Moving from the Bay Area was one of the hardest moves I’ve made thus far.
Not only was it picturesque, filled with unique people + treasures, but it is also a food-lovers paradise.
There’s the legendary Ferry Building’s artisan vendors and impeccable Napa Valley wines and there are more mouthwatering restaurants than you could possibly try in your lifetime. Quite frankly, it’s a dream place to live for a girl like me.
Los Angeles on the other hand, has never really been renowned for their haute cuisine or “foodie” culture but in the 10 years I was away, a lot has changed. Celebrated chef’s have opened up restaurants that rival some of San Francisco’s best. Food trucks are all the rage.
And there are a bunch of small, independent, handmade, artisan-quality purveyors selling their treats at farmers markets and stores city-wide. It’s exciting. The possibilities for L.A. are endless!
When a friend heard that I was quite the food lover (and more specifically, on the hunt for gourmet ice cream), she recommended I try a great little spot on Melrose. As a side note, I’m damn lucky to have friends that know me so well and have such great taste!
A little backstory . . . at every single ice cream shop, I make note of all the flavors and if they have Salted Caramel, it’s the first thing I sample. The reason being, San Francisco is known for having some of the best ice cream on the planet. With places like Bi-Rite Creamery, Humphry Slocombe and Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous – the bar has been set. Really, really high.
And Salted Caramel is a fan favorite in the Bay Area. I’ve tasted many replica’s of this flavor, but few shops actually get it right. Salted Caramel is the benchmark for me. If you get it right, you’re likely doing everything right.
I dropped by Neveux Artisan Creamery just before closing for a quick sugar fix. The owner, Leo, greeted me warmly and offered me a silver spoon laced with salty, caramel goodness. And oh wow, was it was love at first taste!
I took one bite and exclaimed, “HOLY Sh**! This is better than Bi-Rite.” I looked at Leo’s face light up with joy. Since Bi-Rite is considered by many to be the pinnacle of gourmet ice cream, he was pleased indeed.
Leo is an inspiring man. His interest in the culinary world began at 13 when he worked at a Greek restaurant. And while he loved food, life led him down a more traditional path – college, graduate school and eventually working in advertising.
After living in L.A. for 18 years, he relocated to San Francisco for a job and spent 3.5 years exploring all of the culinary delights of his neighborhood in the Mission. He witnessed the success of Bi-Rite Creamery in particular and it inspired him to start developing his own flavors at home. Soon he had created over 20 flavors and was getting an enthusiastic response from friends, family and anyone willing to taste his homemade concoctions.
Shockingly, a few weeks after signing on to a new job, Leo found out he had a brain tumor. After going through such a life altering ordeal, he was inspired to quit the 9-to-5 grind, move back to L.A. and explore opening his own ice cream shop.
He jokes that “someone had to save Los Angeles from frozen yogurt!“. On September 2, 2012, Leo opened NEVEUX Artisan Creamery on Melrose Avenue. Coincidentally, in the same location of celebrated L.A. chef, Susan Feniger’s original Border Grill.
Since opening, Leo has been serving up, handmade, small batch ice cream to rave reviews. I’m so honored to have sat down and chatted with Leo and am excited for you to hear a bit more about him and his journey to living his dream. Enjoy!
What prompted you to open Neveux Artisan Creamery in LA?
Living in the Bay Area and being exposed to the sweet & savory genre of ice cream, along with an early and life-long interest in cooking. Plus, opening my own business was important to me.
What are you trying to do differently?
Organic ingredients, pairing contrasting and unexpected herbs, spices, fruit, vegetables and other culinary items not ordinarily associated with ice cream. Simplifying – avoiding complex, overloaded, “kitchen-sink” flavors. NO toppings – it’s all about the unique ice cream flavors!
I recently tried a few flavors and your ice cream is hands down the best I’ve ever tasted. Ever. It is well balanced, complex yet totally simple and has just the right amount of sweetness. What’s your secret?
