For Matt Bumpas, just finding a kitchen was hard enough. But his perseverance is impressive — and his ice cream is incredible.
Ice cream! What line of work could be sweeter? All you do is mix it up, freeze it, then scoop away, making people happy all day. But if you’re an ice-cream genius, intent on doing it the very best, most intensely delicious way, it’s a little — actually, a lot — more complicated than that.
Matt Bumpas’ work making highly creative desserts — mango-lime marshmallows, Japanese cheesecake with passion fruit and matcha, blood orange semifreddo with clove caramel and orange meringue — earned him high praise as the pastry chef of Seattle’s Poppy. He started making ice cream under the name Sweet Bumpas in 2015. He does it because he loves it: both the painstaking preparation and the joyful purveying, at farmers markets and now out of the Sweet Bumpas window at his new ice-cream kitchen in Georgetown. But just finding a space has been a series of trials. And while our local farmers markets seem almost impossibly benign, he’s had to defend his ice-cream turf there. Also, getting permitted to make ice cream in the most artisanal way is commensurately arduous.
Then there’s repetitive-motion scooping strain, the absurdly skyrocketing cost of vanilla (truly absurd!), and just getting people to give his more extreme flavors a chance. While they’re also extremely delicious, combos like orange caramel (made with subtly bright orange zest and extra-dark caramel) and cinnamon basil corn cookie (made with all that) are just too out there for some people. They’ll even pre-emptively rule them out for their children. But Bumpas really, really wants them to just give it a try. “Let’s get you tasting!” is his cheerful refrain.
6564 Fifth Ave. S., Seattle; 206-719-0625;
sweetbumpas.com; Open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday.
Summer 2017 farmers markets: Carnation Tuesdays, Columbia City Wednesdays, Queen Anne Thursdays, Des Moines Saturdays, Ballard and Mercer Island Sundays
The road to ice-cream greatness is not always a smooth one.
Most Read Life Stories
- The best dinner-for-two deal in Seattle: a bottle of wine and 2 pasta entrees for $35
- Don’t say ‘Happy Yom Kippur!’ and 4 other tips for the Jewish holy day
- Bad Travelers: A harrowing boat crossing to Victoria leads to a lesson — trust the professionals
- Off the grid: Exploring the San Juans' most remote islands VIEW
- Wake up with itchy spots? A look at what bites at night
Shared commissary kitchens are where most small-scale, independent food entrepreneurs start out. Depending on whom you’re sharing with — a bunch of other small businesses, usually — they can be a pain, with equipment getting “borrowed” and messes left for others to clean up. But in Seattle nowadays, where space for everything is at an expensive premium, you’re lucky to just find any place to cook that doesn’t cost a fortune. That got harder when all the tenants of Sodo’s Downtown Cookhouse got the boot last October — more than a dozen food trucks and producers, with Bumpas among them, after a year working there.
Back to the hunt for now-even-scarcer space. “The rates they were charging were ridiculous,” Bumpas says — one place wanted $1,500 a month to share a six-burner stovetop with five other companies.
“That was such a bummer,” he says. “I was just not sure what I was going to do.” He eventually scored his new space this spring after Six Strawberries, a local frozen pops company, threw in the towel. It’s part of Equinox Studios, home to artists and blacksmiths, dance troupes and woodworkers; founder Samuel Farrazaino, Bumpas notes, has made the admirable commitment to “providing affordable workspaces for artists and producers in Seattle.” And, he adds, “It’s fun!” For the Second Saturday Georgetown Art Attack, Equinox has bonfires and bands.
His sparkling clean, 1,000-square-foot commercial kitchen was all permitted by the state and ready to go, or so Bumpas thought. But the state considered his business different enough from frozen pops that they bounced him to the county health department. Which, of course, required more work on the space in order to earn approval. And there was a problem with plumbing work never having been permitted in the first place. And, of course, it turned out to be the wrong diameter, and so the walls came down to redo it.
Now it’s up and running, and Bumpas is very happy. He professed love for the three huge sinks that are all his own. “Now when we make a mess, it’s all on us!” he said, laughing. (He’s got some high-caliber help this summer: Bridgett Lewis, who was a sous chef when he was at Poppy, taking a break after cooking at the Four Seasons’ Goldfinch Tavern.) He showed off his new walk-in refrigerator, then the hardening cabinet, a gleaming freezer that takes ice cream from 20 degrees to minus 30 so fast, ice crystals don’t have a chance to form. “This is like, ‘I’ve arrived!’” he laughed.
But meanwhile, back in June, something was afoot at the Columbia City farmers market. Bumpas demurred, in a gentlemanly way, about revisiting this topic, but the Facebook post he put up showed frustration. “Dear New Columbia City Ice Cream Shop,” it read. “Let’s talk business etiquette. Showing up at the farmers market unannounced and uninvited to offer samples … is really not cool!!! Especially when Sweet Bumpas and Seattle Pops … pay to be at the market. With 8 shops and counting, Seattle is already familiar with your product. If you’d like to offer samples at a farmers market, you can pay to apply, get the required health department permit, and pay the market just like the rest of us.” He signed off with emojis of ice cream, a cute dog, and thumbs-down, and “Cheers, Matt.”
Responses included “Uncouth” and “Shame on them!” Farmers market director Chris Curtis says after hearing Bumpas’ concerns, the on-site manager agreed, and “asked the Molly Moon folks to please stop giving away the free stuff, which they did with no hassles.” Owner Molly Moon Neitzel concurs, saying an industrious manager at her new Columbia City shop decided to go hand out the samples, not realizing “that the market is a permitted space … I don’t think it’s much of a story from our end!” Neitzel says. In the grand scheme of things, to be sure, it’s a tempest in a teapot. But for one man making ice cream, it matters.
As does the price of vanilla. Due to the vagaries of the bean market, the premium Neilsen Massey vanilla Bumpas uses went from $85 a gallon last year, to $185 in May, to $385 last month. So Bumpas rejiggered some of his recipes to use a combo of Neilsen Massey and Mexican vanillas. But he changes his recipes all the time — for instance, he’ll alter the ratio of sugars (that’s pure cane sugar and invert sugar) during hot weather to prevent soupiness. He builds each Sweet Bumpas flavor individually from a custom-made custard or egg-free base. This is unusual: The ice cream you get at places like Molly Moon’s and Full Tilt is made with a base that’s outsourced to a dairy, with the flavorings added in after delivery. Bumpas’ flavors go in at the beginning, imbuing his ice cream with an intensity that some people actually find unsettling. He doesn’t want to do it any other way.
The Sweet Bumpas ice-cream window has cute multipatterned fabric flags, a windup tin monkey on a trike, and an old-school “Charlie’s Angels” thermos for a tip jar — while Bumpas’ culinary aesthetic is high-minded, he also loves ice cream because it’s fun. Last week, a customer came up and asked about the fresh mint and cocoa crumble flavor — according to Bumpas, the “most polarizing” ice cream he makes.
“Do you like fresh mint right out of the garden?” Bumpas said, already reaching for a little wooden spoon in the Muppets lunchbox to give the guy a taste. “We’re going to find out! You’re either gonna be horribly disgusted or delighted,” he said.
“I like it!” the man said. “It’s great!”