We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Libby Lefanowicz. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Libby below.
Alright, Libby thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. How has Covid changed your business model? I started the company right before the first Covid shutdown in March 2020. We got our food permits one day before the entire city of San Diego shut down. My initial idea was to jump into farmers markets and do customer testing. However, during this time all of the farmer’s markets in San Diego were shut down. I decided to sell my ice cream online and start a delivery service! It was really an experimental time for me: I was trying out new recipes, figuring out how to run successful Facebook and Instagram ads, and starting up a delivery service! Right away, it was very successful. It was great because I was developing personal relationships with my customers, who knew my face and name because I would drive around San Diego, hand-delivering their ice cream pints! Then, after the farmer’s markets were back, we opened our booths there. However with covid restrictions, we couldn’t sell any open food (no scoops, just pints) or do any ice cream samples. This made it difficult to convince customers to buy our ice cream. (I’ve tried a lot of crappy vegan ice cream out there, and it was hard for customers to commit to buying a full pint of our ice cream!). Finally, we were able to sample and do scoops on cones and that changed the game! We’ve gained brand recognition in the San Diego vegan scene which has been so cool to see!
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context? I LOVE dessert! After family dinners as a child, we would all sit around the table and eat my dad’s homemade pie, often with a big scoop of ice cream on top. When I found out I had to eat a dairy-free and gluten-free diet, I felt excluded from my favorite desserts. All I wanted was a creamy vanilla ice cream loaded with huge chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough, but when I went out with friends or on a date, my only option was an overly-sweet sorbet with a weird aftertaste. And I knew I was not alone. So many people struggle with food intolerances – and regular ice cream won’t cut it! And some vegan ice cream companies make thin, icy, health-food ice creams. It is so difficult to find an ice cream that is both dairy-free, gluten-free AND delicious! I didn’t want healthy ice cream, I wanted to enjoy my dessert! So I created Kula, the dairy-free frozen dessert that actually tastes like real ice cream and is loaded with gluten-free goodies! Kula means community, and as an allergy conscious vegan brand, we aim to be inclusive in all we do. We make our ice cream with different nuts, seeds, and sweeteners to create a space where all are welcome. Kula isn’t a healthy, low-cal ice cream company, and we don’t want to be! We intentionally engage with our communities to support organizations that promote justice and equality.
We’d love to hear the story of how you turned a side-hustle into a something much bigger. After completing my MBA at UC San Diego – Rady School of Management focused in entrepreneurship and innovation, I immediately found myself in the corporate world. I worked for public sector IT consulting, but was never passionate about my work projects, and I didn’t like working in the male-dominated tech world. I knew I wanted to do something that I was truly passionate about, and I was always searching for what that might be. Right before the pandemic shut down, I had quit my corporate job and was taking a moment to think about what I wanted to do moving forward. At first, I just wanted ice cream to be my side-hustle. I was still searching for a full-time job when the pandemic hit and jobs were scarce. I fully had the time and energy to focus on ice cream and eventually, it became my full-time (and then some!) job! When Kula Ice Cream won San Diego Magazine’s Best in Ice Cream in 2021, I knew we were going somewhere. It was such a huge accomplishment and really catapulted our brand into the public sphere!
Okay – so how did you figure out the manufacturing part? Did you have prior experience? We hand-craft all of our ice cream in-house at the moment. At the beginning, I had no idea how to make ice cream let alone vegan ice cream! My sister was nice enough to go to a vegan ice cream making class for me in Austin, TX! I learned so much from that class, like how sugar affects the mouthfeel of ice cream, etc. We definitely did a lot of trial and error at the beginning, figuring out what tasted good, what created the best ice cream texture, and really what our customers liked. Really, I think it’s all about listening to your customers. If they say it doesn’t have enough gluten-free chunks in it, I add more cookie dough. If they say it doesn’t taste like “normal” dairy ice cream, I go back and tweak my recipes. You can have an idea of what tastes good, and your customers might disagree!
Read the full article on Canvas Rebel here.