Penny Ice Creamery’s new restaurant coming soon
The visionary entrepreneurs behind the popular Penny Ice Creamery of Santa Cruz are at it again. They have just opened their first full-service restaurant called Assembly on Pacific Avenue and they plan to launch a special event space called Pop Up on March 31.
Since opening the Penny in 2010, business partners Zachary Davis and Kendra Baker haven’t missed a beat. Their company—The Glass Jar—opened an ice cream kiosk on Pacific Avenue, followed by the Picnic Basket Café across from the main beach a year later. Earlier this year they debuted a second ice cream shop in the Pleasure Point area of Capitola. They also have a mobile ice cream stand that participates in dozens of community events and Farmers’ Markets each month. The kitchen of the new restaurant will provide much needed additional space to help meet the needs of their expanding business.
“Assembly to us means both a place where people can get together and an assemblage of the local food artisans, growers and purveyors that we work with,” said Davis, “We are looking for a rustic take on California cuisine, food that is familiar but done with a lot of care and a lot of skill.”
“We want to be the kind of place that is representative of Santa Cruz. An amazing dining place that is not exclusive in any way,” he said. “We’re going to have Santa Cruz cuisine—which hasn’t really been defined yet, but we’re going to try.”
It will be three years in August since “The Penny” opened its first shop in a low Spanish-style building on Cedar St. in downtown Santa Cruz and fans have been lining up outside ever since. The plan was to start a small, community-oriented food business using local ingredients and hosting events like CSA pick-ups, but Davis said they zipped through their three-year business plan and accomplished everything they set out to do in just nine months.
“We opened in the middle of the recession, but the timing was right,” he says. “We tapped into something that was already out there. Our growth paralleled the growth of farmer’s markets and people’s increasing interest in how food choices impact health, labor and the environment.”
“A lot of people don’t have enough money for the full fine dining experience, but they still want to go out with friends and eat something special,” says Baker, who is the chef behind the operation and was voted “2013 Chef of the Year” by readers of Edible Monterey Bay magazine.
Thanks to their dedication to sustainability and imaginative seasonal flavors, Davis and Baker have expanded their business from the original three staffers to 58 employees working at ‘three and a half’ locations. In the process, they’ve become a much-loved Santa Cruz institution.
Two years ago they opened the Picnic Basket Café right across the street from the main beach, in between the boardwalk and the municipal wharf. “We wanted a hub that featured local food artisans and that’s why we use things like Companion Bakeshop bread, El Salchichero meats and Verve coffee,” explained Baker, who changes the menu of salads, sandwiches and ice cream according to what’s available from local farms.
They also have an ice cream kiosk on Pacific Avenue in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz and earlier this year they opened a second ice cream shop on 41st Avenue, near the world-famous breakers of Pleasure Point.
Last summer they opened a 30-seat outdoor café in front of The Picnic Basket with one-of-a-kind metal and concrete tables and counter seating facing the beach—all designed by local artisans from 5 Feet From the Moon.
Whether scooping ice cream or bussing tables, the Penny looks for a certain type of employee who shares the values of the owners. “We hire friendly people who we want to hang out with,” explains Davis. “It’s important to have personal contact with our customers, to explain the flavors and where the ingredients come from.”
“We try to be 100% sure that people are having a good experience,” he adds. “It’s a great opportunity for us to talk about local sourcing and sustainable farming.”
Farm fresh flavors
Since Penny’s has its own pasteurizer and makes all the ice cream bases in-house, they are the only ice cream maker in Santa Cruz and one of only a handful in the nation that make ice cream completely from scratch.
You won’t find coconut or banana ice cream on the blackboard at Penny Ice Creamery, because those ingredients are not found locally. What you will find are nine creative flavors that rotate in and out, supplemented by what’s in season around the Monterey Bay Area.
As of this writing, for example, you could try Sour Cream Apple Crisp, Salted Butter Toffee, Black Licorice Pear, Honey Lavender or the ever-popular Dark Chocolate Sorbet.
“If Daniel from Abounding Farms comes by with a crate of yuzus, I’ll make yuzu ice cream or sorbet,” says Baker. Buddha’s Hand citrus sorbet was one of her creations this winter and for St. Patrick’s Day she froze up a batch of Shamrock ice cream—made with foraged wood sorrel—along with Irish Coffee ice cream, made with Verve coffee and Jameson Irish Whiskey.
Baker is a classically trained pastry chef who studied at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island and apprenticed in France. She started out at Gabriella Café, just across the street from the Penny’s original location and kitchen, moving on to the renowned Bar Tartine in San Francisco’s Mission District. After two short years, she was asked to become Executive Pastry Chef at Manresa, the 2-Michelin star restaurant in Los Gatos.
Penny is a very chef-oriented business and Baker runs the kitchen more like a restaurant than an ice cream parlor. Ingredients are sourced from local farms and three trips a week to different farmer’s markets. Organic dairy products from Clover Stornetta are used exclusively and all eggs are Certified organic free-range.
Likewise, eggshells and other organic wastes from the kitchen are recycled and used to make soil amendments at Love Apple Farm and Fogline Farms.
Davis, who remembers not enjoying hand-cranking ice cream as a kid, has trouble picking out his favorite flavor. “Anything seasonal,” he finally decides. “Strawberry Pink Peppercorn has just come back in season now, so it’s like getting re-acquainted with an old friend.” It’s a flavor that only lasts a couple of months. Don’t miss it!
The Penny Ice Creamery – original location
913 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz, CA | Open daily 12noon – 11pm.
1520 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA | Open daily 11am – 9pm.
820 41st Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA | Open daily 11am – 10pm.
The Picnic Basket
125 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA | Open M-Th 7am – 4pm, F-Su 7am – 9pm.