iHalo Krunch mixes charcoal and ice cream for a buzz-worthy dessert

iHalo Krunch mixes charcoal and ice cream for a buzz-worthy dessert
When customers finally get to the counter, co-owner Charlene D’Aoust is amazed when they take the colourful, soft-serve creation in a charcoal waffle cone and don’t instantly take a picture for social media. “Some of them just eat it,” she marvels.

Yes, Instagram is driving the city’s growing obsession with dramatic-looking dessert foods. But D’Aoust, 30, and life and business partner Tuan Nguyen, 28, care deeply about the taste.

“That’s where the whole idea came from. The fact that I love ice cream,” she says. Meanwhile, Nguyen shows flair in the kitchen.

D’Aoust is half Filipino, and loves dessert flavours such as ube — a purple yam — but could rarely find it in the city. Now, ube nut, which swirls purple ube-flavoured soft serve with charcoal-dyed coconut ice cream, is the top seller at the couple’s newly launched shop. It’s followed in popularity by black on black, which is the charcoal ice cream in a charcoal cone.

D’Aoust has a stable career already as PR director for communications agency Eighty-Eight while Nguyen worked in the hospitality industry (he’s now in the shop full time). Four years ago, they came up with an idea for an Asian fusion restaurant.

That’s an ambitious project. “We wanted to do it right.” Two years ago, D’Aoust realized an ice cream shop would be a more realistic first outing. The duo put the restaurant on hold and began researching. D’Aoust brought startup expertise — she works with new companies in her job — while Nguyen knows customer service and food.

Some of the research entailed eating a whole lot of ice cream. A holiday to Korea, for instance, was partly about the food. (They discovered an ice cream there that doesn’t melt. Neat, but perhaps full of chemicals, they thought.)

By last summer, they had the name. Halo means “to mix” in Filipino. The Krunch in the name refers to the cones. Nguyen’s sister Chau, a recent culinary school grad, helped create charcoal, beet, ube and matcha cones, plus worked on the soft serve recipes with the partners.

The pair wanted to launch last summer, but could not find the right location. Then, in spring, this spot on Queen right across from Trinity-Bellwoods park came up for rent.

They opened in June with a small but creative menu of mostly homemade items. They’ve started with the charcoal cones — they’re dyed with organic activated charcoal powder — but hope to launch the other flavours soon. To make sure their soft serve is high quality and holds its colourful, photogenic swirls, they switched off their machines’ aerators.

They sell just six flavours of soft serve in a homemade charcoal cone for $6.50. (You can opt for a store-bought sugar cone.) Gelato and sorbet in a handful of flavours go for $5 in a cup, $1 more in a cone.

Ever since launch, the place has been packed. Lineups are lengthy so D’Aoust and Nguyen will distribute water and umbrellas in extreme weather.

Once, D’Aoust went through a particularly lengthy lineup and told customers that anyone who’d take their soft serve in a cup or a sugar cone could jump the line. “Not a single person budged.”
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