I’m not sure I have any secrets, I just find something I want to work with and figure out what to pair it with and then continually work on improving it. I work on the flavor until that flavor really pops. No false advertising here – if the ice cream tag says “Pineapple Sage,” you’re going to taste pineapple and sage!
I notice that you pursue the best, not only in your ice cream but your coffee and tea selection as well. Why is aiming high, important to you? What is it about finding or creating “the best of the best” that appeals to you?
Folks can get mediocre stuff anywhere, if you’re not trying to the serve the best why serve it at all. People return for quality.
There has been a big movement back to artisanal food products, craftsmanship, and small batch production. What interests you about creating artisanal quality ice creams from scratch?
It’s amazing how good food taste when it’s fresh when it goes from kitchen to consumer in less than 24 hours and doesn’t include any artificial sweeteners, food coloring, shelf-stabilizers, etc. When high-production food items are made in a factory, shipped to the manufacturer’s distribution warehouse, shipped to the retailer’s warehouse, then shipped to the store and eventually make it to your table, the food often ends up tasting bland, the subtle flavor qualities have been lost. Our small batches are made with fresh organic ingredients, set in the freezer overnight and are served the next day.
What inspires + motivates you to keep doing what you do?
I love what I’m doing – creating new flavors, running my own shop, making people happy. It takes a lot of work, but I love it.
I’m always fascinated by how other people balance creativity with running a business. I consider what you do to be highly creative, so I’d love to know if you struggle with this balance? And if so, how you deal with it.
It’s definitely a challenge. Sometimes I have to put creativity on hold so I can just make sure that I maintain the right level of inventory with my existing flavors to meet the demand at the retail location, the wholesale buyers, private catering gigs, etc. I’ve got a list of items that I’ve created and that have been successful but that I can’t always keep in stock because I’m too busy maintaining the standard inventory. And then there’s – pay the bills, change the light bulbs, pay the plumber and replace the kitchen faucet in the three-bay sink, provide the accountant with all the data for taxes, order the coffee, order the paper goods, submit payroll, create the employee schedule… it’s a lot. 🙂
You clearly have an entrepreneurial spirit. I share that same sense of adventure with what I do. Have you always wanted to “do your own thing”? What are the most challenging things about working for yourself? What are the most gratifying?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to do my own thing but I somehow veered off on a more traditional path. Fortunately I found my way back. One of the most challenging things about working for myself is that most everything starts and ends with me. The first few years of most new businesses are about keeping the overhead low so we can sustain ourselves until the business gets to a level where we can take on additional employees. We’re getting close but not there yet so putting in 15-16 hour days, 7 days a week – gets a little taxing.
They also say if you want to learn about yourself get in a relationship. I think that holds true for going into business for yourself and then of course, having employees!
I’m quite obsessed with beauty + aesthetics, so I’m curious, what does beauty mean to you? What do you find ‘beautiful’? And how do you strive to bring beauty to your work?
Wow, so many things but the classic designs of the Art Deco era, summertime on the coast of Maine, things with simplicity and focus, the craftsmanship of handmade flatware, gorgeous fabrics (I used to find old furniture at swap meets and then have them re-upolstered so I spent a lot of time rummaging through bolts of fabric downtown), most anything “classic”.
As it relates to my work beauty is in the quality and simplicity of the product and the response that it elicits from the folks who eat it.
I’m assuming that you have a love of good food. What are a few of your favorite spots we should be trying right now in LA?
I literally have not stopped since I’ve been back in Los Angeles so I rarely get a chance to dine out. Years ago I used to love to eat at Chaya Brasserie on Alden off Robertson – their venison is amazing!
What would your last meal (drinks included) on earth be?
Start with braised scallops in a white wine, butter sauce topped with parmesan cheese, lobster for the surf and beef wellington for the turf, a bottle of Bordeaux and a Sacher Tort for dessert.
WHY do you do what you do?
I’ve tried a lot of other things. This is what I like, and I think I just might be good at it. 🙂
Big thanks to Leo for taking the time to chat with me.
And if you’re in Los Angeles, add this to your “Must Try” list ~ and tell Leo I sent you!