A couple of years ago, Izaiah Ellis was fascinated by a YouTube video he saw about rolled ice cream.

The dessert — also known as stir-fried ice cream in Thailand, where it originated — involves spreading a liquid mixture of cream, milk, and other ingredients on a cold pan, stirring and rolling the mix until frozen, then putting the rolls into a cup with additional toppings.

The video Ellis viewed that night was the catalyst to where he is now, as founder and majority owner of Cryo Rolls, Bellingham’s first rolled ice cream shop. Located in the bottom floor of the waterfront Granary Building next to Waypoint Park, the business continues to grow in popularity since it opened last September.

Seeing any of their 10 flavors rolled into deliciousness by employees is to witness what’s best described as ice cream hibachi. Once the liquid mixture is poured onto a metal plate, cooled to around -20 degrees Celsius, it only takes between two to three minutes for the mix to be manipulated into frozen, creamy goodness.

“It’s like reverse scrambling eggs,” Ellis says of watching the ice cream get made.

Bellingham’s Cryo Rolls specializes in rolled ice cream: a liquid mix of milk, cream and other ingredients poured onto a very cold metal plate and quickly frozen and rolled into deliciousness. Photo credit: Matt Benoit

A cup of Cryo Roll ice cream costs nine dollars, and while that might sound exorbitant to some, the weight and flavor each cup packs is more than enough for most.

“Our ice creams are over half a pound in a 12-ounce cup,” Ellis says. “It’s super velvety, very rich. A lot of people split them. You could be the biggest glutton in the world and you’re not going to make it through an ice cream and want another one. It’s gonna scratch that itch.”

Ice Cream Science

What makes the ice cream at Cryo Rolls so good is a recipe based on minimal air and lots of butterfat.

The Food and Drug Administration designates several categories of ice cream based mainly on air and fat concentrations, Ellis says. Lesser quality ice creams substitute more sugar for cream, owing to cost, and also incorporate more air. Super-premium ice cream, however, minimizes air and maximizes fat.

The frozen rolls are put into cups, and then finished with whipped cream and other tasty toppings. Photo credit: Matt Benoit

Gelato is about 25% air, Ellis says, where many regular grocery store ice creams come in at 50%. Cryo Rolls’ ice cream, however, contains less than 1% air while clocking in at 27% butterfat. It has no added sugars and its homemade base consists of only real vanilla, heavy cream, and condensed milk before specific flavor ingredients are added.

The 10-flavor menu consists of six shifting mainstays from fixed categories — chocolate, mint, peanut butter, fruit-based and miscellaneous — plus four weekly rotating flavors ranging from avocado to s’mores. The latter includes graham cracker and jet-puffed marshmallow burnt with a crème brulee torch, and then topped with chocolate shavings.

More exotic flavors have included cornbread and “The Elvis” — a combination of peanut butter, banana, and bacon. Ellis’s favorites include piña colada, key lime pie, and Biscoff cookie butter.

Betting on Himself

Although Ellis, 23, had childhood aspirations of being a chef, he says he did not foresee an adulthood centered on ice cream.

Growing up in Sedro-Woolley, Ellis initially was interested in archery, and worked and travelled professionally in that industry during high school. He eventually tired of the travel and quit, graduating with a high school GPA not good enough to get into any four-year college.  

The 10-flavor menu consists of six mainstay offerings and four rotating weekly flavors. Photo credit: Matt Benoit

Instead, Ellis attended community college and became manager at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. He felt, he says, like he wasn’t really living for himself.

After moving to Bellingham in 2020 and finding rolled ice cream videos online, Ellis realized no such businesses existed locally and was inspired.

“I drove down to a chef’s store with a pen and pad and ran some numbers,” he says.

Realizing the potential for profit — and feeling like having a failed business at a young age would still be better than plugging along with work and school in an uninspired manner — Ellis spent $7,000 on a rolled ice cream machine.

“I took everything I had…and put it all on black,” he says. “I was terrified.”

Some of the money came from buying quality stocks at cheap prices during the initial stock market downturn in early 2020, around the same time he was temporarily laid off from his day job.

Once Ellis had the machine, he began catering ice cream to birthday parties, baby showers, and other events. He named the company after an ice-based weapon in the Fallout 4 video game called the “Cryolator.” Cryo, by the way, derives from the Greek word for frost.

Cryo Rolls employees whip up orders on a recent evening at the ice cream shop, located inside Bellingham’s Granary Building near Waypoint Park. Photo credit: Matt Benoit

By May 2021, Ellis had left his job at Dick’s and dropped out of college two classes shy of a degree to focus solely on ice cream. He also began doing social media videos to double his business odds, thinking he might become an ice cream influencer if making the jump to brick and mortar didn’t work.

His sixth TikTok video went viral, quickly garnering several million views. In just a week, Cryo Rolls went from zero TikTok followers to 100,000. Although Ellis initially struggled to replicate the viral success of subsequent videos, Cryo Rolls has since found solid footing in social media: On TikTok, its videos have currently racked up nearly 400 million combined views, with 1.8 million followers.

Livestream videos of ice cream making average 1 to 2.5 million views a day, Ellis says. They also have 66,000 Instagram followers.

The internet traffic has provided both an additional revenue stream and terrific marketing power, helping Cryo Rolls strike a deal with the Granary Building’s landlord, who sees the ice cream shop as an ideal fit. Cryo Rolls is currently adding additional employees and ice cream-making stations, and an eventual expansion to multiple locations is also likely.

All in all, not too bad for a community college dropout.

Cryo Rolls is located at 1207 Granary Avenue Suite #150 in Bellingham. The ice cream shop is open from noon to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and noon to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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