Ashlee Olds was the kid at birthday parties who passed on cake and asked for twice the ice cream. In college, she geeked out on food chemistry, taking food science courses just for the fun of it. So it’s only natural that today she’s the founder of Sweet Science Ice Cream, a small-batch ice cream shop with one-of-a-kind flavors made of locally sourced, organic ingredients.
But that’s not where she started. In 2006, when Olds was in her mid-20s, she owned a coffee shop in South St. Paul for two years and then worked for Rogue Chocolatier in Minneapolis. In 2011, her food business idea came to her while dining in St. Paul. “It just popped into my head—of course it’s ice cream. I’ve loved ice cream my whole life,” she says. “I felt like nobody was really doing all-natural, super flavor-forward ice cream.”
She bought the smallest commercial ice cream machine available and, making five pints at a time, taught herself to make ice cream in a natural way, using local dairy and high-quality, wholesome ingredients you can pronounce, with no economical shortcuts, additives or artificial ingredients like gums and corn syrup.
Beginning with a Sweet Science Ice Cream launch party in her friend’s backyard in August 2011, Olds held monthly tastings at her production kitchen in St. Paul and local breweries, rotating a few flavors and adding new ones to keep people coming back. “It was just such a joyous atmosphere that I knew I would eventually open a scoop shop somewhere,” Olds says.
However, her first focus was on wholesale. It took Olds three years of working with the Department of Agriculture to get licensed for wholesale because, at the time, there weren’t regulations for a small, made-from-scratch ice cream company to make its own dairy base and sell to retail stores and restaurants.
Once approved, she moved on to developing more flavors and serving scoops to her rapidly growing fan base, first at Como Pavilion in the summer of 2018 and then Keg & Case Market from September 2018 through April 2021.
Sweet Science Ice Cream by the Scoop
“I started an ice cream company because I love ice cream, but my favorite thing quickly became creating this product that brings people together to experience joy and deliciousness,” Olds says. “It’s so true that when you taste something delicious, you just want to share it with people close to you.”
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the market and created an impetus for Olds to close at Keg & Case and open a storefront in the Nolan Mains complex in June 2021. She’d had previous exposure to the Edina community when Neighborhood Ice Cream Shoppe hosted Twin Cities ice cream makers to showcase their own products. “Immediately we were embraced, and the community has been so great,” she says.
Using local ingredients like strawberries, milk and eggs, she partners with other local businesses to source ingredients for specialty flavors. She turns to Hoch Orchard and Gardens for her caramel apple cider crisp ice cream; North Mallow marshmallows for rocky road; Five Watt Coffee for three different coffee-infused flavors (coffee toffee, coffee caramel cookie and Five Watt Coffee); Jordan Ranch sweet corn for her most unexpected flavor combination, sweet corn blueberry; along with many other local farmers and food businesses.
And which flavors are her favorites? “Out of our signature flavors, berry crumble is hands down my favorite,” Olds says. “It’s vanilla ice cream with a blackberry raspberry swirl and gluten-free streusel for crunch. It’s tart, it’s creamy, it’s crunchy—it’s like pie á la mode.” Berry crumble is also one of her top sellers. “Another of my favorites is passionfruit. It’s so tart but still so creamy,” she says.
Not all flavors turn out as planned. What started as rhubarb hibiscus frozen yogurt evolved into rhubarb cinnamon almond ice cream. “Rhubarb doesn’t always get to be the star of the show, but it’s also so quintessential Minnesotan that pairing it with cinnamon just really warms it up,” Olds says. “It’s a cinnamon amaretto ice cream with rhubarb swirl and toasted almonds, almost like a crisp.”
A self-professed vanilla girl, the Sweet Science icon is a molecule of vanilla. Olds has grown her company to doing nearly 70 sophisticated ice cream flavors and wholesaling to more than 30 retail stores and restaurants across the Metro.
“My mission is to ruin you for all other ice cream because it’s just so decadent and rich and beautiful—but not too rich,” Olds says. “That’s my goal, so just be warned what you’re getting yourself into!”
Sweet Science Ice Cream Counter
By the Numbers: The Scoop on Sweet Science Ice Cream
The pounds of rhubarb that will earn you a free pint of ice cream with its Plants to Pints program. (When the program is running, once per summer, just trim off the leaves and bring in your rhubarb to their Edina shop.)
The number of flavors offered each month. Nine signature flavors are available all year, four seasonal flavors rotate through every month and several revolving flavors come and go every three to six months.
The approximate number of people Sweet Science employs in the summer months for a fully staffed Edina scoop shop and St. Paul production kitchen. (It goes down to about 10 employees total in the winter.)
The percent of the menu that’s gluten-free. (It’s making it all from-scratch and gluten-free—brownies, streusels, cakes, cookies, including dairy-free waffle cones.)