Pop-up creamery offers ‘ice cream for grown-ups’ and vegans
Valerie Stunning, a former exotic dancer, brings a line of ice cream with gold, glittery touches to Las Vegas’ Arts District.
Updated September 2, 2020 - 2:44 pm
Forget vanilla, chocolate or even rocky road. Paradise City Creamery’s ice cream cone pop-ups in the Arts District offer flavors that are a bit less conventional, and as sexy as Las Vegas itself. They include Birthday Sex (ube with Hennessey icing), World’s Oldest Professional (pistachio, olive oil, date and rosewater) and XXXPense It! (chili peppers, vanilla cream, mango and the Mexican spice blend Tajín).
Company founder Valerie Stunning, a former exotic dancer, explains: “I really want to build flavors that are meant for an adult palate, because I always wanted to make ice cream for grown-ups.”
Order a cone of XXXpense It, and “creamstress” Sarah Scoops (as with Stunning, it’s not her given name) slowly walks you through the process of building it. She starts by packing a hand-painted golden chia seed cone with several scoops of vegan chili vanilla ice cream. That’s topped with mango coulis and a sprinkling of Tajín (chili peppers, lime and sea salt). A dried chili pepper on top completes the experience, although heat-averse customers may opt to substitute one of the company’s famed disco cherries: long-stem Bing cherries dipped in dark Belgian vegan chocolate and coated in edible glitter.
As with every Paradise City event, the weekly Garagiste pop-up at California Avenue and Casino Center Drive offers a rotating and unique menu of flavors. Cones start at $10. Guests who visit the company’s Laundry Room takeover at Fremont Street’s Commonwealth, which launched Aug. 7, will find different options, such as Mint Money Magic (fresh mint-speckled coconut-cashew ice cream and dark chocolate stracciatella with 24K gold leaf) or Trophy Wife Breakfast (vegan ice cream flavored with the turmeric blend known as golden milk, and a peanut butter swirl).
The only guarantees are that everything will be plant-based, gluten-free and as provocative and sexy as Stunning and her adopted hometown.
‘All right, Vegas!’
Stunning came to Las Vegas in 2013, hoping to put down roots after 2½ years traveling the world, dancing in burlesque shows and strip clubs.
“When I decided I needed a couch and a closet and to kind of just calm down,” she explains, “I was like, ‘Where do strippers go when they want to do that?’ All right, Vegas!”
She quickly learned, however, that the local burlesque scene was not on par with what she’d encountered in other cities. And while she found work in local topless bars, including Fremont Street’s Girls of Glitter Gulch, she began seeking an outlet for her more creative side.
“With burlesque, I actually had this great opportunity to use my background in fashion design and making costumes and building acts, and kind of channeling creativity in that way,” she says.
In the meantime, Stunning also was on a quest for a healthier lifestyle, while dealing with emerging gluten and dairy intolerance. The latter inspired her to research nondairy ice cream recipes.
“Honestly, I was tired of eating sorbet,” she says. “And I was like, ‘Well, let me make some ice cream. And I’m going to cover everything in glitter.’ ”
It took awhile for the aspiring confectioner to master her new art, with the help of many cookbooks and repeated calls to a pastry chef friend on the East Coast. She experimented with an almond base before abandoning it over cost and environmental concerns. Instead, she began blending coconut milk with either sustainable cashew milk or organic, non-GMO soy, depending on the flavor. (And those flavors were varied — inspired by everything from a purple yam known as ube she discovered while exploring Filipino cuisine, to a girlfriend’s love of truffles.)
Flash and flavor
After a year or so of experiments, the friends who were her guinea pigs began requesting more. With recipes in hand, she turned to pastry chef and cake designer Brittany Harris, a veteran of the Tropicana and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, to add some flash.
“Making our cones and cherries sparkle is the natural result of combining my whimsical costumer brain with Chef Britt’s pastry expertise,” Stunning explains.
Stunning designed flavors, such as Day Shift Diva and Trophy Wife Breakfast, to tell stories based on her experiences as a dancer and the people she met along the way. She decided early on to dedicate a portion of her proceeds to causes that help sex industry workers.
Paradise City launched in spring 2019 with a pair of simultaneous events in the Arts District. While team member Yolanda Castaneda was at the Vegas Unstripped culinary festival, making affogato at Vesta Coffee’s booth, Stunning was in a “confessional” at nearby Jammyland, coaxing risqué ice cream-themed stories out of customers sampling her creations.
Then COVID-19 temporarily halted those interactive experiences. So Stunning and her team were thrilled when the owners of Garagiste asked them to stage pop-ups on Fridays and Saturdays in front of the wine bar. The events were so successful that she began packing pints for Garagiste to sell the rest of the week. And the reservation-only Laundry Room Takeovers at Commonwealth have expanded to Wednesdays through Sundays.
For the budding culinary entrepreneur, however, pop-ups and takeovers are just the beginning. Among her goals for the post-pandemic world are a permanent brick-and-mortar scoop shop and select retail distribution. Her plans are tempered, however, with a desire to retain a level of personal touch.
“Once you have too many hands in the pie, it becomes a very different thing. And I haven’t figured out yet how I’d like to scale in a way that continues to let us directly affect the community and be involved.”
Contact Al Mancini at email@example.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter and Instagram.