For some of us, the definition of a balanced diet to have an ice cream cone in both hands and that’s exactly what Lauren Guptill, the owner of Rococo Artisan Ice Cream in Kennebunkport, Ogunquit and Kittery is counting on.
Guptill was inspired to open her version of what an ice cream store should be after living in Argentina for several years.
“I constantly found myself gravitating toward various heladerias (ice cream shops) in Buenos Aires and during that time in my life I was contemplating a move back home to my native Maine,” Guptill said. “I became intrigued by the Argentine style of combining a rich and creamy density with the flavor-forward profile of gelato. Wanting to do something that was hands-on, creative, and would allow me to interact with individuals all around the world, I decided to return to coastal Maine to open Rococo.”
Rococo’s flavors take customers on voyages of nostalgia and discovery.
“I choose to create flavors that are inspired by flavors found around the world. One of my flavors, Earl Grey with a sour cherry jam and pistachios, is inspired by an afternoon Tea in England, or the warm Garam Masala flavor, which is meant to transport the individual to spice markets in southern Asia,” Guptill said. “I also like to incorporate many local fruits and herbs into my ice cream from neighboring farms to introduce visitors to the flavors of Maine. As for the most popular flavor, our Goat Cheese Blackberry Chambord, a French-inspired flavor, is very popular, as well as Speculoos and Chocolate Pretzel. Speculoos is a Belgian cookie spread created from Biscoff cookies.”
Employing a staff of 30, Rococo features 24 scoopers combined in three locations and Guptill said she’s amazed at their abilities.
“These bright and talented scoopers always amaze me with their friendliness to visitors, their hard-working ethic and their wide range of interest both inside and outside of the shop,” she said. “I have two kitchen assistants who help me with the creation of the ice cream, a fabulous social media intern and an amazing manager who oversees the day-to-day care of both the Kennebunkport and Ogunquit shops.”
Guptill’s family has been very supportive of her business and has encouraged her every step of the way.
“In the early years of the business, my family and friends were always at hand to help out when I needed an extra hand to scoop or to make ice cream,” she said. “Even today, If I need some help with a particular issue my family is very responsive. In addition I have had the joy of being able to employ two of my brothers for full-time work, and it has been great to be able to work with them.”
The Kennebunkport and Ogunquit shops are open during the summer season, generally from the first week of May through the end of October. But Rococo does keep its kitchen operating year-round to support its scoop window at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery its online shipping business.
The process used by Rococo to create its unusual flavors is complex with the first step of making the ice cream being to source the product.
“For example, my Strawberry Basil ice cream first begins with fresh Strawberries from Spiller’s farm in Wells,” Guptill said. “The strawberries and basil are then cleaned and prepared to be blended into our fresh sweet cream base. Our sweet cream base comes from two local dairy farms in Vermont and New Hampshire. After they are blended together, the mixture is poured into a small-batch Emery Thompson ice cream machine.”
She said that after about 20 minutes of mixing and freezing, the ice cream is poured into our small-batch tubs, and then loaded into the freezer for additional freezing.
“After about eight to 12 hours of freezing, the ice cream is ready to be eaten,” Guptill said. “Just in time for next-day delivery to our shops, which keeps our ice creams the freshest in town.”
Guptill is constantly looking for new flavors and interesting combinations.
“One of my biggest goals for the shop is to not necessarily create flavors that will sell out immediately, but rather to create flavors that will introduce people to new flavor profiles or bring people back to familiar flavor combinations that they have not seen for awhile,” she said. “In my opinion a lot of our most delicious flavors (like Matcha Blueberry, Lemon Pink Peppercorn, Guava Maria Cookies) are often overlooked by visitors because they are unfamiliar with the flavor combination. However, with a little introduction by their personal scooper, they soon begin to fall in love.”
As far as unexpected hits with customers, she makes a Sweet Avocado Cayenne ice cream every year, which is inspired by a Brazilian milkshake that Guptill once had.
“When I first made this flavor I was unsure how people would respond to the cayenne spice after the cool avocado dissipates,” Guptill said. “However, it instantly became a huge fan favorite and has appeared in the case every summer since.”
Operating three Rococo locations throughout the summer can be a daunting proposition for Guptill.
“In the summer I am working pretty much non-stop, seven days a week. My day usually begins around 8 a.m. as I head into the kitchen to plan the day’s agenda. My kitchen staff arrives around 8 a.m. and we begin to prep and make ice cream for the day,” she said. “Around noon, when our shops have opened, I load up my delivery van to delivery ice cream to the shops. I’m usually back at the kitchen around 4 p.m. where I spend some time preparing our mail orders for those who have ordered shipments of ice cream.
“By 6 p.m. you can usually find me in one of our two scoop shops serving customers and introducing new visitors to our artisan ice cream,” Guptill said. “We close up shop at 11 p.m., and I head on home for a quick little sleep before the next day begins.”
A favorite during the summer with visitors to Maine, local residents looking for exotic tastes also have come to rely on Rococo for its delicious flavors and unique ambiance.
“Over the years my staff and I have become friends with guests from Singapore, India, Brazil, Russia, The Netherlands, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Canada and Argentina to mention just a few,” Guptill said. “We love welcoming everyone, from the U.S.A. or away, to our beautiful state and to our delicious ice cream. And, we are always so delighted to not only offer taste of our unique internationally inspired flavors, but also advice on the must see and dos in our great state of Maine and New England.”
And despite her success creating and selling ice cream, Guptill still remains devoted to creating unusual flavors.
“I love being able to be in the kitchen and play around with different flavors and ideas to create new ice creams. The creativity of making ice cream is one of my favorite things,” she said. “I love making all my flavors in a small batch, so I can be constantly changing my ideas and thoughts and do not feel hampered to be making recurring flavors. I love introducing people to new flavors as well and seeing their excitement when they discover a new flavor pairing that they love, but had never thought of before.”