Ryan Berk, Austin Amento, and Ben Cook have a lot in common: they are all founders of new, growing, and successful businesses in Redlands, California; they are all about the same age (30 years old, give or take a few years); and they even look sort of similar.
In a most original way, the three are mixing together their passions and products: ice cream, chocolate, coffee, and beer. You say these don’t go together? Have a look at the results and the synergy that is good for each other and good for the town of Redlands.
Berk was one of the first to attend and graduate from The Grove School, the small Montessori-based public charter school in Redlands. Like all the other students there, he did internships and service work. From his early teens, Berk was a dishwasher and busboy for a Thai family at their local restaurant.
After high school, he went on to culinary school. He saved up his money and set out to roam the world as a photojournalist, absorbing a core lesson he has since applied: that food and its local culture are essentially intertwined. Back home, Berk was again working at a restaurant, with frozen fished packed in super coolants. Liquid nitrogen, Berk mused, why not use it to quickly freeze ice cream?
Then Berk asked if I’d like to see his new shop, Parliament Chocolate, just a few blocks away. Parliament, as in “a parliament of owls,” is named for early tenants of the building, the White Owl Café. The chocolate shop had just opened a few days earlier.
Parliament Chocolate is the Berks’ second dream. Once they had saved enough from ice cream, they turned to chocolate. It makes sense to me. He talked about the process of making his chocolate, from sourcing his beans on a recent trip to see small farmers in Belize and Guatemala, to outfitting the shop to producing the exquisite finished candies. “Look at that drain!” he said exuberantly, pointing to the floor and then to every carefully chosen fixture, tile, machine, drawing in the beautiful, gleaming shop.
I watched the Parliament chocolate makers tending big, rotating vats of chocolate, ladeling small scoops onto trays and decorating them like tiny pieces of art.
Coffee for the People: Austin Amento, along with his father, an electrical contractor, bought a small coffee shop about 5 years ago, called Augie’s Coffee House. They didn’t know much about the business but saw an opportunity to seize and build upon in an uncertain economic climate. They went along for a few years, and then realized that if they were going to make a go of it, they needed to ramp up. That meant identifying their mission and targeting traits that would set them apart: sourcing the best coffee beans; controlling every aspect of the bean-roasting, coffee-brewing, and costs; creating a new ambience for the shop and a clientele that would appreciate the experience.
Augie’s, named for the grandfather of the original owners, kept its name, but changed in every other way. They got a new look and feel for the building; they went to San Francisco to learn some basics from reputable roasters; they sourced growers who came to California and eventually traveled to Colombia to see and buy for themselves. And they catered to their clientele, whom Austin describes as “everyone”, including people from the University of Redlands, the high schoolers (Redlands High is within walking distance), and Esri, the local tech company with a thousand-plus in-town employees. They also educated their customers as they educated themselves, switching brews as many as four times a day for comparisons and contrasts. Some customers, Amento told me, would come in that many times to learn about and to drink the different coffees.
You might not think that craft beer, ice cream, chocolate, and coffee would be natural companions, but then you wouldn’t be Ben, Austin, and Ryan. Today, there is a network of connections the three have made, with each other and with Redlands products: coffee goes into beer and dribbles over ice cream; chocolate and coffee go into mochas and syrups; beer pairs with ice cream and coffee on special events; chocolate bars are on sale at the coffeehouse; chocolate nibs show up at the brewery; Redlands oranges and nearby apricots go into ice cream and beer; local olives and apples go into ice cream; San Bernardino Mountain spruce goes into beer. The unlikely list goes on, making for a growing collection of creative products and events in Redlands, California.