Zach Vraa, a former North Dakota State football player, has gone from the playing field to the ice cream business with his touchdown-dance-worthy pints. His Minnesota-based business, A to Z Creamery, operates on an alternating first-come, first-served and lottery basis offering rarely repeated flavors like Lady Misu (tiramisu), Fluff Me Up (caramel Oreo s’mores) and I Guavatate to Beer (guava sour “beer” with pretzels and popcorn).
The self-taught ice cream virtuoso is still making small batches of just one flavor a week, but already getting tons of requests since starting his business in the spring of 2020. We talked to Vraa about where he gets his flavor inspiration, what he’s learned from opening his own business and, of course, his wackiest flavor combinations.
Do you have any culinary background beyond loving to eat?
Surprisingly, no. I’ve always had a passion for food and it’s always been one of the most important parts of holidays, travel and get-togethers. My curiosity for recipe testing and figuring out how flavors and ingredients work together is something that’s interested me. Most of my knowledge has come from articles, recipe books and cooking shows.
Were you an ice cream connoisseur before you started making your own?
Of course! Just like baking on my own to find the best recipes, I used to always be on the hunt to find the newest and best ice cream. This led me to create my own flavors and make something I could never find at other scoop shops or in stores.
What qualities were you looking for when you started perfecting your ice cream?
Taste, texture and creativity. When I first started, I more or less wanted to just play around with flavors. But now that the business has grown and I’ve been expanding, perfecting the textures and flavor profiles has become more of a priority.
What makes your ice cream unique?
I would say the flavors are number one. Part of my goal is to recreate classic desserts in the form of ice cream. For desserts like tres leches, tiramisu or seven layer bars, they’re usually never found in ice cream. Figuring out how to showcase that in a pint is exciting for me.
How do you come up with ideas for flavors?
Everywhere: childhood memories, walking through the grocery store, reading recipe books, cooking shows, etc.
What have been some of your favorite flavors?
Peanut butter and chocolate is probably my favorite flavor pairing, but something that really hit home for me that is untraditional is goat cheese ice cream with lemon curd swirl and shortbread crust.
What have been some of the wackiest flavors?
Pronto pup (pancake batter ice cream, ketchup and mustard swirl, candied hot dog). A dill pickle ice cream with peanut butter swirl. And a cheddar cheese ice cream with caramel swirl and cornbread crumble (which was one of my most popular flavors).
How did you decide on your lottery/first-come, first-served business model?
First-come, first-served just started naturally as inventory was always low. The lottery came next since demand is so high, and it was a great way to level out the playing field.
What have you learned about launching a business during the pandemic?
It’s a lot harder than you think. Anyone can make a high-quality product, but being able to keep track of the financials and legal work, having a great vision and marketing strategy and keeping customers engaged takes a lot of work.
What should we look out for from you in the future?
You might see us popping up at local restaurants, grocery stores and markets down the road. Stay tuned.
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