On a roll: T-Icy Roll expands to downtown Duluth
Michelle Lin opened her year-round West Duluth ice cream shop in the waning weeks of summer.
A few months later, the region was blasted with a one-two punch of its coldest temperatures in decades and the snowiest February on record.
But even a harsh winter, Lin said, didn't appear to do much to suppress the appetite for frozen treats in the Northland.
"On the weekends, we're still busy," said Lin, manager of T-Icy Roll. "Even on a snowy day or a windy day, you have people coming in to eat ice cream."
T-Icy Roll hasn't just weathered its first winter in the Denfeld Retail Center. It opened a second ice cream shop downtown last week.
It's the third overall store for a quickly expanding family business, which started with the opening of the Bubble Tea Company of Duluth in the Miller Hill Mall last May.
While it's not the only year-round ice cream shop in Duluth, T-Icy Roll is perhaps the most unique in its offerings. The stores use a Hibachi-style technique to make what is known as rolled, or stir-fried, ice cream.
Rolled ice cream is a relatively new take on the classic treat, originating among street vendors in Thailand and first arriving in the United States just a few years ago.
Servers start by pouring a homemade cream and other ingredients, such as fruit or cookie crumbles, on a frozen plate. Using chopping techniques, the ingredients are mixed to an icy consistency within two minutes.
The frozen mixture is then spread thin like a paste on the circular sheet. Using a spatula, workers scrape across the plate in rows, forming a half-dozen rolls that are placed in a cup and garnished with toppings before being served to the customer.
"They're so excited to watch us make the ice cream because they've never seen that before," Lin said. "Especially the little kids, they are so happy to see that. The traditional ice cream you just buy at the supermarket, or you can do an ice cream cone from the machine, but you can choose how to make it."
The shops use all fresh fruits and other ingredients for its made-to-order offerings, Lin said. Customers can choose from 25 flavors and about 40 topping options.
T-Icy Roll also offers a variety of bubble teas, a Taiwanese milk-based beverage, as well as fruit teas, smoothies and slushes — products also available in the mall tea shop.
The West Duluth location, 4602 Grand Ave., features vibrant colors in a space that most most recently occupied by a Jimmy John's sandwich shop. The new downtown location features a similar redesign inside the former Lake Superior Art Glass space at 202 E. Superior St.
Two feels like the right number of rolled ice cream shops for Duluth, Lin said, though the business could eventually look at expanding to outlying towns such as Cloquet or Two Harbors. The shops each employ five people, but will grow to eight or nine in the summer months, she said.