“The best part about what I do is having the people in the neighborhood I serve ice cream in show up and eat ice cream with their family."
Photo courtesy of @randysbesticecream
The Fresh Local Feature spotlights local businesses and the communities that they are part of. In this local feature, we chat with Brandon Nguyen, owner of Randy's Best Ice Cream. Based in Albany, CA, Brandon puts a creative spin on classic flavors without losing the nostalgia.
Tell us about Randy’s Best Ice Cream and your inspiration behind it.
I draw tons of inspiration from many things, but the main inspiration behind the cart was definitely a New York ice cream parlor called Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream. I love their approach to ice cream flavors. I listened to this podcast with Nicholas Morgenstern, the owner, and he thinks very deeply about how Americans eat ice cream and what it means to eat ice cream in the 21st Century. I really like that approach and try to kind of follow that framework. I also really like Fenton's home-y and classic approach to an ice cream parlor. It’s a Bay Area classic. I want people to one day say the same thing about my ice cream.
The name itself is my nickname from high school and I chose it because it has an old timey feel just like Fenton’s. The “best ice cream” part is just kind of a fun riff on classic parlor names. I like when food establishments have banners that say “best pizza in America!” They can just claim that title which is funny. So I kind of did the same thing with my name haha.
Tell us about the ice cream. How do you source your ingredients and what are the current flavors you have in rotation?
I try to source my ingredients as local as I can. For the chocolate flavor, I use TCHO which is processed right here in Berkeley. I use Counter Culture Beans which are roasted in Emeryville. And I use Lavender from Oaktown Spice. I use Clover milk and Producers cream for the base which are both local as well.
California has some of the best ingredients in the country so I try to take advantage of that. I also try to support my local community and spend my money where it’s helpful.
Right now I have Popcorn Salted Caramel, Hot Chocolate, Coffee Cookie, and Meyer Lemon Lavender. This changes a few times a month.
Where do you get inspiration in creating your different flavors?
I first try to think about what kind of ice cream people like to eat first “chocolate, vanilla strawberry, coffee, etc.” and then get creative from there. I try to riff on classic archetypes of ice cream without losing the nostalgia. So adding cookie bits to coffee ice cream, or instead of making plain chocolate, I make a hot chocolate flavor that’s reminiscent of Swiss Miss instant hot chocolate packets. I also think about what it means to eat ice cream in this day and age. How could I take these classic flavors and make them even better than the original. I could make a number of strawberry ice cream variations, but will they be better than a scoop of perfectly good strawberry ice cream? That’s sort of my thought process.
flavors pictured left to right: meyer lemon lavender and coffee cookie
What’s the best part about what you do?
The best part about what I do is having the people in the neighborhood I serve ice cream in show up and eat ice cream with their family. I love seeing the faces of the kids who come by and think the popcorn ice cream sounds insane, but when their parent gives them a taste, their face just lights up. It’s nice to be a part of my community, not just selling in my neighborhood in Albany, but spending my money in companies that practice sustainability.
Being from Albany, what do you like best about the community there?
I love the small town feel where I can strike up a conversation with anyone walking by. People are so friendly here. I’ve grown up here half my life. It’s a place where I can go down the street and say hi to my neighbor who’s known me since I was 12. I can go to the liquor store and say hi to the guy who’s been running it for decades and has seen me buy grape soda as a 13 year old, and then beer 12 years after that.
photo courtesy of @randysbesticecream
What are some of your favorite fresh local vibes?
I love the East Bay’s highly accessible food options. Having lived in SF for 5 years, I feel like the food scene in the East bay is a lot more accessible for college students, lower middle class families, or the average person. This doesn’t at all mean worse in quality. It’s just a lot more accessible to everyone.
Some of my favorites are White Lotus Thai food on San Pablo, House of Curries on Solano, Tacos Autlense by the Hotsy Totsy, Hal’s Coffee shop on Solano, Aint Normal Cafe on College, Ba Le Banh Mi’s on San Pablo to name a few!
What’s up next for Randy’s Best Ice Cream?
Right now I am trying to maximize my output of ice cream to meet the crazy demand in Albany. That’s my main goal right now, but things I think of in terms of next step moves are maybe getting a second cart somewhere down the line. Maybe getting some merch started like shirts, or tote bags. I love the idea of designing merch. I’ve always wanted to make clothes, but I never thought I could do it as a career. Now I get a chance to print t-shirts without it being my