This Vegan Ice Cream Brand Brings Nigerian and Kenyan Flavors to Austin
As tasty as it is healthy.
Luv Fats, Chi Ndika’s dairy-free ice cream business, began thanks to a food allergy.
In 2016, Ndika’s mother, Kabi Waiganjo, was celebrating her first birthday after being diagnosed with dairy sensitivity. Ndika, a home chef whose love for food came from her father and cooking shows, took it upon herself to create a dairy-free dessert to celebrate her mom’s birthday. She whipped up an avocado-based ice cream made with coconut milk, olive oil, and cocoa butter.
“My mom likes to make fun of me by saying I’ve had every single job ever,” says Ndika. “I don’t necessarily have kitchen experience but a lot of [coffee] shops that I worked in had kitchens in the back. I only watch food and cooking shows. I observe and learn, then apply my own ideas to what I see.”
After the popularity of her birthday creation, Ndika developed Luv Fats into a side hustle. Friends and family booked her to sell her sweets at various events. The use of a creamy and mild-tasting avocado base created more versatility in flavors than if she had used a traditional banana or sweet potato thickener. It also allowed her to mimic the smoothness of ice cream and avoid the crumbly texture typically associated with vegan desserts. Ndika’s curiosity led to a vegan ice cream line that includes flavors such as sourdough toast and peach jam, caramel rosemary, and lavender rose chocolate. She sells her products at the Austin Texas Farmer's Market at Mueller, known for its strict makers-only rule. But Luv Fats also became a way for Ndika to explore and promote her cultural heritage.
“I'm East and West African. I'm Kenyan and Nigerian. Food is very important to us,” says Ndika. “A lot of Kenyans don't like sweets. I think about this constantly to make my ice cream palatable for different types of people.”
One way she does this is incorporating an uncommon amount of savory items. Ndika uses bold herbs such as peppermint, thyme, pandan, rosemary, and sage to flavor her ice cream and prevent the strong flavor profile of the coconut milk base from overpowering the taste. Smaller amounts of caramel, chocolate, and jam are used to create a unique pairing that satisfies a sugar craving while avoiding artificial ingredients. Ndika says her mother’s career as a nutritionist played a role in her desire to create a healthier alternative to satisfy a sweet tooth.
“A lot of the times when I come up with flavors, it's based on something that I don't really like,” says Ndika. “I'm not a fan of caramel, because for me it’s too sweet, but I know that it's a really popular ice cream and it sells well. This is how I came up with the caramel rosemary flavor. I paired it with a really savory item and that’s how my flavors come together.”
Many of these herbs and other ingredients are sourced from Ndika’s neighbors at the farmers market. When COVID-19 hit, Luv Fats was not spared a drop in sales in correlation to the shutdown and reduced foot traffic. However, the more pressing issue became her inability to find the ingredients she needed to make her ice cream. By mid-summer 2020, most of the supply issues evaporated and an uptick in business arose from the cultural uprisings that pushed for greater support for the Black community.
Ndika says that at first she struggled with the newfound attention and support.
“It's like, well, I've been here this whole time and people haven't necessarily noticed,” she says. “At the same time, I do appreciate people paying attention. It’s been a struggle. Especially at the farmers market. You’re putting so much of yourself out there and it is a different experience as a Black woman than it is for other vendors I’m alongside.”
Sales are still not where they were last year, but the pandemic led Ndika to quit her job and focus on Luv Fats full-time. Just before the shutdown, Ndika set-up a Go Fund Me page that raised more than $4,000 to purchase a batch freezer and upgrade her machinery. Previously, she was using a labor-intensive method of hand-mixing—a process that takes two to three hours to make a pint.
While COVID-19 still has the world on pause, Ndika is committed to her business and envisions Luv Fats to be an international business with outposts in her cultural home of Nigeria and Kenya. As a certified yoga instructor, she hopes to create a community center that merges her interests together.
“I want to have these shops where it's accessible and affordable to get ingredients like avocados and coconut milk,” says Ndika. “I want it to be a yoga studio as well as a little cafe with a small scoop shop where you can stop and get a bite to eat. It would be a community meeting point, because here [in Austin] and in Nigeria and Kenya, things like that are lacking for people my age, and people in general.”
Until then, you can find Ndika mixing up new flavors inspired by her Nigerian and Kenyan heritage that also happen to be healthier than the average frozen sweet treat.
Pints are available weekly and cost $12. Pre-order here or pick up and go at any of the below locations:
- Barrett's Coffee, 713 W St Johns Avenue, Austin, TX 78752
- The Bee Grocery, 1001 E 6th Street, Austin, TX 78702
- Dia's Market, 812 Justin Lane, Austin, TX 78757
- Royal Blue on Rainey Street, 51 Rainey St #120, Austin, TX 78701
- Revolution Vegan Kitchen, 7800 S 1st Street, Austin, TX 78745