Mason’s Creamery Brings International Ice Cream to The Global Table
The quaint building used to be home to Ohio City Ice Cream Co., a no frills, walk-up custard establishment that, while a Cleveland institution, wasn’t quite reinventing the wheel the way that Jesse Mason and Helen Qin have since moving in three years ago. “One day we were doing an event in Ohio City. We thought it was a block party and it turned out to be a protest against a McDonald’s that was going to be opening up,” Mason laughs over the phone during his daily walk home from the shop.
“We fell in love with the neighborhood and felt like if we were going to move anywhere in Cleveland, this was probably where we should be living,” he says. “It reminded me very much of being back in California.”
The couple met in Los Angeles where Mason had bought then-girlfriend Qin an ice cream maker. “She was always dragging me to trendy ice cream places where we’d wait in line for an hour, so when it came time for her birthday, I thought the ice cream maker would be the best gift ever. It wasn’t.”
It sat on top of the apartment refrigerator for almost a year before Mason decided he would make the ice cream himself. “Milk is such a neutral flavor that you can do literally anything with it, so it was just this really fun and cathartic, creative outlet almost every single day for a year and a half. I would come home and make some ice cream,” he relates. When a job took them both to Oakland, they decided to sell the micro-batch ice cream during First Friday street fairs.
Since moving to Cleveland in 2013, they haven’t stopped churning it out. At first, they were participating in farmer’s markets and festivals up to six days a week, often two events per day. Mason’s was the second tenant to sign on to the (at the time) brand new Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen, the first shared kitchen in the city located at Euclid and E 30th Street, feet away from Cleveland State University.
They’ve made a lot of friends in the tight knit Ohio City neighborhood since then, collaborating on flavors with everyone from Great Lakes Brewery to Rising Star Coffee Roasters. The murals that surround their center of operations come from hyper-local artists like Mike Sobeck and Erin Guido.
They even have their new favorite restaurant, The Plum Cafe & Kitchen in on the action. “It’s really a great privilege to be working with people that I think are very like-minded. They want to have fun and push the boundaries of things,” especially, he adds, the ice cream and sorbets Mason’s is currently making for the restaurant. “There’s these undertones of working class, but a very refined version of that,” he says, giving the Long Island Ice Tea popsicles for The Plum’s upcoming “PlummerSlam” party on August 20th, as an example. Like the Rustbelt, Mason’s Creamery is all about offering high-end items at a price people can afford, striving to be classy while not taking themselves too seriously. It is ice cream after all.
Their flexibility makes them a perfect fit for events like Night Market Cleveland, where they can showcase innovative flavors with an Asian influence.
“We try to switch them up constantly for events. Night Market is hands down our favorite event to do. It feels like a lot of the vendors there are really trying, they’re not just phoning it in […]. We’re really big food people, so to be able to jump around from tent to tent and try stuff that isn’t on the menu in the some of the restaurants around town, there’s always something new, and I think that makes it magical.”
Creamery is keeping up with other vendors by focusing on adventurous Durian, Black Sesame, Taro, Jackfruit, Green Tea and Vegan Chai as reoccurring flavors. Sorbets like lemongrass and a carbonated Milkis, a yakult or probiotic, liquid yogurt drink served after Korean BBQ’s, as well as Rambutan sorbet, a fruit similar to the lychee, have also appeared in the past.
Night Market Cleveland is more than just a means for Mason and Qin to showcase diverse ingredients, it’s a space they feel connected to customers with a similar backstory. Mason is originally from the Cleveland suburbs, while Qin’s family moved to the United States from China when she was six years old to reunite with her father earning a PhD in Houston. Qin was naturalized as a citizen at twenty while in college herself. It took a total of fourteen years for her to get from visa to green card and then citizenship for herself, and her mother.
Many of the deserts that Mason’s Creamery offers in-store are a blend of the two cultures. They offer Egg Waffles, a popular spherical treat in Hong Kong made of eggy batter prepared in an iron. Midwest roots can be tasted in the Banana Bread Split, created with homemade banana bread that’s toasted and brûléed with brown sugar then topped with ice cream and whipped cream. Starting in the fall and early spring months they offer fresh made donuts daily and a limited amount of ramen once a month.
“Living in LA, we both really fell in love with ramen and then moving to Cleveland, there’s ramen but it doesn’t really compare to what you can get elsewhere, so really our only option has been making it at home and trying to perfect this recipe. It kind of just evolved. […] I think it’s fun for everybody. I know sometimes the line gets a little bit long, but it’s gone over really well,” Mason says of the dozens of people who order the noodle soup from them each month.
If there were a Westside location where the magic of Night Market occurs every evening, it would be at their cozy ice cream shop. Night Market Cleveland is especially proud to partner with The Global Table and Mason’s Creamery to present a fourth community potluck at 4401 Bridge Avenue on Sunday, August 6th from 1 to 5 pm. The Global Table celebrates Cleveland’s ethnically diverse cultures and cuisine with a series of community potlucks throughout the city. “We try to pursue the depths of food where ever it takes us,” Mason says. Get ready for a delicious trip.