Paul grew up in Johannesburg but spent most summers pounding the pavements of New York City because his dad, renowned international photographer Roger Ballen, is a New Yorker by birth and upbringing. “I remember in my early childhood eating ice-cream with my American family. Ice-cream is such a part of American day to day life,” he says.
An ice-cream machine for a birthday present began Paul’s journey into his own mastery of ice-cream. Paul started making one litre a day. Milk chocolate with swirls of Nutella and chunks of Oreo was an early experiment.
Soon he needed a second machine. He started giving tubs of the stuff away to family and friends. Flavors were experimental and often exotic and indulgent. The tubs were decorated with handmade labels by his mom, acclaimed local artist Lynda Ballen, and tied with bows. He created a Facebook group and an order form, an Instagram account, a blog, and hosted promo days with waffles and ice-cream. “People started associating me with ice-cream.”
From two Krups machines, Paul moved onto a Gelatissimo that had a built-in compressor. From one litre a day, he could now churn one litre an hour: “I used to make a huge mess in my parents’ kitchen late at night making the custard. There was egg white and sugar everywhere.”
More orders came in and the purchase of another Gelatissimo followed. After the third Gelatissimo and the recruitment of an assistant, Paul started approaching small stores such as Wolves and Love Food to stock his product. His cousin in London sent a design for a logo in mid-2013 and professionally printed labels were created. Paul was doing a postgraduate diploma in management at Wits that year and churning his ice-cream on trestle tables in his parents’ garage.
In early 2014, university friend and commodities trader Josh Amoils partnered with Paul to run the business side, and the team moved into a small kitchen in Orange Grove. Using existing machinery and still chasing customers, they received their first big retail order on March 31, from Thrupps. “I left the office at midnight and came in at 4am,” Paul recalls.
In August that year, the team – now with five other staffers – moved next door into a space that Paul and Josh had been using for thier CrossFit gym. The exercise equipment was slowly replaced with stainless steel worktables and churners imported from Italy.
Recently the small 90ml round plastic tubs have been replaced with 125ml cardboard boxes (for the same price). “It’s a really great eating experience,” Paul says. “It’s nice to hold, the paper is tactile; it brings another element to the eating of our ice-cream.