They’re sugar-free, frozen, made from all-natural ingredients — and perhaps coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
The trademark desserts of Stillwater-based entrepreneur Susanna Gorodisher are served in North St. Paul’s Luv Ice Cream Café, but now that the business recently became available for franchise, you might start seeing them across the United States.
A lifelong fondness for sweets prompted the 52-year-old fitness buff five years ago to create a line of organic sugar- and/or dairy-free candies and frozen confections for those with dietary restrictions. Since then, the founder of Luv Ice Cream LLC and her husband, Ilya, have grown their business to include an international wholesale distributorship, the commercial kitchen and ice cream café/espresso bar in North St. Paul and now four out-of-state franchises, with more to follow.
Gorodisher says she was motivated to start the business partly because of her own weight struggles years ago, when she worked for a Twin Cities food brokerage and overindulged in samples. She countered that indulgence by certifying as a personal trainer and helping run a Stillwater gym, but a subsequent diagnosis of celiac disease soon added to her dietary challenges.
That’s when Gorodisher developed her own sweetener, “Sweet Luv,” a blend of roots, herbs and stevia, and debuted her first batch of homemade sugar-free ice cream to friends. Since it went commercial, her product line has also come to include 10 sugar-free ice creams, 11 sugar- and dairy-free “Nice Creams,” and a variety of sugar-free hard candies, chocolate candy and chocolate chips.
Crain got an update from the health-conscious entrepreneur via a recent email interview.
Q: How’s your revenue growth?
A: We’ve grown by approximately 25 percent annually. We’ve had to turn down several opportunities because projected volume would be more than we could handle, and we turned down an opportunity in Canada because of international shipping issues. But we were able to execute a deal exporting hard candies for a private-label deal in Brussels. In four years we have reinvested every penny taken in. Luv has grown organically and without outside investment.
Q: How is your North St. Paul operation [the original café] faring?
A: The café has become our grand experiment to perfect our franchise model. We are restoring a vintage mid-century-modern Rexall Drug store from 1956 to its former glory. We’ve had truck drivers make pilgrimages from as far as Tennessee, visitors from Texas and lots of others from the far corners of the Twin Cities. Recently, we’ve become a respite for folks seeking treats while biking the Gateway Trail.
Q: Who is your typical end user?
A: The one commonality is the desire for no-added-sugar treats. These days there are so many subgroups of eaters, and Luv appeals to many of those. We sell to [people who follow eating plans, including] paleo, ketogenic, Trim Healthy Mama, Weight Watchers, low-carb and sugar-free. Then there is a host of medically minded customers, folks with diabetes, cancer, candida, autoimmune diseases, autism and ADD.
Q: What about your typical wholesale customer?
A: Co-ops, specialty health-food stores, HyVee stores, chiropractic and wellness clinics, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, addiction facilities, independent scoop shops, schools and ready-to-eat paleo-meal companies. We have approximately 50 wholesale accounts.
Q: How are you shipping your frozen products out of state?
A: We have perfected a dry mix [that] shops can simply add water to, cook to our specs and run through their batch freezers to produce Luv no-sugar-added treats for their own customers. We have two [franchise cafes] in Florida, one in New Hampshire and one in the Boston area. Several more are testing our products.
Q: Best sellers?
A: Nondairy and vegan frozen “Nice Creams” continue to lead the way. Our “Choo-Choo Choose Me Chocolate Coconut Nice Cream” is still our best-selling flavor.
Q: How intense is your competition?
A: We feel we stand alone in this particular niche market. We were recently in Budapest and Vienna and were shocked to see sugar-free bakeries on every other block, but we are so far ahead of any other U.S. company.
Q: The most enjoyable part of running your business?
A: Providing a tasty treat to kids who can’t have ordinary ice cream continues to be a heartwarming experience. We get love notes almost daily from families and folks with medical issues thanking us for providing treats that won’t make them sick.
Q: Your five-year plan?
A: Established franchises of Luv sugar-free cafés nationwide. Luv will be a recognized leader in the no-sugar-added/all-natural movement and will be available in health-food stores nationally.
Luv frozen desserts will be produced regionally for regional [local] distribution. We think it is environmentally irresponsible and unsustainable to ship frozen pints of ice cream nationwide; instead, the Luv model will have regional manufacturing similar to the Coca-Cola distribution model.