When I walked into the ice cream parlor on the corner of Ives and Williams St one cool spring morning, it looked like what you’d expect from an ice cream shop: coolers, tables, napkins for spillage and amusing local kitsch on the walls. There’s a purple ice cream truck parked in the street outside. Looks are deceiving, however; this isn’t your typical ice cream parlor. Like No Udder is the only RI shop that offers dairy-free and vegan-friendly ice cream and dessert goods, and after a taste test, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between their ice cream and standard varieties.
I’m greeted by Karen, one of the owners, and she shakes my hand. Her hands are wet and she apologizes. She’s in the shop early to make the frosting for a cake, and she works as we talk. Like No Udder is the brainchild of her and her husband. It started in 2010 as an ice cream truck, Betsy Loo, and the store celebrated its one-year anniversary last month. She does the baking, he does the marketing and event collaboration.
Karen started making baked goods in the 2000s, before she grew tired of working third shift as a baker. She’s originally from New York, and the inspiration for the switch to vegan ice cream was fond memories of eating Carvel back home with her father. Back then, there were fewer vegan and vegetarian options in the state, let alone vegan soft serve. Their soft serve is made from a soy base, and the hard ice cream is made from a cashew, peanut butter or coconut base. Everything is made in-house and new recipes are made through basic trial and error.
These days, Betsy Loo the truck is retired from street service; she only comes out for special events. But the main store at 170 Ives Street is open most months of the year with only a few months for winter break. It has a full range of flavors — eight constants, four rotating — and plenty of toppings to go around.
“People don’t always realize they’re not giving anything up by choosing something dairy-free,” says Karen as she makes the frosting for the cake. “You’re not sacrificing the taste of ice cream. Most people can’t even tell the difference.” And it’s not just for people on vegan diets. Health experts estimate that 75% of the world population has a genetic inability to process lactose, the enzymes found in most dairy food. In the United States, that’s estimated to be about one in every four Americans. “So many kids and adults come in with a lactose intolerance and say ‘I’m gonna pay for this later, but I’m gonna have ice cream.’ And when they find out it’s completely dairy-free, their faces just light up.”
Karen’s goals for Like No Udder go beyond providing relief to lactose intolerant ice cream lovers. In Rhode Island, there’s no central place for vegans and vegetarians to meet up and share what restaurants serve vegan options. “I want us to be part of the social fabric for vegetarians and help build that community,” she says. Like No Udder also collaborates with other local businesses to raise money for charities like Handsome Dan Dog Rescue, Sweet Things Rabbit Rescue and Foster Parrots, a parrot and exotic pet sanctuary.
Karen shows me an app called HappyCow, which uses GPS to pinpoint local restaurants that vegans and vegetarians can check out. Providence is becoming part of a global food scene, and people traveling from other countries have tracked down Like No Udder. “One of my favorite things about this job is when someone comes up to me and says they moved here or visited here because of us. I visited Rhode Island and fell in love with it, and I love being part of the reason other people do that.”
Visit the shop at 170 Ives St six days a week. They’re open until 9pm most days, with plans for later hours in the summer. To see Betsy Loo, visit a food truck event around PVD this summer. Find her at the Hope St Block Party on May 20 and at PVD Fest on June 3.