A seasoned violinist is mixing his experience with milk, sugar and eggs for a new kind of sensory performance — this time in mobile ice cream.
That violinist is Netta Hadari, former director of development at Music Haven and a current teacher at Brass City Charter School. Since June, he’s been rolling around downtown with a new food business called What Is Real Ice Cream, delivering four flavors on three wheels.
What Is Real Ice Cream started in earnest three or four years ago, when Hadari’s wife and former Music Haven Director Tina Lee Hadari bought him an ice cream maker.
It was a cost-cutting measure, she said. Trips to Ashley’s and store-bought pints of ice cream had gotten expensive, and making ice cream seemed like a fun thing to do with their two young daughters.
Ice cream soon became an obsession. Hadari’s love for the cold, creamy confection followed him to the University of Connecticut, where he was pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. Churning out batches of ice cream saw him through a near-unending job search and foray into business endeavors, including a sort of Tinder for cats called Smittn. Soon, the scoops led him to an existential question.
“I’d just had enough of it and said: ‘OK, what is real? Can we get back to basics?’” he recalled on a recent episode of WNHH’s “Kitchen Sync” program. “‘What is real to me?’”
His answer was bound up in every recipe of ice cream he’d made, every scoop he’d doled out on his journey as a culinary tinkerer. It grew out of taste-tests with friends and family in his New Haven kitchen, conversations unfolding around pints of strawberry-basil and pistachio ice cream, blind tasters who shouted out their first impressions of vanilla. This sweet intimacy, he realized, could be his next business venture.
“It really does set the conversation, and it brings great joy,” he said. “For me as a musician, and as a composer and a teacher, those moments of joy happen over months and years.”
The Reality Of A Business
It did take years to churn those moments of joy into a viable business plan. Thinking about his fondness for Ashley’s Ice Cream on York Street — the unofficial site, he’d joked, of his Music Haven offices — Hadari “decided that I wanted to go for something different,” a yolky, creamy blend sourced as locally as possible, and left out the artificial stabilizers typically used in the industry.
The last, he realized quickly, would make batches more difficult. He went to the internet, combining recipes he found on cooking blogs and advice forums. But “you have to figure out how to translate those recipes into larger batches” in a commercial batch freezer. Suddenly, things got sticky. Literally.
Generally, ice cream shops and manufacturers — even small-batch ones — buy their mixes from a creamery, with stabilizers mixed in, and ingredients carefully portioned out by scientists. The mixes also don’t have egg yolks, which Hadari wanted to use to create a richer, creamier texture. All the maker has to do is add the flavor.
Hadari didn’t use a mix or a stabilizer. He was cooking the milk and cream with sugar, mixing the egg yolks with skim milk powder and more sugar, tempering the eggs, whipping them into a custard, and adding vanilla. And almost each time, batches would come back with fat globules, like tiny balls of butter that weren’t supposed to be there.
Or the globules would be gone, but a strawberry beta-test would come back icy, with too much liquid. Or a batch of vanilla wouldn’t freeze properly, and a pint would come back looking like off-white soup.
“I threw away gallons and gallons and gallons of ice cream down the toilet,” he said. “It was so painful, watching that money and time go literally down the toilet.”
Then came an unsuccessful taste test with friends and family. Hadari was despondent.
“I was just about to pack it in and buy a commercial mix,” he said. “I said: This is way too complicated. It’s way too time-consuming. Why am I doing it this way?”
He bought a bag of mix. It worked perfectly in the batch freezer, churning out a sociable gallon and a half of ice cream. But “you know, it wasn’t what I was going for,” he said. “I didn’t feel good about it.” He returned to the drawing board, and worked through the recipes again, changing amounts of sugar and skim milk powder until they seemed just right.
“I’m going for small-batch. Something very personal. Something that is hard-fought, and I think you can taste that in the ice cream,” he said. “I can be a commercial ice cream shop, but I think for me, it’s not real enough, and that’s a very personal choice. You can go to other ice cream shops … or you can come to me and have maybe a different experience. Maybe.”
As Hadari was getting the alchemy right, he was also figuring out the business end of things. Because Connecticut law does not allow vendors to make the food they sell in their own kitchens, he needed to find a commercial kitchen with space to rent out. It took six tries.
Then there was the mode of transport to worry about — a technique that had to be mobile, but couldn’t allow the ice cream to melt. Over breakfasts of coffee and ice cream, restauranteur Jason Sobocinski urged Hadari to consider a cart instead of a truck, because of rising food truck fees and the cost of maintaining a large mobile operation, with parking tickets and endless regulations.
“You take a minute and you adjust what you have in your head,” he said. But he found a cart on eBay that was mint condition, with an insulator box already built in. All he had to do was drive to New York and get it.
“I had to learn a lot of things” once it came home with him, he said. What color scheme did he want for the cart and an accompanying umbrella?
He rides it if he has a journey of flat surfaces and shallow hills. But at 150 pounds with gel packs, ice, and several gallons of frozen ice cream, he often transports it by car.
“New Haven does have hills,” he joked.
Now he’s working on branding and pitching strategies and beta-testing new flavors. After perfecting a “Killa Vanilla,” he tinkered with a ground-speckled, fragrant coffee. He roasted strawberries on balsamic vinegar and sugar until they were just right. He caved on a salty vanilla attempt that became his dulce de leche, and started experimenting with roasted butter pecans.
In June, The Ordinary welcomed him for a first night on the town, and he began building a customer base. Now, people are starting to recognize him around town — and Hadari will call out to them about his fresh ingredients.
“There’s a lot of learning, and I think … it’s a thousand little details you would have never thought of if you’d never done it before,” he said. “I’m just building a reputation.”
“I also think there’s a certain culture there that I need to start building,” he added. “Of: Hey, it’s that guy whose making hand-made ice cream from scratch in New Haven. Let’s find that guy.”
To listen to WNHH’s “Kitchen Sync” or “The Table Underground” interview, click on or download the audio above.