For the love of Scoops

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Customers can taste unique ice cream flavors at Scoops’ Highland Park location in Los Angeles. Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. River Lisius/The Occidental

Since it opened in 2012, Scoops in Highland Park has served customers cones stacked with vanilla cardamom ginger snap, miso maple butterfinger, cilantro mint brownie and raspberry red wine ice cream. More adventurous ice cream lovers have walked out of the shop with scoops of Cheetos or foie gras flavored ice cream, or even ice cream infused with coffee and cigar smoke. The shop’s owner, Tai Kim, crafts these small, unique batches of ice cream daily. While there are new flavors every day, the shop’s signature brown bread flavor is always available, as are kid-friendly and non-dairy options. According to Kim, he uses both unusual ingredients and customer suggestions as his creative inspiration.

Kim moved to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea when he was 17. He studied at the California Institute of the Arts, where he transitioned from working with paint to working with food as a medium. After graduating, he enrolled in culinary school. According to Kim, his work-study job included monitoring the school’s storeroom, which housed unusual herbs and ingredients for students to experiment with. There also happened to be an ice cream maker there, and he started making batches of ice cream every day and experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients.

Scoops’ storefront in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. River Lisius/The Occidental

In culinary school, Kim also had the opportunity to travel to Turkey, which has its own unique style of ice cream. According to Kim, Turkish ice cream is made with vegetable starch, which thickens the cream and gives the dessert a stretchy, taffy-like texture.

In the corner of the shop, there is a whiteboard where customers can write their flavor suggestions and requests. Kim said he frequently uses flavor ideas from the board. He also takes personal suggestions from customers. Recently, a customer mentioned to Kim that she remembered how her grandmother used to make ice cream with cola and pineapple, so Kim made pineapple cola ice cream specifically for her.

When Scoops first opened, Kim kept notebooks filled with all the flavors his shop had made, but after filling dozens of notebooks, he eventually stopped keeping track.

Longtime Scoops customer Kimberly Tran lives in Mid-City. She first stepped into Scoops in 2011 at its original East Hollywood location, which has since closed, when she was a student at California State University, Fullerton. Tran said she was surprised and delighted by the shop’s unique flavors, like honey lavender or strawberries and balsamic vinegar. According to Tran, these unique flavors have become more popular in the past decade, but they were exciting and unconventional back then. After her first visit with a friend, the two of them would take trips from Fullerton to LA specifically to stop at Scoops.

“If I got an outstanding grade on an assignment — Scoops. If I had a tough week — Scoops. Scoops was my answer to all,” Tran said. “That’s how dedicated we were and how unique Scoops truly is.”

Owner Tai Kim at Scoops’ Highland Park location in Los Angeles. Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. River Lisius/The Occidental

Tran said the constantly rotating flavors at Scoops kept her coming back. She said she especially loves flavors with floral ingredients like jasmine, lavender and rose, and the brown bread flavor as well. She recommends the ice cream shop to everyone.

“I will continue spreading the joy I always receive from Scoops,” Tran said.

Katie Hunt (first year) went to Scoops for the first time last August with her family, after they dropped her off at Occidental but before they were ready to part ways. Hunt said her sister calls Scoops “their tradition” and that they will go to Scoops together every time Hunt gets dropped off at school.

“It was just such a cool space, and everyone was so welcoming. They asked if I was a student, and it was a really cool introduction to the area,” Hunt said.

Hunt has returned several times since August with school friends. Her favorite Scoops flavor is chocolate.

Kim said he has been approached about franchising his business, but he is not interested. He likes his job and his life now.

“People tell me, ‘You can make more money,’ but this is what I’m good at. This is what I’m enjoying,” Kim said.

According to Kim, the thing that is most important to him is finding joy in his job and positively impacting his community. He enjoys interacting with customers and being creative.

“I tell people, ‘Find something that you really want to do and that you can be really, really good at rather than listening to what other people say,'” Kim said. “It took me a while to find out what I really wanted to do. I came to this country when I was 17. I went to college, then I went to university and then ended up in art school. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do until I was in culinary school. So, I tell people, ‘No rush.'”

Scoops is located at 5105 York Blvd. and is open Monday–Thursday 2–9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 1–10 p.m. and Sunday 1–8 p.m.