The perfect ice cream to counter the heaviness of summer 2020 just might be a new vegan option flecked with 24 karat gold and luscious petals of real rose.
The idea for the “Rose Gold” flavor came to Vannah Banana founder Kianu Walker in a brainstorm. “It just popped in my head,” Walker said. “One day I was like, rose gold ice cream — ooh, that’s fancy.”
To make the luxe flavor, the North Philly native takes his standard coconut milk base and blends it with organic flower petals. Chopped up rose is then sprinkled on top, along with carefully-placed edible flakes of gold.
The result is a soft but pronounced floral flavor that almost mimics the floral taste of pink-colored rose ice cream native to the Eastern Mediterranean island country of Cyprus.
“I’ve never had rose ice cream,” said Walker. “I don’t even know what Cyprus is. I just wanted to make something that could reach the people and still be kind of upscale.”
A glinting 8-oz. cup of rose gold will run you $10, double Vannah Banana’s usual price, but still relatively accessible.
Launched this May, Vannah Banana is already making its rounds of the Philly restaurant circuit.
Walker has done pop-ups at Queen and Rook, Nourish, Tattooed Mom, Atiya Ola’s and Vegan Commissary, among others, and some locations have the brand on permanent offer. There are eight flavors, including best-selling cookies and cream, chocolate almond, cinnamon toast crunch and blueberry vanilla.
Walker, 25, basically runs the whole operation on his own.
He handles sales outreach to restaurants and businesses and makes all the ice cream himself, about one to two gallons a day with two small Cuisinart machines. For folks who can’t make it to the handful of brick-and-mortars that carry Vannah Banana, named after Walker’s sister Savannah, Walker offers pickup in Southwest Philly. He hopes to partner with Black and Mobile in the future for a delivery component.
Walker went vegan himself just four years ago, after noticing how health problems ailed his older family members.
“They could’ve potentially been preventable by leading a healthier lifestyle,” Walker said. “It really just hit home with me. It hit me right in the heart.”
Walker’s not alone in his recent transition to veganism, which is also good news for his new biz. Plant-based eating is on the rise. One study showed that in the 15-year period between 2004 and 2019, the number of Americans practicing veganism rose 300%, to about 9.7 million. Black people are the fastest-rising vegan demographic in the country.
Walkers ice cream is also lactose free, using coconut milk as a base. That’s good news for more than half the nation’s population. About 65% of people worldwide are plagued by some level of lactose intolerance, according to data from the National Institute of Health. The condition is most common among people of East Asian, West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.
Vannah Banana’s potential reach and product quality led vegan restaurateur Sarah Scandone to start stocking her new South Street cafe with the ice cream.
Scandone owns Nourish, a plant-based cafe and juice bar, and used to own Hibiscus in West Philly. She opened her newest Philly venture six months ago and said she’s noticed the vegan and plant-based food and lifestyle growing locally. Nourish attracted national attention recently, when the restaurant’s plant-based fried “chicken” sandwich went viral.
Not only is the product great, Scandone said, but so is its maker.
“He just has a great spirit,” she said about Walker. “You can see that he’s putting love into his product. And it’s very quality… He’s very concerned about maintaining that quality.”
She recalled one time where the ice cream had melted and refrozen, and Walker refused to sell it because he said the texture had been compromised. “He really puts his heart into it for sure, and I love that.”
Walker said he spent five months perfecting his ice cream recipe, and did consumer research to help him choose his flavors. As the Internet predicted, cookies and cream is the best selling batch.
Launching during a pandemic, Walker said, created a unique window of opportunity.
He had been helping run a womxn-centered recording studio called Blue Honey Studios, doing some odd jobs and helping with his dad’s cleaning business to make ends meet. Churning two gallons of ice cream is a piece of cake in comparison, he said.
“As a small businessman and a hustler,” Walker said, “once you have a product you believe in the sky’s the limit.”