July 21, 2015 – It is hard to imagine life here in Santa Cruz without artisanal ice cream. No matter the time of day or month on the calendar, you cannot be downtown without seeing someone licking a cone. Believe it or not, this was not the case a mere five years ago. Getting an ice cream cone involved a car ride across town for a scoop of something that didn’t mention ingredient sourcing or what was actually in that sweet treat. Emulsifiers? Corn syrup? Hormone-infused milk? Maybe…
But then Dave Kumec came to town. His vision was to bring the “farm to scoop” movement here, seeing the trend in artisan ice cream growing and realizing that we were primed to receive it. A career in hospitality and as a chef lent the experience to start a food business. His idea further solidified after a year at New York’s “Ice Cream University”, an intensive consulting program that has helped launch many of the nation’s best artisan ice cream shops—Bi-rite Creamery in San Francisco being rumored as one of them.
He launched Mission Hill Creamery in 2010, tucked inside what is now Front Street Kitchen. “There’s nothing better than sharing what you love, and for me that’s ice cream,” Kumec says.
From there, he built a loyal following of folks who appreciate the fresh, seasonal flavor combinations and high quality ingredients like Straus dairy products. Once word got out about Mission Hill’s amazing salted caramel flavor, he also developed a strong wholesale presence—including an exclusive contract with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
In 2011 Mission Hill was ranked as one of the Top 5 Artisan Ice Cream Companies in America by Mother Earth News, an award that gave him the confidence to open his own shop on Pacific Avenue in 2012. His commitment towards transparency is exemplified in the open window production room, offering anyone a peek at how the small batches of ice cream are made. He also really wanted to create a space for folks to enjoy their treats, in a classic soda fountain kind of way. The creative wall mural, various seating options and extended hours of operation solidify this everyone-is-welcome-all-the-time mentality.
Aside from the deliciously consistent ice cream, Kumec’s strong involvement in the community is his secret to success. Over the last five years, he has donated over $75,000 to local schools, arts programs and charities. Pretty much every weekend Kumec himself can be found scooping cones at any number of local events and festivals, often with family in tow to help. “Both of my sons have been integral in the business since day one,” he says. And any Santa Cruz Warrior fan is surely devoted to Mission Hill by now, since an official partnership with the team has resulted in a free scoop to anyone with a ticket stub from a 100 point game, aka the “100 Point Scoop”.
Looking ahead, there are some exciting developments as Mission Hill heads up the hill to UC Santa Cruz this fall. First he will serve his ice cream in collaboration with Alice Waters at UCSC’s 50th Anniversary Founder’s Dinner on September 26th. At this point, the details are not completely worked out, but the menu is being coordinated by Waters and her team. “My ice cream will be part of the meal, but the flavors and menu are yet to be determined,” he says.
The dinner is just the beginning of a new partnership with the university, which Kumec is still a bit hush-hush about. “I’m not sure what details I can share at this point, but we will have a location that sells our ice cream on campus, and that’s all I can really say,” he reveals.
Looking back, Kumec reflects that it is against most odds to be a successful business in 5 short years: “I feel like the business has become a grown up. We had some challenges early on but now we are finding a great groove. It’s all about the team you surround yourself with and our team is fantastic. It’s a fantastic career knowing you make people happy all day long.”
He’ll be making A LOT of us happy on July 21st at the Mission Hill Creamery Anniversary celebration. Stop by anytime from 12pm to 7pm for $1 scoops, live music and Warriors Gear giveaways.