Something seems to be missing behind the counter at Arctic Freeze Creamery in Ocean City. There are no tubs of ice cream. Instead, there are four rectangular pans used to make the Creamery’s specialty, hand-rolled ice cream.
About the size and shape of a coin roll, rolled ice cream is made to order at a growing number of specialty shops around New Jersey. The treat is scraped into cylinders before your eyes on one of those ice pans—with your choice of toppings blended in. Five rolls are served upright in an 8-ounce cup and eaten with a spoon.
Hand-rolled ice cream emerged on the streets of Thailand around 2009 and quickly spread through Southeast Asia. The phenomenon reached the United States in 2015, thanks to a popular YouTube video of Thai street vendors. The first hand-rolled ice cream store in New York, 10Below, opened that summer. In New Jersey, shops like Absolute Zero in Montclair, Freezing Point in Lyndhurst and ZRolls in Summit led the way in 2016.
Arctic Freeze co-owner Chelsea Miller, 21, was a senior at Timber Creek Regional High School in Gloucester Township when the YouTube video went viral in 2015. She became obsessed with the video, sharing it with her younger brother, Chase, and their mother, Caroline. Determined to roll ice cream at home, they invested in an ice pan, a stainless-steel sheet that sits atop a cooling unit.
“We practiced in our kitchen for months under the watchful eyes of our two German shepherds, who were infatuated with the process,” says Chase. “If they loved it, we knew the public would.” Indeed, part of rolled ice cream’s appeal is the experience of watching it being made.
By 2016, the Millers joined the craze and opened their original Arctic Freeze Creamery in Collingswood (495 Haddon Avenue). The seasonal Ocean City store opened in May 2017, eight blocks from the boardwalk at 1119 Asbury Avenue. (The Collingswood location is open year-round.)
Another hand-rolled destination, Sweet Charlie’s, opened that same month on the Ocean City boardwalk at 9th Street. Owners Kyle Billig, 20, and his brother Jacob, 22, had seen the same viral video and began experimenting with their own creations at home. Instead of buying an ice pan, they used a slab of granite cooled on blocks of dry ice.
The Billigs opened their first Sweet Charlie’s in Philadelphia; they now have seven locations in four states, including a year-round shop in Haddonfield (128 Kings Highway). Nine more are due to open this spring. But it’s the Ocean City outpost that ignites the Billigs’ sense of nostalgia.
“We grew up coming here in the summer,” says Kyle. “We’d stroll along the boardwalk as kids, and now we have a business on the boardwalk.”
Sweet Charlie’s offers three flavors: vanilla, nonfat vanilla yogurt and non-dairy coconut. The menu also includes the Tall Charlie, a 6-inch-long, homemade glazed donut cut in half, with a single roll of ice cream in the middle.
Arctic Freeze’s rolls come in vanilla, chocolate and nondairy coconut. All milk and cream comes from a local dairy farm. Like Sweet Charlie’s, Arctic Freeze uses no chemical preservatives or artificial flavorings.
“We don’t want any fake stuff,” says Chelsea. “You can taste exactly what’s going in your ice cream.”
Rolled ice cream uses less sugar than traditional ice cream. That means fewer calories per serving. And no air is added to the mix, which makes it denser than typical ice cream.
Arctic Freeze and Sweet Charlie’s mix in unlimited toppings for no additional charge. To make rolled ice cream, the milk, cream and sugar mixture is poured onto the ice pan. Toppings are sprinkled on and the mix freezes almost immediately. (The ice pan can reach temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees). The material is chopped to a smooth consistency, flattened into a thin sheet, and scraped with a spatula into little rolls. The process can take up to five minutes. Each five-roll serving costs about $7.
In addition to offering a healthier dessert, Kyle takes pride in giving customers a made-to-order experience.
“That’s the way that ice cream should be made,” he says. “It doesn’t get fresher than that.”