By Chris Aldridge, Kentucky Agricultural News
Mike and Toa Green’s business philosophy is to let customer demand dictate their business decisions.
In 2011, the couple, who owned Thai Orchid Café in Lexington, decided on a whim to add a new dessert to the menu of their Kentucky Proud restaurant. Coconut ice cream, popular in Thailand, was added because it pairs well with spicy Thai dishes.
“We thought we’d do Kentucky Proud with ice cream,” Toa said.
The Greens purchased a two-quart Cuisinart ice cream maker and started making ice cream.
“We started noticing people coming in to order ice cream to take home and not order any Thai food at all,” said Toa, who grew up helping her parents start the Thai Smile restaurant in Frankfort.
The demand for ice cream led the Greens to launch Crank & Boom in 2013 as a side business at Lexington Farmers’ Market. It was also a vendor at numerous summer events – such as festivals, weddings, parties, and schools – and sold ice cream to restaurants.
“The first two summers, we sold ice cream at over 300 different events,” Toa said.
When customers kept asking where Crank & Boom’s shop was located, the Greens started searching for a retail location. When Mike saw the two-story building that once housed the offices of the dormant James E. Pepper Distillery near downtown Lexington, it was love at first sight.
“My husband said, ‘That’s my building!’” Toa said.
Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge opened in 2015. Crank & Boom retired the Cuisinart long ago; ice cream is now produced by three people in a commercial kitchen with a new machine that makes 20 quarts at a time. But it is still packaged by hand.
Crank & Boom is now sold by more than 40 restaurants and retailers, including the nation’s largest grocery chain. Crank & Boom tantalized the taste buds of managers from Kentucky Kroger stores during a Kentucky Proud Buy Local Food Show.
“Getting into Kroger was a crazy pipe dream,” Toa said.
What makes Crank & Boom so tasty is fresh, local ingredients with no additives or preservatives. The Greens commissioned another Kentucky Proud member, JD Country Milk in Russellville, to concoct their important ice cream base. It took six months to create the right combination of milk, cream, and sugar.
Crank & Boom then adds as many as 100 flavors, many sourced from Kentucky farms. Crank & Boom buys 4,000 pounds of Kentucky Proud strawberries a year from Boyd Orchards near Versailles, as well as Boyd’s peaches and apple cider, and it sources blackberry jam from WindStone Farms near Paris.
Unique flavors include sweet potato pie and coffee stout. The most popular flavors are bourbon ball, bourbon honey, and Kentucky blackberry and buttermilk.
“We don’t really feel we’ve stretched out our creative legs as much as we can,” said Toa, whose current favorite ice cream flavor is salted caramel. "There are more fun creations to come."
Crank & Boom’s waffle cones and ice cream toppings are all made in house from scratch, except sprinkles and gummy worms.
Toa praised Kentucky Proud farm-to-retail liaison Roger Snell for assisting Crank & Boom’s transition from mobile vendor to lounge.
“Roger Snell has been a big point person,” Toa said. “Whenever we need something, he has the answer.
“It [Kentucky Proud] has been a really nice community.”
What does the future hold for Crank & Boom?
“Our goal is benevolent world domination,” Toa joked, noting there’s a possibility a Crank & Boom location could be coming to a town near you.
“Franchising is a real possibility,” she said.
A second Crank & Boom ice cream lounge will open this spring inside “The Barn” food hall at The Summit at Fritz Farm, a new retail development at the corner of Man o’ War Boulevard and Nicholasville Road in Lexington.