Last November, when chefs Hannah Pollack and Xavier Meers left the helms of their respective restaurant kitchens to run their side business Nightingale Ice Cram full time, they were making about 100 from-scratch ice cream sandwiches per week. By March, that number reached 1,200, and by September, they were making up to 7,000 sandwiches. Every week. Did we mention they don’t advertise?
That kind of growth isn’t the result of having restaurant industry chops (they’ve got them), not even blind luck. No, it’s because of Fat Elvis-banana ice cream made with fresh bananas piled between thick peanut butter cookies and dipped in chocolate- and Cookie Monster-vanilla ice cream loaded with crushed Oreos surrounded by chocolate chip cookies. Then there is Caramel Chai-thick brown sugar cookies and chai ice cream swirled with dulce de leche-and Chocolate Espresso-chewy chocolate brownie cookies and chocolate ice cream finished with espresso beans. There are more flavors, a lot more, all made with fresh natural ingredients. And they keep coming, changing with the season and Pollack’s frequent flashes of confectionery genius.
“It’s been such a whirlwind,” says Pollack, 31, who started making ice cream sandwiches when she was executive chef at Greenleaf’s Pool Room. Married since 2015, the couple says they’ve tried to take their growth one step at a time. “We don’t want to burn our wings,” laughs Meers. It was the industry connections that 40-year-old Meers, who was born in Brussels and first came to the U.S. in 2009, had from running kitchens first at Belle Vie European Bistro and then Brux’l that helped them strike a deal with Performance Food Group. PFG currently distributes the brand in Virginia and the Carolinas, and will begin distributing throughout the MId-Atlantic this spring.
But you won’t find every flavor in every retail location selling Nightingale. That’s because Pollack and Meers create exclusive flavors for some businesses-in Richmond, you’ll only find s’mores ice cream sandwiches at the Graduate Hotel, and in Virginia Beach, Waterman’s Surfside Grill alone carries Pollack and Meer’s riff on the restaurant’s Orange Crush drink, which pairs cream cheese ice cream mixed with orange marmalade and brown sugar cookies. “That’s what we do, lots of collaborations,” explains Pollack. They also have a mobile cart and create custom flavors for events, including weddings.
Customers are loving it. except one. The only negative feedback Pollack and Meers received came from an indignant Elvis fan-“Why,” she wrote via social media, “would you call Elvis fat?” For two chefs used to the often rough and tumble criticism of the food world, they don’t think that’s so bad.