Natasha

Natasha Case: The Scoop on the Coolhaus Co-Founder

KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from Natasha Case, co-founder of the Coolhaus Ice Cream Truck:

Chapter One

"I'm a third-generation Angeleno, which is pretty ancient for around here.

"My dad, Geoffrey H. Case, was born here but my mom, Barbara Ann Dourmashkin-Case, came to Southern California in her late 20s.

"My grandparents - my dad's mother and father - were high school sweethearts in Cleveland, Ohio.

"My grandfather came to L.A. for his senior year of high school. He went to Fairfax High. He was the captain of the basketball team and, I think, class President - so he was a big-time high school Angeleno.

"My grandmother came out to stay with a relative who lived in the Hollywood Hills. My grandparents got married after my grandfather served in the Navy. He may have been stationed for a period at the base in San Diego.

"I think they just both loved L.A. They came from the Midwest and the weather and the excitement and certainly being in the beautiful Hollywood Hills helped.

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"My grandmother - my mom's mother - was born in Troy, in upstate New York. She moved to the City to study at NYU.

"My grandfather was an old-time West Village resident. The two of them then met at the hospital where she was a nurse and he was a doctor doing his residency.

"I think she impressed him with her skills with the scalpel. I also hear that coworkers called my grandfather, 'The Shadow,' because he was always following my grandmother around because he was so amazed by her. He was very quiet and reserved.

"I went to Berkeley for my undergraduate years and came back to UCLA for graduate school.

"Those were familiar schools in my family. My mom had left the East Coast to attend grad school at Berkeley. She studied art and teaching and became attracted to the film animation field. At that time, the place to do that was L.A. so she came down.

"My dad grew up and went to school in the Valley. He left for college than returned to UCLA for grad school where he studied architecture - same as I did. So both my parents were in artistic creative fields in L.A. You know L.A. is a very, very creative city and it is an understandable and common thread to be here and to be connected by the arts.

"My parents' first connection was actually through sports, which is pretty cool too. My mom comes from a serious baseball family. My dad and a bunch of other young up-and-coming aspiring architects had a monthly softball game and my mom, through a mutual friend, was invited to play. She's very athletic and was really good and I think, you know, she had a couple of guys with their eyes on her after that. One of which was my dad.

Chapter Two

Natasha Case, in her pre-Coolhaus days. Photo courtesy Natasha Case.

"Coolhaus started with one truck in L.A. and now we have our storefront in Culver City and four trucks in L.A. plus other operations in Austin, Miami and New York.

"We launched in New York last May and I was there a lot through the summer building the business. New York is such a high. I don't know if it's a sustainable high, but in terms of succeeding there and having people be excited about Coolhaus, everything feels like ten times the magnitude. People are all around telling you that it's great. The lines are that much longer. And it gives you such energy - almost like a maniacal energy - that's really, really exciting.

"I have tried to avoid New York during the height of winter. I just don't know how to survive in that kind of climate - I've never been through it. Austin is pretty cold, too, so it makes you appreciate having to think more about seasons.

"With New York, that meant having to think about, 'There's snow outside, we can't just keep selling ice cream sandwiches. What are we going to do?' So we created a hot chocolate menu and started selling coffee. It makes you not just take for granted the beautiful, mild weather of L.A. year-round, that's for sure.

"I certainly do have my criticisms of L.A., but at the same time, I like being part of a place that is on its way versus already there.

"For example, I think the Bay Area is really charming. I like San Francisco, but I feel like it's a very resolved place and that doesn't excite me as much. I'd rather even on some small scale be paving the way in L.A., being here in a city that's still figuring itself out - but we'll get there - than comfortably living in a city that's already done.

"That's also why I really like Miami. Miami is definitely not there yet. They're figuring themselves out. It's a weird city, but how cool to think that there are huge problems to be solved and that you're kind of a pioneer bringing something interesting.

"Miami is not traditionally an ice cream city. There are very few ice cream places. Part of it is, in warm climates ice cream is not always consumed that much because people tend to be more body conscious. The first part of that is sort of contradictory to what most people think.

"In the beginning, it was a hard sell for us: 'This is Coolhaus. It's these rich, exciting ice creams and decadent cookies and you're going to love it, trust us.' The beginning sort of felt like, 'Okay, are people listening?'

"But sales have grown twenty percent every month there and people are starting to get obsessed. That's more interesting than going somewhere where I already know people will get it and like it.

Chapter Three

Natasha Case with friend. Photo by Barbara Dourmashkin.

"Unlike Miami, L.A. already has great ice cream places. So being here is about being a pioneer in other ways. It's about hating things about the transportation system, but also watching it change and watching the mentality change and how cool is that. I like a place where you have things to love and things to hate. That's the creative edge. You want to go solve problems then.

"What's great about ice cream is it brings people and attracts people and creates gatherings. With our trucks we try to reactivate L.A.'s dead spaces.

"We try to bring a truck to a lot where nothing is happening. All of the sudden that lot can be a food court. We play an urban development role, whether it's temporary or permanent. We can definitely use ice cream as an incentive to get people to do things and go places and use certain systems. We look forward to doing many more projects like this.

"Also, in the vein of wanting to be more of a pioneer with the brand, we opened our shop on this strip in Culver City. We could have plopped down on The [Santa Monica] Promenade or even on Melrose, which are more traditional, higher-foot traffic commercial zones.

"But we really wanted to be part of this up-and-coming neighborhood and that's been successful. Culver City recognized our contribution and has provided reimbursements for the permits because we helped develop the block.

"Speaking of development, there's a different kind of development that I'd like to mention before I make you your sandwich. And that is: Since I started Coolhaus, two of my grandparents have asked me, 'Why do you want to be in ice cream? How did you come to this?'

"These were separate conversations with my grandmother on my mom's side and my grandfather on my dad's side. I began by telling about architecture, land use, city-building, everything I usually talk about.

"But it turns out that my grandparents were asking me 'why' for an entirely different reason. They were asking because each of them had early careers working in ice cream! I had no idea.

"My grandfather told me that he sold ice cream sandwiches on the beach as a summer job after high school. And my grandmother told me that she worked at a soda fountain in New York City. She was on the ice cream machine making the floats.

"Through family history you discover that it's not a complete accident about why you do what you do. Even if you think these are just your ideas, they're actually coming from a longer lineage. Even ice cream can be passed down."

-- Natasha Case
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)


Top Photo: Natasha Case, co-founder of Coolhaus. Photo courtesy of New York Street Food*


*=updated

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