SALT LAKE CITY — With about an hour to go before the opening of her first-ever farmers market as a vendor, Kris May realized she didn't know how to set up her tent.
She had stayed up all night making ice cream to sell at the inaugural event for her then-brand-new business, Wasatch Creamery and arrived at the market with a product she was passionate about but without much of a plan.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” May admitted with a laugh. “I had a brand new tent, I didn't know how to set it up, … I hadn't developed systems for production or sales or anything like that, so it was a lot of learning on the fly.”
Thankfully, May knows how to surround herself with good people.
“A bunch of my friends rallied. Everyone met me there, we set up my booth, and then … they stayed with me throughout the whole event,” she said.
Now, three years later, May still relishes in creating a product she’s proud of: small-batch ice cream made with locally sourced products and without chemicals. And in that time, she has seen her one-woman show blossom into a company that’s continually growing — she won the Deseret News’ Wasatch Front Ice Cream Tour in 2017, now sells her product in more places in addition to farmers markets and has plans to launch in grocery stores in the coming months — but also true to its values.
“I think it's important to do things on a small scale. … It has to do with creating something yourself and being an artisan and working with local farmers and local producers to create a product that's reflective of your values,” May said. “… I just think you have more of a personal touch.”
Becoming the 'ice cream lady'
May is now the self-proclaimed “ice cream lady,” but her roots in the culinary world go deeper than the frozen delight.
She grew up on a dude ranch in McCoy, Colorado, and went to culinary school in San Francisco at the California Culinary Academy. After graduating, she returned to Colorado, settling in Boulder and apprenticing at several restaurants there.
It was at these restaurants that she first learned about making ice cream.
“I just kept recipes and modified them and would do it for fun at parties and got a lot of really positive feedback, and just sort of start playing around with the idea,” she said.
After a stint back at the dude ranch, time as a pastry chef at Deer Valley Resort and a stretch working as the head of catering at Park City Mountain Resort, May found herself at a crossroads. PCMR had recently been acquired by Vail Resorts Management Company and she found her work environment changing. Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad change, she saw it as an opportunity.
“I just decided to start an ice cream company,” she said succinctly and matter-of-factly.
So, naturally, she needed to procure an ice cream machine, which turned into an early example of her learn-on-the-fly approach.
“I bought an ice cream machine off of eBay, I flew to Austin, I rented a car and drove it back in winter. Turns out, just so you know, all the SUVs in Austin are rear-wheel drive, which is scary when you're driving, you know, over all these mountain passes in a snowstorm with a 2000-pound machine in the back,” May said.
She made it safely back to Utah and officially launched Wasatch Creamery the following summer in June 2016.
Something with 'soul'
May acknowledges that at least part of her decision to start Wasatch Creamery stemmed from seeing a need in the market and having a talent with ice cream, but it’s her philosophy about the food that keeps her going.
"I just want to create something that has a lot of soul and a lot of character and is super authentic,” she said. “There's nothing fake about who we are or what we make, and that's just kind of nice.”
Wasatch Creamery’s authenticity starts at the beginning. All of the dairy that goes into May’s products is sourced locally from Rosehill Dairy in Morgan. She purchases or trades for other ingredients, such as apricots from local farmers and growers or brownies and cookies from pastry chefs in Heber and Park City.
As May and her team make the product from scratch in small batches, no chemicals or stabilizers are used.
“I think if you do it in smaller batches, it produces a better product,” she said. "I support small business, I love small farms, so that's kind of what we do is create super hyper-local ice cream.”
Small batches, however, does not mean small flavor. Wasatch Creamery boasts a repertoire of some 50 flavors, including what May calls their often-requested “standards”: salted oreo, lavender blueberry, strawberry, brown butter, chocolate three ways and sweet cream. May gets her inspiration for flavors from everything from travel (her mango sorbet was inspired by a market in Taiwan) to baking in her own kitchen (her blackberry basil ice cream came to her while making a blackberry tart).
Now every event Wasatch Creamery sells at, May said she has to bring at least 15 different flavors to satisfy everyone’s requests.
“I'm the ice cream lady,” she said. “I want to make everybody happy.”
No more all-nighters
A company’s growth can be quantified in sales and profit, but May looks to a less conventional indicator to measure her success.
“I have not pulled any all nighters this year,” she proclaimed with pride. “It’s the small things.”
Despite the fact that Wasatch Creamery ice cream is now sold in more places than ever before — they continue to sell at four to five farmers markets a week, including the Salt Lake’s Downtown Farmers Market and Park Silly Sunday Market, on top of filling wholesale orders, supplying their pop-up shop in Hugo Coffee and providing all the ice cream at Victory Ranch — May’s company is running as smooth as ever, an accomplishment she acknowledges is possible because of her employees.
“I'm very proud of my team. I can't say enough good things about these amazing people who've chosen to come and work with me,” she said. “It just it blows my mind.”
May’s one-woman show has grown as she now employs three other “highly trained chefs” to work full-time with her in the kitchen in addition to the six to eight part-time employees who work the booths at farmers markets and other events.
May has seen a lot of excitement for Wasatch Creamery’s product and has been approached by many places about carrying it, but she’s chosen to be very selective about where her ice cream is sold.
“I'm very choosy about where the product goes. I want to make sure that it's places that share our values,” she said. “ … We're just trying to grow slowly and sustainably, and we're trying to do it without debt.”
However, Wasatch Creamery does plan for significant growth in the future as May hopes to start selling in grocery stores this fall or winter and includes shipping as part of her long-term hopes.Comment on this story
“We're in this terrible scaling process right now where we've bought another ice machine and now we're filling up our freezers, so we need more freezers. So it's sort of, you know, you take two steps forward and one step back … but I think that's common for most entrepreneurs and business people,” she said. “… The hardest thing for us is making enough ice cream as fast as we can while maintaining quality.”
While May is learning to “work on the business and not in the business,” which means hiring more staff, she still stays close to her roots by personally working in the Wasatch Creamery booth at as many events as she can — especially farmers markets.
“I don't care how big the company gets,” she said, “we will always be at festivals and events and farmers markets.”