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Exploring Life & Business with Michael & Victoria Philippou of Frozen Fruit Co

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael & Victoria Philippou.

Hi Michael & Victoria, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
The start of Frozen Fruit Co happened back in London, England. We were both lawyers at the time working at the same law firm. We lived together, we worked together, we ate together, and we both wanted to start a business together. We were inseparable. We had no food experience at the time, we were lawyers, and one of the things we loved doing was grabbing a pint of frozen dessert and eating the whole tub (probably too many times a week). One of the things that constantly annoyed us was the long list of ingredients on every frozen dessert pint we bought, together with that inevitable awful feeling you would get after eating it. We were constantly asking ourselves: “why can’t ice cream be made with a simple plant-based ingredient list, taste amazing and let you eat a whole bucket load and still feel amazing”. How hard could it be?

We decided to take on the challenge ourselves and one faithful raining evening, we decided to make the first test batch of ice cream we ever made. It was an Alphonso Mango and Strawberry combination sweetened with fruit sugars and it was sensational. We literally fought overeating it. This ice cream had three ingredients, was smooth, soft, creamy, delicious and you felt great eating it. Now, why wasn’t everyone making it like this?

From that point on, we spent time just learning as much as we could about ice cream. Going on courses, speaking to people in the industry and making more and more recipes. We started selling in small batches in the UK and as we grew and become more experienced and confident.

In the beginning, it was tough. We knew we were onto something with our recipes, but we knew nothing about making “ice cream”. We were lawyers! To feed our constant craving for the stuff, we spent every waking moment we could when we weren’t working coming up with new flavors and learning the “craft”.

People thought we were crazy. In fact, a lot of industry insiders said it just couldn’t be done. Not easily deterred, we continued testing in London selling to grocery stores and chains in our spare time. It wasn’t long before we knew it that we won an Award (BBC Good Food Award) and started to be featured in the press like Vogue, Tatler, the Daily Mail and Jamie Olivier Magazine.

The big move to LA

Ever since we came up with our first recipe, we always thought California and more specifically Los Angeles would be the perfect market to launch and firmly establish ourselves. Year-round sunshine, health-conscious and birthing ground of so many great food trends. It didn’t take much convincing (despite the fact Michael had never even been to the States before, let alone Los Angeles). I mean how hard could it be to move to a completely different Continent and start a business.

Let us tell you – it was HARD. We were allowed only three months in the country to make the dream happen, get everything set up, find a lease and gather enough momentum to get our visa approved for the business. It was a tough three months – we thought we would never find anything. We had no samples to show anyone and only some dummy packaging. It was all down to our pitch.

At breaking point, it wasn’t right until the end that we stumbled upon Montana Ave and found our first store. It was meant to be.

Soft Serve to Scoops

We launched on 02 July 2016 and decided to make a drastic change to what we originally did. Instead of serving scoops, we decided we wanted to turn our ice cream recipes into soft serve. Inspired by the likes of Pinkberry, we wanted to create a vegan, plant-based soft-serve version. It was probably a rushed decision. We had never done soft serve before or even knew if our recipes would go through a soft-serve machine.

We should have known there were going to be issues when the first time we ever used the machines, it turned out they had been wired the wrong way. Making them go backward instead of forwards. We solved a lot of the problems, but the reality was our recipes were made for scooping.

We stuck with soft serve at the store for two years before finally making the switch to our grassroots and becoming a plant-based vegan ice cream store. YAY!

Since then…

We have expanded into pints, offering wholesale pints in a few select LA Stores (like Erewhon, Besties Vegan Paradise) as well as take-home pints in the store. COVID-19 was also a particular, like for all businesses, difficult time. Our goal during COVID was to offer as safe an environment as possible, to remain open, and to offer a quick, easy, and seamless service. We wanted to offer a dependable treat for people during COVID. To make it as safe as possible, we only had one Team Member in the store at the time and tried to get our serving times down to as quickly as possible and be as understanding of customer’s needs as possible. This means bringing orders out, taking phone orders, and just making it as easy for people to order while sticking to all the rules and protocol requirements. It was a strategy that worked and let us remain open during all the pandemic without any issues.

Making Someone’s Day Better…

Our mission has always been to “make someone’s day better” – whether that is via the taste of its ice cream, the customer experience, the minimal ingredients used, the bright and fun colors of the store, or how customers feel hours after eating the ice cream. We want to give our customers more than just a great-tasting ice cream. We want to give them an experience and a feeling. If we can help our customers day just a little bit better then that is how we want to be remembered.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Our journey was anything but smooth. Not only had we decided to start a business in an area which we knew really nothing about (we were corporate lawyers who ate ice cream – that was literally the extent of our experience), we also decided to start it in a foreign country which one of us had never even been to before. Let us tell you – it was HARD. We were allowed only three months in the country to make the dream happen, get everything set up, find a lease and gather enough momentum to get our visa approved for the business. It was a tough three months – we thought we would never find anything. We had no samples to show anyone and only some dummy packaging. It was all down to our pitch.

At breaking point, it wasn’t right until the end that we stumbled upon Montana Ave and found our first store. It was meant to be.

