An architect with good taste, Natasha Case designs cool edible “houses.” She’s the CEO and co-founder of Coolhaus, the ice cream brand she operates with her wife and business partner, Freya Estreller, a realtor and entrepreneur. Combining their design and real estate skills, they started baking cookies and making creative ice cream sandwiches in 2008. They dubbed their budding venture, “farchitecture,” a concept that combines food and architecture.
Inspired by architects and architectural movements, a few of the sandwiches (sammies) have names such as “Frank Berry” (a snickerdoodle cookie stuffed with strawberry ice cream) and “Cara Mia Lehrer” (a snickerdoodle cookie with salted caramel ice cream). The towering round and square ice cream sandwiches are made with hormone-free California milk, cage-free eggs, fair-trade chocolate and other fresh ingredients, many of them seasonal. Other cookie flavors include chocolate chip and double chocolate chip. Dairy-free options include horchata rice milk and cinnamon.
Coolhaus made its debut in a beat-up postal van at the Coachella Valley Music Festival in April 2009. Five years later, Case was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list. Today, Coolhaus’ handcrafted sammies, artisan pints and chocolate-dipped bars are distributed in more than 7,500 grocery stores and markets across the U.S., including Whole Foods, Vons and Ralphs. There are also 10 Coolhaus ice cream trucks and a Culver City storefront.
In addition to running the $16 million business, Case is mom to 2½-year-old son, Remy, and Estrella is pregnant with the couple’s second child. Hoping to inspire the next generation, Case spoke with us about alternative career paths at architecture colleges. And in case you’re wondering, her favorite Coolhaus flavor is chocolate chip.
As an architect, how did you get into the ice cream business?
I found food and design to be special to me, as they are arguably an unusual combination to bring into a career, but that’s what makes it work. The more you dig into your passion, the more you can unlock a once-in-a-generation vision for a company. It opens up what architecture can really mean. Design is part of my every day and brought me to entrepreneurship in a special way. Farchitecture is our umbrella concept, merging food and design and bringing awareness to architecture through punny names.
What’s the story behind the Coolhaus name?
The Bauhaus movement combines art and lifestyle, so we thought of it as broader than just a design or art movement. It feels modern in that today we think of business and brand as “lifestyle.” Second, it’s homage to Rem Koolhaas, one of my favorite architects, as he thinks totally outside the box. Thirdly, the sandwiches look like little structures (the cookies are the walls).
How did you grow it into a multi-million dollar business?
It’s a combination of creative thinking and willingness to execute. Going forward with a vision despite the odds. Around three or four years in, we found a multichannel strategy: food trucks as marketing/boutique brand recognition (and cash), shops for innovation and community-building and grocery for scale to become the household brand of our generation.
What do you enjoy most about Coolhaus?
The many parts are what make it thrive. I enjoy a day that has
so many different aspects of the business, like talking to you about the story and PR side, coming back from a sales meeting in Minneapolis, reviewing new packaging and heading up innovation. I thrive on that variation, and you have to love that if you want to be an entrepreneur.
That’s a busy schedule. What’s the biggest challenge?
Being in the grocery business is a very expensive business. There’s a big demand on brands to invest in marketing. It can be an expensive space, especially when you have competitors who have been there for decades and own the shelves. To break through, you have to be super thoughtful and creative.
How do you balance work and family life?
The ice cream business is pretty family friendly. Sometimes, there are opportunities where we can all do something together. Remy was at the launch party for the K-Swiss shoe I designed in honor of Coolhaus’ 10-year anniversary. We can travel together if one of us has an important work event. You try to bring family when you can into your work life. And when you can’t, you set a boundary with time. When you have boundaries, you actually work faster and smarter because you’re trying to get things done by a certain time.
What’s your hope for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
We have a culture of strong women leadership and we value diversity on all fronts. Ultimately, it’s better for business. For the next generation, now that they have many examples they can see, they have the ability to become whatever they want and have the equal opportunity to get there.
For more information, visit www.cool.haus.