Brandon Belk didn't start making his Wich Cream sandwiches because of some obsession with ice cream. "To be perfectly honest, the ingredients are the passion and ice cream is the perfect vessel," says the owner of Wich Cream. "Like a lot of things in life, working within a certain box or boundaries lets us be more creative. Ice cream definitely has a strict set of boundaries from its chemistry, physics. The fun part is the ingredients and here in Charleston we're blessed with a bunch of good stuff."
Good stuff like farmer Celeste Albers' Green Grocer milk and Lowcountry Creamery's cream, Blue Pearl Farms' blueberries and Hickory Bluff Farms' strawberries. These are the things that get Belk excited.
Since starting his business, it's always been about sourcing the very best, an idea Belk picked up in culinary school at Texas Culinary Academy and while working for Chef Kevin Johnson at The Grocery for four and half years.
- Ruta Smith
- Owners Brandon and Lauren Belk bite into their treats
"I met Celeste when I was working at the Grocery and became fond of her and George," Belk says of the Wadmalaw farmers. The small batch raw milk producers won him over with their commitment to doing things the right way and when it was time to launch his own Wich Cream business, he knew who to call. But Albers is just one of a series of farmers Belk sees as more than his product purveyors, but friends — people like Cheri Ward from Blue Pearl Farms.
"She's like my farm mother. She gets it. They do things the right way. You couldn't have more trust in the process. Any time I have a question on a certain product, they're my go-to," says Belk.
By launching his product — homemade ice cream sandwiches — at the Charleston Farmers Market, Belk surrounded himself with the same people whose food goes into each sweet sandwich.
"When people walked up, I could stand there and go, 'The blueberries come from there, the eggs come from there,'" says Belk. And that proximity to the farmers turned out to be an advertising boon. Come to find out, people really do like knowing where their food comes from and that word of mouth allowed his company to grow.
Today Wich Cream sells not only sandwiches ($5) but a new line of ice cream pops ($3) to a variety of retailers in the Lowcountry. You can find Belk's new lavender and strawberry ice cream sandwich tucked in Green Grocer cornmeal wafers at Mixson Market. The subtle, ultra smooth ice cream is something Belk and his wife Lauren spent hours researching and developing to get just the right texture and flavor. And to keep their Wich Cream bars super seasonal, the couple changes the ingredients as the months change. This first batch of their lavendar strawberry bars use Hickory Bluff strawberries, but they'll switch to Wabi Sabi's later in the season.
Last summer Wich Cream launched a tribute series of ice cream sandwiches created to give some love to the purveyors who make their treats so great. A dollar from every sandwich sold was returned to the farmers. "Pure Celeste," the first in the season, was an ode to the aforementioned Albers.
Using the farmer's milk and her favorite flavor, vanilla bean, the couple sold vanilla, rose, and cinnamon sandwiches tucked in Anson Mills Carolina Gourdseed corn wafers. The series continued in June with a tribute to Ward of Blue Pearl Farms with a "Blueberry Cheri" bar made from with chamomile and Blue Pearl Farms roasted blueberries and wafers glazed in Blue Pearl honey.
Belk thinks this extra effort, to really showcase and honor the individuals laboring to bring these natural resources to fruition, is what sets Wich Cream apart. And locals are beginning to notice.
"We're super grateful for the response we've had," he says. "I still feel like we're a little under the radar. In Charleston — there's so many good things here. There's a lot out there and people are finding out who we are and what we're about. Still having those conversations and promoting sustainable ingredients and working with these farmers and producers is really important no matter how far we get."
And it's a critical factor in Wich Cream's growth. Belk would love to one day expand his product to other cities but continue to use that area's best locally sourced produce.
"I'm from the upstate, there's some good dairy farms up there and good strawberries and peaches and taking those sustainable food systems and applying this model could work."
Until then, it's a sweet dream.