Then came the serving format. For some reason, we decided we wanted to start as a soft-serve concept. This was despite: (1) never having used a soft serve machine before; and (2) having been a scoop concept in our UK test phase. We literally bought two soft serve machines and hoped it would work. The good news is that it did work, but not very efficiently. The way we make our ice creams was “just not right” for soft serve machines. The machines would break constantly, the flavors wouldn’t come out correctly, and regularly we would go from having four flavors down to one when we inevitably froze up the soft serve slots. In the winter of 2018, we made the tough decision to move back to scoops. One of the best decisions we ever made. It meant taking a big financial loss on the soft serve machines (which we had bought outright), but in the long run it was one of the best decisions we could have made. Our recipes are designed to be scooped. It meant we could offer more flavors and more variety, including our now weekly special flavors (Chocolate Peanut Butter on Tuesdays, Strawberry Cheesecake on Wednesdays, Cookies & Cream on Thursday, and the rotating super special flavor on weekends).

COVID-19 was also a particularly, like for all businesses, difficult time. We just did not know what to expect – no one did. At the beginning, a lot of our team members didn’t want to work because of the virus. We were down to one person who was only comfortable doing three part-time days and that was it. Our team’s safety was paramount, and we only want people to work where they were comfortable to do so. At the same time, we had just had our second baby which left all the remaining days to be covered by effectively one of us while the other looked after our children. The store stayed open daily 1pm to 10pm daily!

Our goal during COVID was to offer as safe an environment as possible, to remain open, and to offer a quick, easy, and seamless service. We wanted to offer a dependable treat for people during COVID. To make it as safe as possible, we only had one Team Member in the store at a time and tried to get our serving times down to as quickly as possible and be as understanding of customers’ needs as possible. This means bringing orders out, taking phone orders, and just making it as easy for people to order while sticking to all the rules and protocol requirements. It was a strategy that worked and let us remain open during all the pandemic without any issues. And, eventually, more of our Team were comfortable to come back as we implemented as much COVID safety protocol as possible.

We’ve been impressed with Frozen Fruit Co, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
At Frozen Fruit Co, our goal when it comes to making ice cream is simple: (1) short and simple ingredient lists you can understand; (2) sweetened with natural fruit sugars; (3) must taste amazing; (4) no bulkers (like water); and (5) no preservatives, additives or artificial flavors. If it doesn’t fit all five of these criteria, then it doesn’t make it on the menu. It took us years to craft our recipes and we are proud that we are one of the only ice cream concepts that list all of our ingredients on our menu board underneath each flavor for everyone to see. The same with our wholesale grocery pints – we list all of the ingredients on the front of the packaging someone no one else in the ice cream industry does.

We take a completely different approach on how you make ice cream. We don’t use a common base which is then flavored to create different flavors. Instead, we create each flavor individually. Taking this approach means we can really focus on creating unique and delicious flavors that fit all of our criteria. It has to taste amazing. It is a sweet treat you can feel great about eating.

One of the things we are particularly proud about is our “Special Flavor Days”. We don’t focus on introducing a whole bunch of new flavors each month. Instead, we focus on introducing one new flavor every two weeks and then having “Special Flavor Days” – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and the Weekend. We were always so sad to see a favorite flavor disappear from an ice cream store each month – how could we make these flavors more special? How could we fit it into our philosophy of “making someone’s day better”? We decided on Special Flavor Days – certain days of the week where a flavor will only appear – making every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and the Weekend especially special for our customers. What are the Special Flavor Days?: Tuesday is Chocolate Peanut Butter, Wednesday is Strawberry Cheesecake, Thursday is Cookies and Cream, and on Weekends we do a SUPER SPECIAL rotating special such as Chocolate Fudge, Cookie Dough, Snickers, Almond Butter Caramel, Coffee Caramel Fudge, PB&J, etc. Again, all of these flavors and their mix ins have to stick to our recipe criteria which can make them a lot harder to make.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
Six things:

(1) Try and think of every possible excuse on why you shouldn’t do this business. If after reading all of the reasons in the world you can think of why you shouldn’t do it, you still can’t stop thinking about doing it – then do it. Business is hard, it is a 100% sacrifice. It is something you think about all day, every day. It is not something you can compartmentalize; it is not a job. Build that mindset.

(2) KISS – KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID. This is one of our favorite acronyms. So many times, we have made things more complicated than they should be. Spending money on soft serve machines when we could have just scooped from the beginning, etc. In business, go with always the simplest option. Start small, test, scale and then repeat. The same applies even for complicated things like signing into a lease for a retail unit. Keep it simple and if you don’t understand it, don’t do it.

(3) If it sounds too good to be true then it usually is – learn to listen to your gut. If it sounds too good to be true than it usually is.

(4) JUST START – overplanning is the “death by a thousand cuts” approach for an entrepreneur. Before we started, we planned, forecasted, wrote detailed business plans – the reality was we learnt more about business and how our business operated by running the business than planning it. Yes, take time to plan, but don’t let it hold you back. You only can work out what is working and what is not working by running your business.

(5) FINANCIALS – get your financials right. You need to be hitting your margins. One of the things we struggled with in the beginning was just getting the pricing right for our product. Make sure you set pricing which means you hit your required Gross Profit and Net Profit Margins. Gross Profit, in our opinion, is probably the most important thing you need to understand. Take the time to understand it and get it right.

(6) DON’T BE AFRAID TO CHANGE – If it isn’t working then change it and change it fast. Don’t hold on to ideas that are not working. Be flexible and change quickly. We started our business in the UK and moved to the US where we knew it was a better market for what we did, we changed from soft serve to scoops, we started offering more experimental flavors rather than holding on to what we thought people wanted.

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Frozen Fruit Co

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