Welcome back to One Year In, a feature in which Eater chats with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
Parfait opened its brick-and-mortar shop in Ballard's Greenfire building one year ago last month. Owner Adria Shimada started the business started as a food truck in 2009, building capital and a following. The trained pastry chef quietly worked towards her goal of opening a permanent location that would showcase her love of all things sweet and incorporate her farm-to-table ethos. Eater caught up with Shimada shortly after her official one-year mark.
What’s your culinary background?
It's kind of a winding journey to end up as a baker and a pastry chef. I was an English major at Cornell. I was on track to be a professor or an academic of some sort. I lived in France for a year and spent my summer on this beautiful farm, like a farmstead inn. Truly farm-to-table. It was a family that ran the inn and the farm. The eggs in their mousse au chocolat came from their chickens. Everything they made was really beautiful. It was this exposure of farm-to-table eating and cooking. I got to assist in the kitchen and learn some traditional French dishes, way before farm-to-table became a thing in the states. I came back sort of obsessed with food and I ended up going to culinary school in San Francisco and working in restaurants in the Bay Area. My husband is from here so I moved up here for love.
How did Parfait get started?
I had always wanted to open my own shop. When I moved here, there were no independent ice cream shops. And there still are no ice cream shops that make ice cream completely from scratch. I had all this training as a pastry chef and I wanted to make ice cream the same way that people make beautiful French desserts. So I opened a food truck before "food truck" was even a term, I think. Back then, it was only me, and Marination, and Skillet, and maybe a couple others, pretty much. We were the first dessert food truck in the Pacific Northwest.
You opened food truck first and then went brick-and-mortar? Why?
I always wanted a shop in Ballard, from the time I moved to Seattle. At the time I opened my business, it was the height of the recession, so I couldn't afford to finance a shop. But I've always wanted to have cakes and pies and you can't sell that from a truck. It took four years because I had a baby the same year I opened my truck. I joke I have two babies born the same year and now I have a five-year-old business and my boy is turning five this month. I had to pace myself.
What inspired the farm-to-table approach with Parfait?
I feel like I learned to eat in France. I adopted that in my own life and that was a lot of how I chose to eat and cook at home, and so I wanted my business to espouse those same values. I decided as a business I shouldn't cut corners. It's not easy because it's a lot more expensive. Organic cream, for example, is about 60 percent more expensive than conventional cream. And making food from scratch is a lot more labor intensive so the costs for Parfait are a lot higher but I think the end result is superior. To me it's worth it. I wanted to make beautiful food even more than I wanted to make money. Obviously it's a business so it has to work but I think if more food businesses committed to organic produce and dairy it would become more cost effective for everyone.
Does working around ice cream all day make you crave veggies?
I definitely crave savory foods. I've actually always craved vegetables, even as a kid. But I do eat ice cream all day, because we taste every batch at various stages but I don't have a problem with over doing it, I think because I'm around it all the time. But yes I do end up craving lots of green leafy vegetables and salty foods.
Tell me about the ice cream. What makes it special?
Traditionally in the states, ice cream is a very industrialized food. Most ice cream that you get, even from an ice cream shop where people sort of misappropriate the word homemade, it's neither made at anybody's home or from scratch. Most ice cream in the U.S. comes from a liquid ice cream base that the shop sources from a factory. It's the equivalent of making a cake from a box. You can doctor it up and flavor it your own way and add in some slightly higher quality ingredients, but it's still cake from a box. Even the waffle cones come from pre-made batter. So that was my approach, that I was going to make everything from scratch, like you would at a French patisserie.
Parfait ice cream is really different from the inside out. It's not industrial, and I have more control over the quality of the ingredients that I use because I source it all myself. I'm not getting this bag of pre-made dairy goop and using extracts and oils. I'm getting fresh cream and eggs and every single flavor is built from the ground up. Then I end up working with farmers in the community and everything is sourced seasonally. We switch around our flavors to be seasonal.
We make everything from scratch. Once we have our ice cream, I'm not going to mix in gummy bears or Girl Scout cookies. We make all the mix-ins -- the toffee, the peanut butter cups, even our own sprinkles. Factory-made sprinkles have wax and dye, but ours are an icing-based sprinkle with plant-based food coloring. It's that ethos of making everything in house. We also make really unusual macaron sandwiches, brownie sandwiches, cakes for birthdays and by the slice, and pie. I try to bring a real culinary sensibility and that's something you can't get anywhere else.
What is your son’s favorite ice cream flavor?
He's really proud of the shop and feels a sense of ownership. His favorite thing in the world is our chocolate push-up pops, which are very popular with kids in general. And he likes our honey ice cream, which we have in the summer.
What have you learned in the past year?
So much. It's really different running a brick-and-mortar shop. I learned even more that the people who come to Parfait are foodies and families. That's our true customer base. And I've learned Parfait can be a part of people's lives in the neighborhood. With the truck, you show up once a week and it's a treat but it doesn't feel as grounded as the shop. It feels like a fixture in Ballard now and it's becoming a third place for people. It's also been a lot more work than the truck. It really is like having another child. Like with a child, the first year is always the hardest and now Parfait is becoming more of a toddler.
What will the next year hold for Parfait?
I don't have any immediate plans to expand but we're working on growing our wholesale business to get into restaurants and hopefully some high-end grocery stores so we can reach a larger market. We're also going to roll out chocolate-dipped ice cream bars and continue coming out with new menu items. I'm open to more locations but it's important to me to keep the quality of the food. It can be done but it takes a lot of time and attention when you're making really beautiful food.