One-On-One Q&A: Kris Swanberg,
Filmmaker/Entrepreneur, Nice Cream
Interview by Erin Scherer
Since then, Nice Cream has developed into a thriving business in the Chicago Area. In addition to Nice Cream’s success, Kris and her husband Joe welcomed a baby boy, Jude. Earlier this year, I managed to talk to Kris for a couple of minutes at SXSW Film’s closing night party. She told me that she was finally making enough with Nice Cream to pay herself. Over the summer, though, she was approached by officials from the State of Illinois that she would have to cease business due to the lack of a dairy license. Right now, Kris and other Ice Cream Makers are working with the Illinois State Legislature to amend state law to accomodate artisanal ice cream makers.
Good news for the rest of us! Kris is working on a new movie in Montana as this interview is posted. In the meantime, though, you can help Kris and Nice Cream by donating money to Nice Cream’s Kickstarter Campaign.
This interview was conducted by e-mail two weeks ago.
Q: Tell us, in brief, what has happened with Nice Cream.
A: Last month a inspector from the Illinois Department of Health came to Nice Cream and said that someone had “brought up our name” with the department in regards to a dairy license. I was unaware that such a license existed. The inspector told me that until we had this license we were to stop producing our product. Getting the license would require several things, the two most cost prohibitive would be to build out our own “dairy certified” kitchen (right now we work out of a shared kitchen space in Chicago). And the most mind boggling is that we would be required to purchase a pasteurizer, which the state quoted me as costing $40,000.
Q: Nice Cream was the first to be shut down due to a lack of a Dairy License. Have other companies in the Chicago Area been shut down as well? Have any voluntarily stopped?
A: This does and will affect other small artisan ice cream makers in Illinois. Right now the other ice cream makers are trying to stay as under the radar as possible so that they don’t get shut down as well. This is totally understandable and although most are supportive of Nice Cream, for the sake of their own businesses they are trying to stay out of the spotlight.
Q: What kind of legislation are you hoping to push through for ice cream makers? Are you working with anyone right now to create legislation? Do you have any support in the Illinois State Legislature?
A: We are working with Representative Berrios and Senator Martinez to hopefully introduce some legislation into the next session of congress which would put small batch ice cream makers in a different category than huge factory based dairies.
Q: Last month, you held a fundraiser to help maintain your business. In addition, you have also raised $6500 (as of right now) on Kickstarter, surpassing your goal of $5000. Are you planning on doing any more fundraisers?
A: We were very lucky to receive so much support and we are going to continue raising money through our Kickstarter campaign. Our Kickstarter project goes until October so we still have another month of fundraising.
Nice Cream on Redefining Roots.
Q: You were told that in order to stay in business, you would need to use a non-dairy ice cream mix, and strawberry syrup instead of organic strawberries. Anyone familiar with your product knows that this contradicts the ethos of Nice Cream. Why for you is it important to use organic ingredients in your product?
A: That’s not completely true. We weren’t told we HAD to use a strawberry syrup. The department strongly recommends that we do because they do not think that fresh strawberries can pass their tests for bacteria levels. Independently of the department, we sent our ice cream to a lab (including the strawberry flavor) and it passed with flying colors. Buying local and organic ingredients for Nice Cream is important for me the same way buying local and organic for my home is important to me. If I feed my family milk from organic farms, I feel compelled to feed my customers the same way.
I also want to talk about this pasteurizing thing for just a minute and make it clear that we are already using pasteurized milk. The state requires then that as soon as you add sugar or any additional ingredients to the mis that you re-pasteurize the mix. We do that too. We just do it on the stovetop in a pot instead of in a big fancy machine.
Q: When we spoke at SXSW, you said that you would be working on another film. Have your problems with Nice Cream put those plans on hold?
A:Yes and No. I am leaving this Thursday (09/08/11) with a crew out to Montana to work on my next feature. I bought the tickets and organized this before Nice Cream was shut down. To be honest, I probably would have had to push it back had I known this was going to happen, but luckily I didn’t and the project is still underway. Even though there is a lot of work to do with Nice Cream I’m excited to focus on something else for a few weeks and couldn’t be more excited about this film.