Rockwell Ice Cream announced via Instagram Sunday that it won the overall “Best Ice Cream in America” prize in a competition held annually by Klavon’s Ice Cream in Pittsburgh.
“It feels awesome (to win),” Rockwell founder and owner Justin Williams said. “Because all of that hard work we do, to make it and come up with flavor ideas ... the personal sacrifices — it feels like it’s just finally paid off.”
Although Klavon’s has been around since 1923, current owners Jacob and Desiree Hanchar have owned it for six years. Jacob Hanchar started the ice cream competition in 2017, in which Rockwell took second place overall, and took first in the “most unique flavor” category. The competition is by invitation only.
“I go and find the best ice cream parlors in every state,” Hanchar said. “I do a lot of research ... not just online reviews, but kind of what the locals think is their best ice cream shop, and then I’ll send out invitations to everyone I’ve identified.”
Hanchar said this year, they had competitors from almost all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. Competitors send two pints of the flavor they would like to enter and then a panel of judges, made up by people considered “experts” in fields related to dairy, sweets or ice cream, judge the entries.
The entries are judged “blindly,” and all entries must match a theme. This year’s theme was to enter an ice cream created with a non-cow milk base and it was judged by three dairy farmers. Rockwell entered their G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) flavor, an ice cream with a goat cheese base, roasted almonds, a hint of rosemary and swirls of blackberry jam.
“These are people who know the quality aspect of the product,” Williams said. “(This is) a huge accomplishment for us.”
Entries are judged based on taste, visual appeal, mouth feel/texture, name of flavor (catchiness and creativity) and uniqueness for a total of 50 points. Rockwell received a score of 42/50.
“(Rockwell) placed second in the first year and then they placed first in the third year, so I would say that gives you a good idea of how solid and consistent their flavors are,” Hanchar said. “I think they should be very pleased with the results.”
Along with an engraved trophy, Rockwell won $10,000. Williams said he’s not sure yet what they’ll do with their winnings, but they will definitely be reinvested back into the company. Some of it may go as bonuses to his staff, Williams said, because he said he couldn’t have done it without them — a staff member was even the one to come up with “G.O.A.T.” as the name.
Interestingly, the winner of the competition also agrees to have the recipe behind their winning flavor shared. Williams said he feels fine with sharing his recipe.
“We’re all really friendly with each other (in the ice cream world),” he said. “I think we all want each other to be successful.”
Rockwell announced via social media that in honor of the winning ice cream flavor, the G.O.A.T. will be added to their permanent lineup.
And for the first time ever, PETA did a ranking of ice cream chains across the country, giving grades A-F based on the availability of vegan options. Sub Zero was one of just three companies to receive an “A” grade — tying with Ben and Jerry’s.
Sub Zero owner Jerry Hancock, who co-founded the chain with his wife Naomi, said customizing people’s orders according to dietary needs or preference has always been a part of their goal, and over the years, their vegan options have broadened. They didn’t necessarily broadcast the widening vegan options, though, so PETA’s ranking came as a pleasant surprise.
“I was tickled pink,” Jerry Hancock said. “It was huge, I mean I was just jumping up and down all day, I couldn’t believe it.”
When he found out about the ranking, he said he felt like a “hero” being able to tell his daughter, who is vegetarian, about it. Beyond offering vegan ice cream bases, Hancock said all of the flavors Sub Zero offers as mix-ins are also vegan. Their use of liquid nitrogen, Hancock said, has made it easy for them to use non-dairy bases in a way that might not be as easy for other restaurants.
Emily Raap, campaigns generalist with PETA, said the organization did independent research but also asked staffers where their favorite vegan ice cream options could be found.
“The vegan-friendly menus at Amy’s, Ben and Jerry’s and Sub Zero are proving that no animals need to be harmed to make delicious ice cream,” Raap said. “Demand for healthy, cruelty-free vegan treats is skyrocketing, and more and more people are choosing to go vegan ... it’s never been easier to go vegan.”
Sub Zero currently has 60 locations nationwide. The full PETA ranking of vegan-friendly and vegan-unfriendly ice cream shops can be found at PETA’s website.