Oh Soy Tasty
A self-styled ice cream guru prepares to bring his vegan scoops to the masses.
To the uninitiated, vegan ice cream might sound like a sorry substitute à la spelt bread or Tofurkey—a consolation prize for restricted eaters. But a bite of Wheeler’s Black Label vegan ice cream in flavors like rich chocolate and boozy piña colada may call your pro-dairy leanings into question. This is dessert, not health food; yet as owner Wheeler del Torro is proud to point out, his vanilla has a third of the calories of the Ben & Jerry’s version, and zero cholesterol.
For five years, Cambridge-based Wheeler (a self-described "ice cream designer" who, in true artiste fashion, rarely uses his last name) and partner Damion Lord (a former Carvel employee, he developed lactose intolerance after eating too much soft-serve) have been selling their soy-based treats by special order. This month, with their planned South End shop Wheeler’s Frozen Desserts, they’re bringing their product to the open market, offering as many as 20 to 30 rotating varieties. Most spring from Wheeler’s imagination, but he’s more than happy to create custom flavors like chocolate pretzel crunch and sweet potato on request. "If you told me, ‘When I was in sixth grade, my favorite flavor was marshmallow bubblegum,’ I’ll do that," he says.
It all sounds appealing—but is Boston ready to give up full-fat, full-cow ice cream? The timing certainly looks good: The pro-vegan Skinny Bitch book series is a New York Times bestseller. Celebrities like Natalie Portman and Alicia Silverstone have made it glamorous to eschew animal products, and Wheeler is fond of dropping hints about his own celebrity clients (though demurs when pressed for details). In any case, the shop’s location, where the South End meets the Fenway, is convenient for both health-conscious foodies and activist students. "I’m on a mission," he says, "to change everyone over from regular ice cream to vegan ice cream."