Other oddball offerings include Hatch Green Chile and Sweet Corn ice creams, both returning this fall. "This summer, we really pushed what's acceptable, and did a blue cheese ice cream for the American Cheese Society," adds Basinger.
Sweet Action has also partnered with Stranahan's on whiskey ice creams, as well as neighborhood breweries on beer ice creams. The company has created over 700 flavors of ice cream to date. "We have a couple hundred that we make with some frequency," says Kopicko, noting that two dozen flavors are available daily in the Sweet Action retail shop.
Challenges: One big challenge, Basinger says, is managing growth. "It's still just Sam and I who own the company, and it's a lot of work," Basinger admits.
Opportunities: For Basinger and Kopicko, acquiring a wholesale production facility has opened a lot of new doors. The facility is "bigger than what we need right now," says Basinger. But the company is planning to grow into it. "We have an opportunity to get into more channels, more markets, and more stores -- in Colorado and beyond," adds Basinger.
Needs: More business! "Factories don't come cheap," as Basinger puts it. "We've stretched to put this facility together, and now we want to make more ice cream."