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Thursday, Sep 29, 2022
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Ice Cream Man

When foodies think of Adam Fleischman, burgers come to mind, the Umami Burger to be specific. The 44-year-old L.A. restaurateur was one of the founders of the groundbreaking chain which set the standard for what constituted a better burger when it opened on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles in 2009. Since then, the restaurant has reached the East Coast and expanded to 16 outlets, fueled by outside investments, including capital from nightclub and hospitality mogul Sam Nazarian. Fleischman is also involved in another hot food trend: quick-serve pizza. His concept, 800 Degrees, started in Westwood, but is set to expand. Now, Fleischman is bringing his culinary touch to L.A. Creamery, an artisan ice cream manufacturer founded in Chatsworth in 2010 by Brad Saltzman and Stephen Bikoff. Fleischman acquired an ownership stake in the business last year. Since his arrival, he has added unusual flavors to the company lineup, such as Absinthe, Porc Phat and Mezcal. Success has quickly followed. Earlier this year, L.A. Creamery opened up wholesale distribution to more than 40 Southern California grocery stores. But getting involved with L.A. Creamery was just one step in a long culinary journey for Fleischman that started after college on a trip to Burgundy, where he fell in love with French food and wine. A married father of two, Fleischman spoke with the Business Journal from his Umami Restaurant Group office on Beverly Boulevard, where the discussion veered into holiday Jewish ice cream flavors such as Chocolate Matzoh but also script writing and why he soon may be a star of the small screen. Question: Why ice cream? Answer: We wanted to be involved in any food or beverage business that is differentiated, disruptive and sort of counter to what everyone else is doing. It was a good idea to make ice cream a little more contemporary and of-the-moment. Disruptive? We’re moving away from the whole world of vanilla and chocolate into more specialty flavors like Salted Caramel, hazelnut and alcoholic flavors. It’s really changing and we didn’t feel like the modern changes were reflected in the consumer brands or in ice cream parlors. We want to showcase that to people. How is L.A. Creamery different? L.A Creamery is back to a more natural dairy model, without all the additives. Our focus is on fresher tasting ice cream, less chemicals and shorter shelf life. We try to produce stuff that will get off the shelf in a week, rather than sit there for six months. We don’t put in a lot of additives or stabilizers, so there’s a lot less ingredients in our ice cream. We treat it like a fresh product. How did this relationship come about? I was already buying from them. Umami carries the ice cream sandwiches, pints and even gallons for a-la-modes. We were carrying it for awhile and got to talking. They were looking to take their business to the next level. That’s usually when people want to get involved with a larger group. What’s your share in the company? I bought an ownership stake and the amount isn’t public. But it’s pretty much a partnership. There are three principals. What is it like working with the founders? How does it feel to be the guy who came in late? We try to be respectful that these are the founders, of course. We want to help carry their vision on and find ways to accentuate it, not detract from it. It’s a symbiotic relationship, where we are trying to help them, while always respecting them as the founders. Are Brad and Stephen kindred spirits? Yes, we’re very similar. What are the differences between managing the two companies? Umami is obviously focused on retail, while L.A. Creamery is not. Well retail is a good margin, but it’s a lot harder to operate an ice cream store. It’s better to fold that into another business. So we have a better platform to sell through retail partnerships and distribution. But L.A. Creamery had brick-and-mortar outlets at one point. It didn’t seem to work out, but is that a possibility going forward? It was before I was involved. It could be a possibility going forward. If we want to do one in the future, we definitely could. I think there will be a retail outlet at some point, but it’s not on the books. Now, we’re just focused on wholesale. The company recently opened up some major distribution to Bristol Farms, Gelson’s and Albertson’s. Are deals like that a big focus for L.A. Creamery? Well Umami is a big part of it too. We carry a lot of the ice cream between our Umami and 800 degrees outlets. But we’re moving more and more toward the wholesale stuff. Eventually, the