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Coolhaus Founders: Ampersand Women Natasha Case & Freya Estreller

June 05, 2014 | Filed in: Woman of the Week

If you grew up having a Pavlovian response every time you heard the ice cream truck, then you’re going to love today’s Ampersand Women: Coolhaus founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller.


In 2009, Case and Estreller first began selling their cleverly named, architecturally-themed ice cream sandwiches (the Frank Berry, the Mies Vanilla Rohe…) out of a beaten-up postal truck at Coachella. Today, Coolhaus has a fleet of 11 trucks nationwide, two storefronts in Southern California, and their products are sold in over 1,500 gourmet markets across the country.


Hundred Chocolate Caramel. Yes, please.

This is just the beginning. Freya has recently branched out into gourmet jelly shots with partner Ethan Feirstein, and Natasha has big plans to expand the Coolhaus empire. So, ready your spoons!

I caught up with the dynamic duo at the launch of their new cookbook, Coolhaus Ice Cream Book, at DUMBO’s Powerhouse Arena. We talked business, design, and saying no to FOMO—but mostly we just did a lot of jumping.


How did the whole Coolhaus thing come about?

Natasha Case: I came from seven years of architecture academic training, and I just started to feel like there was a disconnect with public awareness and design. I have always been passionate about food and had experimented with bringing food into the architecture discourse at school (calling it ‘Farchitecture’). Coolhaus was the first real project under this conceptual umbrella. When I met Freya, we had a shared vision and complementary skills sets. Plus the timing was great: We were first to market with a gourmet dessert truck, and social media (geographic-based tweeting) was just taking off.

Freya Estreller: I had the proverbial quarter-life crisis at 26 and decided to change it up. I was working in real estate, took the GMAT and pretty much failed it, and then met Natasha and her architecturally themed ice cream sandwiches. I thought, “Why the fuck not?!” Let’s turn this art project into a business.

NC: Officially, we met at a party in L.A. That night, I had split my pants on the way in, so I almost went home! It was a Sliding Doors moment… but the intellectual and romantic connection between us has been undeniable ever since.

What’s it like running a business with your wife?

FE: The best part is we strategize all the time and can make key decisions quickly. We’ve also been on some crazy Coolhaus adventures, on and off the truck. The challenging part is fighting productively. Co-founders and partners have to be able to hash it out so they can get to a much better outcome.

NC: The best part is having so much time together to discuss the vision, the team, the strategy. That can also be the challenging part! How to define the work/pleasure boundary is challenging—you have to set rules and follow them.


Best business lessons you’ve learned thus far?

NC: Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Our chairman of the board always says, “You can walk through a wall if you don’t know it’s there.” In other words, inexperience can be an asset! Don’t be afraid to make radical changes if your business isn’t looking like the business you want, just pull the band-aid off! Surround yourself with talent that is specialized and can teach you what you don’t know. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Find experts!

FE: “Action not perfection” is an important mantra of ours. Get your product/service out there and build, measure, learn, refine, and be prepared to pivot and make difficult choices. You have to be tough out there! Failure is just par for the course. Also, HUSTLE. People always ask us how we got Coolhaus into 2,000 stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Direct, and I tell them we walked into our local store, found the decision-maker, and refused to take “no” for an answer. And then we leveraged that to get into other stores.


Your personality at work in three words?
NC: Visionary, whimsical, closer.
FE: Try one word: bi-polar. I can be intense but also very laid-back.

When you were little, you wanted to be…
NC: I believe I wanted to do medicine or design medical equipment—but I was too much of a hypochondriac to pursue it.
FE: Doctor or scientist.


When you “grow up,” you want to…
FE: Be a mentor and advisor for other young entrepreneurs.
NC: Continue to pursue ‘Farchitecture’ but with more products and brands under my belt. It’s very important to me to be a mentor, and I’d like to have a seed fund that can invest and guide up-and-coming female entrepreneurs. I’d also like to teach a class that is cross-listed in business and design!


What do you wish you’d known when you started working?
FE: How to effectively manage and motivate people and teams. That’s the hardest part of running a business!
NC: Think about what you want your brand and team to look like, and draw it out. Work to achieve that vision. Don’t let the story write you—you write the story.


FYI: This beauteous thing has bacon in it. 

Success is…
FE: Happiness.
FN: …about an element of control and awareness. The ability to control how you spend your time and what you spend it on. To decide you need a break or vacation because you are in touch with your needs and have the awareness to make decisions about your professional path.


Happiness is…
FE: Being yourself, loving, and being loved.
NC: The serene joy of knowing that, in a particular moment, there is nowhere else you’d want to be and with nobody else (so, basically, the opposite of FOMO). Ideally with our dogs at our feet, too.


FE: Pizza is overrated.
NC: Lobster is overrated. Crab is actually better.

FE: Breakfast burritos are underrated.
NC: Follow-up is underrated.


What’s your motto?
NC: Put your vision on paper and you can make anything happen.
FE: It’s stolen from Nike: JUST (fucking) DO IT. You have one life, so go out there and do something with it.

– Interview by Tory Hoen

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