Familiar pleasures like ice cream can mean so much right now when the world is upside down. Ice cream also provides social contact and reminds people that “there is still good out there,” according to Rica Sunga-Kwan, the founder of Churn Urban Creamery + Bakery.
“When people pick up their orders, just having that social contact brought joy to their day,” said Sunga-Kwan, “It’s so small, but it’s so important.”
Sunga-Kwan and her husband, Chris Kwan, have been bringing joy to customers since 2016, when they launched their farm-to-scoop ice cream concept. Churn’s New York-inspired, eggless ice cream quickly became recognized as some of the best ice cream in the city.
“With an eggless ice cream base, the flavor comes through more,” said Sunga-Kwan. “It’s a cleaner finish, and the ice cream tastes like it’s supposed to. For example, our Roasted Banana Puddin’ really tastes like banana, because it doesn’t have the egg fighting for flavor.”
In the early days, Churn operated a mobile business, with ice cream carts at festivals, farmers markets, weddings, birthdays, and corporate events. They soon expanded into pop-up locations in partnership with local businesses, like Andytown Coffee Roasters, and in July 2019, they opened a storefront and creamery at 2646 San Bruno Avenue in the Portola district’s historic Avenue Theater. That’s when Sunga-Kwan first started thinking of Churn as a manufacturer. That’s also when she discovered SFMade.
“SFMade was introduced to me by Lauren from Andytown,” said Sunga-Kwan. “Lauren said, ‘You’re a manufacturing facility now because you make everything in house, you should contact Pierre from SFMade. They have a lot of services they can offer you.’”
Since then, Churn has used SFMade for help with marketing, public relations, and human resources. Churn also participated in SFMade’s 38makers Holiday Fair at Pinterest, and Sunga-Kwan is currently getting support from SFMade to find a new facility to expand her business.
“San Francisco is a very difficult city to do business in,” she said. “Finding a resource like SFMade has been really essential to our growth and our success.”
Churning out a new baking business during the pandemic
When shelter-in-place was first announced, Rica took a cautious approach. She closed the business for two weeks, which gave her time to think about what she wanted to do going forward. She anticipated that “it was going to be a long-term challenge—longer than anyone expected.”
The company reopened by converting its storefront location to a marketplace to provide the community with hard-to-find pantry items like flour, yeast, meats, produce, and fruit in addition to ice cream. The marketplace attracted customers from all over the Bay Area.
At the same time, people in the neighborhood who had lost their jobs expressed interest in joining the Churn team. Two of those individuals—top notch employees who were baking and cooking at fine dining establishments—were key to helping Churn launch a new baking department.
“It all happened quite naturally,” said Sunga-Kwan. “Aimee, the first baker, really believed in what we did. She saw that we were focused on building community and she wanted to be part of that. Then we put out a ‘now hiring’ sign to hire a team for the baking department, and that’s how we found Anna. Anna had worked at State Bird Provisions. We’re building a great team.”
In just a few short months, Churn has grown from one full-time employee and four part-time employees to two full-time and nine part-time employees, and when things get back to normal, they plan to expand their business to a new location. They also plan to add at least three additional farmers’ markets to their mobile business.