future is with national distribution. You keep saying we. Is that Umami Restaurant Group, or just you? Well, potentially down the line, we may get involved with them as Umami Restaurant Group and bring them into the fold. For now, it’s just me. But we’re starting Umami Ventures soon, which is our new venture arm for restaurants and brands. There’s a chance it could roll over to Umami Restaurant Group. Then of course Sam would be involved. What’s it like with Sam Nazarian as a partner? He’s great. Tell me about your trip to Burgundy and how it changed your life. It was after college. It showed me the joys of great food and wine. What was the first thing you did after you got back from that trip? Went to the wine store. You ran some wine bars at one point too, right? Yes, and that was a great experience, learning a lot about palate, food, wine, restaurants. I owned two wine bars (BottleRock and Vinoteque), and I sold those out to form Umami Restaurant Group. We’ll probably do another wine business under Ventures at some point. Is there a top bottle you’re saving? No, I have been lucky to try them all. Nothing stays closed with me. You said writing and wine collecting are major hobbies. What do you write? I do write a lot and it’s something I am very interested in. It’s mostly non-fictional stuff for leisure. Any aspirations with it? Not really. I created a TV show and I’m going to star in another. Some of the writing on the shows was done by me. TV shows? They’re not out yet, so I’m not allowed to talk about it. But it’s in the pipeline. Can’t you even talk genre? Are you talking reality TV? It’s a reality/competition format. Do you find any connection between your private interests and business concepts? Wine is all about tasting things and having a great palate; so is ice cream. You want to be able to taste things. I can taste 20 different vanilla ice creams and describe the differences between all of them. Can the consumer taste all those nuances though? It’s super important to have different chocolates and vanillas. And if you can’t do those really well and differentiate yourself on those, it’s going to be hard to do the more complicated flavors. The problem is that some brands lost that. They lost sight of the quality of the ice cream. You mean they were making exotic ice cream that at its base, wasn’t too good? Yeah, the base wasn’t any good. How does running the different businesses work in terms of your time commitments? Umami seems to be much farther down the line than L.A. Creamery. L.A. Creamery takes more time than it will down the road, but I keep everything balanced. I have a great team that helps a lot. I have a 60-hour work week, but again, it’s not really work. Between your restaurants and L.A. Creamery, how do you manage family life and work? It takes a lot of time. You have to have a family that’s into it and supports you. It’s not really like a job though. I enjoy it all. How often do you take your work or the food home? All the time. My kids are big L.A. Creamery fans. We get all their birthday cakes from there. They’re huge on ice cream cakes. So as a guy who is really into food and wine, how would you categorize your life? It’s the jackpot. I’m surrounded by high-end food, unbelievable chefs and I make a living doing it. A lot of restaurateurs are just business guys, but they lack the culinary expertise. I spent 20 years cooking and playing around in the kitchen to get to this point. How often do you eat this stuff, like a truffle burger from Umami for lunch, followed by L.A. Creamery ice cream? As often as I can. I always eat dessert with every meal. But at least once a week. By the way, some of the flavors you have added since joining the ice cream maker are rather … odd. Well, it comes from my experimental background. I do different flavors, things that are not traditionally thought of in ice cream, like the Porc Phat or Moonshine. It’s really just thinking outside the box. Porc Phat? Does that do well? Yeah, that one does really well. It kind of tastes like fat, but ice cream is made of fat anyway. What’s the next exotic flavor in the works? We do a lot of Jewish holiday flavors, like Chocolate Matzoh or macaroon. We’re working on French Toast or other breakfast-flavored ice cream sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly, too. We’re working on a Guinness Stout one, which would have chocolate-covered pretzels in it. What’s your favorite flavor? I like the Salted Caramel a lot. I also like the Honeycomb and Pistachio. Your diet must drive your doctor crazy. Definitely. But you know, we did a calorie analysis and we compare well to some of the other burgers and ice cream.

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