If you’re ShakeDown, you open in a quiet corner of a historically blighted neighborhood and serve scoops, shakes, and sundaes sourced from local, organic ingredients. You ambitiously make everything, from the ice cream (mint stracciatella, made from mint grown in your own herb garden) to the caramel (Irish Whiskey) to the cones (gluten-free buckwheat) and sprinkles (gold dust!) entirely from scratch. You offer unheard-of flavors like Pennsyl-tucky — bourbon ice cream studded with pieces of walnut chocolate chip pie — and Chocolate Parsnip made from sweet parsnips, milk chocolate, and toasted hazelnuts.
The store opened quietly in February of this year, and with no marketing campaign whatsoever, has largely flown under the radar. Yet despite the lack of publicity, thanks to word of mouth, it’s developed a cadre of fierce loyalists who leave five-star Yelp reviews and make daily treks to the scoop shop for Jacker Crack (popcorn-infused ice cream with dulce de leche and crushed peanut brittle) or the appropriately Sundays-only flavor Cinnamon Toast Brunch (cinnamon toast-infused ice cream flavored with housemade gluten-free cinnamon bread that’s baked downstairs). Our editors stopped in one day to get a dessert fix, only to be blown away by the store’s mix of simple, hyper-seasonal offerings and wacky, playful flavors.
ShakeDown almost wasn’t an ice cream shop. Owners Jeffrey Mann and Paul Moore fell in love with a cozy space in San Francisco’s up-and-coming Tenderloin neighborhood. It wasn’t equipped to have a restaurant kitchen, so they toyed with the idea of juice bar that served juices, smoothies, and shakes, playing to Mann’s strengths as a former tomato farmer and holistic nutritionist. But Moore was an ice cream lover known to eat his way through several pints a day, and, when developing shakes, he wasn’t impressed with much of the ice cream product out there. So Mann got in touch with an old friend, Amy Pearce, a veteran pastry chef working at Google. When the two discovered her frozen dessert abilities, they scrapped the juice bar plan in favor of ice cream, and tapped her to run ShakeDown’s kitchen.
“We started playing around in the kitchen, going to the farmer’s market, talking about stuff we like. It just evolved from there,” she says while prepping the whiskey caramel sauce. “A lot of times it was like, ‘We’re right next door to a whiskey bar. What if we made something with bourbon?’ That’s how Pennsyl-tucky came about.”
The tight-knit crew of four — which include Pearce, Mann, Moore, and Jodelle Lund, who also helps run the kitchen — love being a part of the neighborhood. The Tenderloin, a historically blighted part of San Francisco, is now seeing a resurgence of new shops and restaurants, and they’re proud to contribute their piece. “Geography plays a big role,” Pearce says. “There’s nobody in the Tenderloin doing what we do.” The urban feel is reflected in the shop’s space, which is decorated with spray-painted murals; they were created during construction, when the store was still boarded up, by a local street artist, Jordan Kyzer. When ShakeDown opened, Mann and Moore brought in the artwork (along with the artist: Kyzer is now one of ShakeDown’s managers).
They’re just as involved in the local food community, supporting nearby growers and purveyors. “There are a lot of people who make organic ice cream, but we want to have the farm connection,” Pearce says. “Industry people can tell we go the extra mile, that we’re going to the farmer’s markets and buying the highest-quality ingredients and sourcing our own ingredients to make gluten-free flour. That’s above and beyond what a lot of places would do.”