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In Character with Kim Malek

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Four scoops on a sugar cone is the record at Salt & Straw, displayed here by owner Kim Malek at her Northwest 23rd Avenue location. In New York people stand on line. In Chicago they stand in line. In Portland, Kim Malek just stands and watches in amazement as people line up around the block at her Northwest 23rd Avenue Salt & Straw ice cream shop. Malek now has three brick-and-mortar shops.

Portland Tribune: What’s the secret to getting people to stand in line for an hour for an ice cream cone?

Kim Malek: I’m not a good stander in liner, to be honest. It’s a thing to do. You spend the afternoon catching up with friends, waiting in line, tasting these ice creams.

Do you know how many times people get to the front of our line and they say, “I’m going to buy the guy behind me his scoop?” It happens. People have gotten job interviews in line.

There have been marriage proposals. Very recently we had somebody call in ahead of time, and they had us erase the message on the chalkboard and put “Lilly will you marry me?” They’re waiting in line, she looks up to see what flavor she wants, and there’s the sign. She said, “Yes.”

Tribune: To the flavor or the marriage proposal?

Malek: I think both. They come to our shops on the first day of every month when we have a flavor launch to celebrate their

anniversary.

Tribune: What’s the one ice cream flavor you’ll never offer?

Malek: I’m going to have to go with beer-battered bacon. It’s the only conflict my cousin Tyler and I have ever gotten into. He wanted to introduce it and I felt it’s too far.

Tribune: What makes it too far? Bacon?

Malek: We have candied bacon.

Tribune: The beer?

Malek: We did a whole six pack of beer-flavored ice cream.

Tribune: The batter?

Malek: We’ve never battered anything. I think it seems too unhealthy.

Tribune: Are you serious? What exactly are you worried about? Fat content? Carbs?

Malek: It’s a personal hangup I have. Probably the most unpopular flavor we ever served was uni, sea urchin. It kind of made some people angry. Sea urchin is actually creamy and salty, and the texture works perfectly in ice cream.

Tribune: Speaking of angry customers, you discontinued your signature chocolate woodblock ice cream for awhile there, didn’t you.

Malek: We had hate mail. People were signing petitions to bring it back.

Tribune: Hate mail over an ice cream flavor?

Malek: We used to make secret batches in our kitchen to satisfy those people. If people wrote in, we would say, “Come to our kitchen. It’s an unmarked address, and we’ll have a batch waiting for you.” We were trying to put this anger at bay.

Tribune: So you make special order ice creams?

Malek: Not anymore. There was a woman getting married, and her mom makes this blue cocktail. She wanted us to make this cocktail into ice cream for her wedding. We did it, but it was really hard.

Tribune: Well, why didn’t you put it into the microwave for 30 seconds — my kids do that.

Malek: No. You just leave it out at room temperature. That makes my blood run cold, putting ice cream into the microwave.

Tribune: Something new out there?

Malek: We had some customers from Michigan who wanted us to make Superman ice cream. It’s a thing in Michigan. It’s red, yellow and blue ice cream, and if you ask them, “What is the blue flavor?” they say, “The flavor is blue.”

Tribune: You must have investigated further.

Malek: We haven’t been able to figure out how to do it. Creating a really bright blue flavor that’s all natural? I really want to do Superman ice cream.

Tribune: The only reason I’ve tasted Salt & Straw is because I’ve learned you can go to the front of the line if you’re just buying a pint, not a cone.

Malek: People always tell us you should promote it and make a deal of it, that you can skip the line. But I always think it’s the best-kept secret. So don’t tell anyone.