Chicago’s first all-vegan ice cream shop — a parlor serving treats without dairy milk or cream — should arrive soon in Pulaski Park. Vaca’s Creamery will offer dairy-free soft-serve ice cream, shakes, and sundaes from a walk-up window at 1436 W. Blackhawk Street, a residential street and just east of popular Asian restaurant Mott St. The waffle cones will be free of egg and also vegan.
Mariana Marinho and Dylan Sutcliff meet while working together at Sweet Ritual, a fabled vegan ice cream shop in Austin, Texas. The couple quickly hashed out plans to open their own shop when the timing was right. Now in Chicago, closer to Sutcliff’s family, they hope to open their 400-square-foot shop in May with a limited menu.
They’ll open exclusively with window service but plan to have an indoor area for wintertime customers after the pandemic subsides. They also plan to launch a fundraising effort on Kickstarter in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the couple dream of warm summer days with neighbors strolling the sidewalks, cones in hand.
The shop will feature classic chocolate and vanilla soft serve made with oat milk bases and fair-trade ingredients. Owners say that using oat milk creates a satisfying and creamy texture that soft serve fans crave. It’s also considered more environmentally friendly than many alternatives. Plus, oat allergies are relatively uncommon making oat milk the non-dairy option that’s most “inclusive” as Sutcliff describes.
“Oat milk really seems like the plant-based milk of the future,” he says. “We’re focused on putting forward a product we can stand behind and have options for everybody.”
Almost all items will also be gluten-free with very few allergens, Sutcliff adds. He and Marinho also ran a virtual vegan bakery in Texas called All Tomorrows Pastries where they made zodiac-inspired cakes and allergen-free waffle cones. But the pandemic ended the waffle cone business nearly overnight. The couple then moved to Chicago and took the bakery with them. At Vaca’s, they promise an ice cream version of a bakery best seller: a tiramisu cake with coffee and vegan vanilla mascarpone cream.
They credit Sweet Ritual co-owners Amelia Raley and Valeri Ward with giving them the opportunity to learn on the job. There will be a few key differences, namely the focus on soft serve (Sweet Ritual mostly serves hard-packed scoops) and proprietary recipes the couple developed on their own. Coming from Austin’s vibrant vegan ice cream scene, Vaca’s owners were surprised to find themselves breaking new ground in the much larger city of Chicago. Though there aren’t any 100-percent vegan shops in the city, locals do have some options such as Pretty Cool Ice Cream, Ohio-based Jeni’s Ice Cream, and other local favorites like George’s in Andersonville and Cone Gourmet Ice Cream in West Loop.
The couple left Texas to move closer to Sutcliff’s family in Yorkville, about 45 miles southwest of Chicago, where his mother owns her own shop, Foxy’s Ice Cream. Most of her flavors are dairy based, but Sutcliff says his veganism has swayed her into adding a few soy-based options and a vegan hot dog.
“[Vaca’s] has been our plans for years, and all the businesses we’ve had have kind of been in service of getting to the point where we are right now,” Sutcliff says. “Everything on the way here was important but this is really what we want.”
Stay tuned for updates on Chicago’s first all-vegan ice cream parlor.
Vaca’s Creamery, 1436 W. Blackhawk Street, Scheduled to open in May.