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Season 4 - Episode 16:

Keeping Your Cool In Business: Natasha Case, Coolhaus

Keeping Your Cool In Business: Natasha Case, Coolhaus

Episode Summary

Natasha Case introduces herself by saying, “I’m an ice cream lady.” Trained as an architect and a former Disney Imagineer, Natasha got her ice cream company, Coolhaus, off the ground back in 2009: she had an armload of ice cream sandwiches, a barely functional former postal truck, and a dream to change the game of icy sweet treats for millennials. She was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2014, and Coolhaus is now changing dairy cases across America. Natasha tells us how she makes a living.

Episode Notes

If your memories of ice cream are mostly from childhood, Natasha Case would like a word. Her company, Coolhaus, is bringing sweet icy desserts into the millennial mindset: she launched at Coachella back in 2009, and Coolhaus’s 2021 lineup includes mouth-watering flavours like cereal milk, cannoli, and churros, all delivered in cute illustrated packaging. 


Before she even got started, Natasha wanted to “change the game” when it came to ice cream and who it was for. Freya, Natasha’s wife and co-founder, is a woman of colour, and they were both tapping their identities as queer women and millennials.  “We saw this opportunity to be pioneering,” she says. Without much food experience—Natasha was fired from her one and only catering gig—they launched into the ice cream business headfirst, convinced that if they didn’t shoot their shot, someone else would. “The recession had just hit, it was just way too risky.” Their first “ice cream truck” was a “barely driveable” former postal vehicle they had towed (!!) to 2009 Coachella. Since the truck was more set dressing than operable business location, they gamely set up a tent beside it, and started serving. 


Natasha knew that Coachella’s crowd was who they wanted to focus on as their core audience: millennial, highly influenced by the desert heat and music fest vibe, armed with expendable income, and in a heightened state where “you might be buying a lot of ice cream and eating all of it.” For Natasha, she wanted to connect her product with people’s memories of their Coachella experience. 


Natasha and Freya started with a minimum-viable-product mentality, and knew that if Coolhaus flopped, it would be a fun experiment, not a financial catastrophe. They planned for a little bit of success—a website with some pictures, a Twitter handle, a logo, and they filed the business through LegalZoom (which turned around and named a conference room after them a few years later). Their low profile during the early days gave Natasha permission not to strive for perfection, but switch it up when something wasn’t working. “We are the audience, so we asked if this was something that we wanted.” 


After Coachella, they an exposure boost from CurbedLA, which highlighted their “weird flavours and “strange puns,” and helped get them to the next level: they gained more than ten thousand Twitter followers in the span of hours, and got requests from media outlets like Eater and Dwell. “You can’t plan for that,” Natasha says. “You can’t plan to go viral.” She and Freya had to make a decision: were they going to do this thing for real? 


They were. “We immediately got the truck fixed so it could drive,” she laughs. They focused on both street sales and catering, and their first catering customer was MySpace. Initially, they had forecast for more sales through the truck, but within a few months, the catering business was the primary component. “That was the problem we ended up solving.” Now, 95% of their truck business is through private catering, and they have two brick-and-mortar stores in Los Angeles. 


Natasha has been both a Disney Imagineer and an architect; add in ice cream, and she’s created “farchitecture.” She says it’s “food plus architecture,” a riff on her college professor’s criticism of a project that he said looked like a layer cake; her response was to bake her next model. Food and spaces are her “two passions,” and bringing them together to build special, memorable moments was not a business at first but a “passionate hobby.” Her experience at Disney helped her see how this outlook could be transformed into something more entrepreneurial: “I learned a lot from that experience.” But her “farchitecture” idea did get off the ground during her Disney days: while 2008’s recession was unfolding, she started making ice cream sandwiches to “lighten the mood” for her colleagues. 


Her future wife and business partner thought the sandwiches were an amazing, quirky idea, and they’ve been together since the earliest days of the company. Navigating both business and romance in the early days was romantic—they were travelling to weddings in Ojai!—but being together all the time also supercharged Coolhaus’s operations. While things haven’t always been smooth (“Freya and I have very different management styles”), things have generally been great. “I mean, yeah, spoiler alert: we’re married and have two kids. Things worked out.”