First Look: Tyra Banks’ Inspiring New SMiZE Cream Shop Opens in Santa Monica

The premium frozen custard is available locally in LA, and via nationwide shipping.

Photo by Massimo Campana

Before getting discovered and quickly catapulted into a life as a working supermodel at the tender age of 17, Tyra Banks’ school weeks were punctuated by a beloved Friday afternoon ritual with her mom. After picking up her daughter from school at the end of each week, Banks’ mother Carolyn London would treat them to ice cream and the two would dish over boy drama, surprise pop quizzes, and everything in between. Even after Banks landed her first magazine cover with Seventeen and began booking international modeling gigs, their Friday afternoon ice cream dates remained constant.

Banks would go on to make a successful career out of breaking boundaries: she was the first woman to grace the cover of GQ Magazine, the first Black woman featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and has been twice recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s most influential people. She taught the world how to smize (smile with your eyes) as host and executive producer of America’s Next Top Model, a reality contestant show that mentored young models and ran for 24 seasons, and dominated daytime TV as the host of The Tyra Banks Show, an Emmy Award-winning talk show that ran for five seasons. 

And while it might be a stretch to say that Banks’ success is owed entirely to ice cream, she’s quick to recognize how those sweet heart-to-hearts with her mother served as an incubator for some of her most ambitious dreams. Now a mother herself, Banks wanted her next venture to motivate others in a similarly delicious fashion: enter SMiZE Cream

The original plan was for Banks to launch her ModelLand theme park in Santa Monica in May 2020. The multilevel theme park was based off of Banks’ semi-autobiographical novel by the same name and intended to be a place where any and everyone could live out their model fantasies with photoshoots, runways, shopping, and more. When that was postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic, Banks decided to refocus her energy on an ice cream brand that would capture the nostalgia of her favorite childhood memories. She sought out the best of the best, tapping the world’s only ice cream scientist Dr. Maya Warren to help her develop flavors and create an inspiring ice cream brand that evokes everything from the wonder of Willy Wonka to Black girl magic and more. SMiZE Cream opened its doors to the public and launched nationwide delivery on Friday, July 2, just ahead of Independence Day weekend.

Photo by Massimo Campana

The result is an ice cream shop unlike any you’ve ever stepped foot in. Located in the heart of Santa Monica Place just a short walk from the neighboring pier, beach, and promenade, SMiZE Cream sports a futuristic, flying saucer-shaped storefront with a colorful multi-scoop ice cream cone acting as a beacon on its roof, plus a cast of outrageous characters based on Banks’ friends and family that decorate the doors and interior of the shop. Gold spray-painted vinyls and headphones hang from skylights inside, and behind the sparkle-studded ice cream display case hangs a wheel with the faces of various SMiZE Cream characters. 

Whenever “SMiZE ‘o’ Clock” strikes (approximately 20 times a day), a SMiZE Cream employee spins the wheel to choose a prize for a lucky winner. Meanwhile, “I Want That SMiZE Cream,” the catchy electro-pop single from DJ Splitz, the main SMiZE Cream diva who’s modeled after Banks’ mother, serves as the shop’s anthem and plays on repeat over the speakers, featuring vocals from Banks and musician Stori (and an adlib from Banks’ son York).

But behind this fantastical facade is ice cream that’s just as decadently over-the-top and delectable, with compelling, unheard-of flavor combinations courtesy of months of trial and error between Banks and Dr. Maya Warren. And technically, as Banks is quick to point out, it’s not ice cream at all, but a premium frozen custard made with egg yolks in addition to milk and cream.

ice creams
Photo by Massimo Campana

SMiZE Cream launched with seven signature flavors—The Best Vanilla I Ever Had, Strawberry BirthYAY! Cake, Brownies, I Love You!, Purple Cookie Mon-STAR & Me, Salted Caramel King, Cookie Caramel Queen, and Chocolate Barbeque—with additional flavors and vegan options coming soon. At the bottom of each cup is a Cracker Jacks-inspired surprise—a sizable, sprinkle-covered chunk of edible cookie dough, with each SMiZE Cream flavor revealing a different cookie dough flavor and sprinkle combination. The cookie dough surprise acts as another reminder from Banks that those who dig deep are rewarded for their efforts.

Just like her SMiZE Cream characters, the flavors Banks’ chose to debut with are also close to her heart. For example, Chocolate Barbeque—a rich and smoky creation that evokes visceral memories of family picnics and long holiday weekends—was created in honor of Banks’ father. 

“Some of my favorite memories of Inglewood, California, are at home with my dad,” Banks said. “Every time I smell smoked meat, no matter where I am, I always think of my dad. I think so many people share similar experiences and I wanted to create a flavor that would bring up those sense memories.”

While the entire endeavor of opening her SMiZE Cream shop and preparing the brand for nationwide shipping has been a dream come true, Banks is especially proud to be unveiling a brick-and-mortar so close to her hometown of Inglewood. 

Photo by Massimo Campana

“It means everything to me,” Banks said, revealing that, “We have some stuff planned with Inglewood proper soon, but it was really important for me that the ice cream shop be in an accessible location for people who come from where I’m from.”

With inclusivity representing a cornerstone of SMiZE Cream’s mission, Banks wants everyone who enters the shop to feel welcome and seen.

“For people to come to an ice cream shop where the founder is Black, the mascot is Black, the fictitious family is Black, with non-binary characters… I’m so excited that people are going to be able to come here and have that,” she said.

But SMiZE Cream is about so much more than delicious frozen treats, catchy beats, and fun characters. The brand is only a reality because Banks was encouraged by people like her mother and able to partner with experts like Dr. Maya Warren to help her execute her vision. To ensure that others have similar resources to achieve their goals, she launched The SMiZE Goalz & Dreamz Factory and partnered with global mentoring platform Eldera to connect hopeful entrepreneurs with professionals with at least six decades of life experience. Those interested in taking advantage of the mentoring program are encouraged to submit their dream goal for consideration.

The most exciting part? SMiZE Cream is just getting started. Throughout the summer they’ll be launching pop-ups, have a big-name international collaboration coming up in August, as well as another flagship on the docket for 2022, and international franchises on the way. 

For those unable to visit the Santa Monica shop in person, SMiZE Cream is available for nationwide delivery, with each package arriving in a Creamz & Dreamz Box themed to SMiZE Cream’s mascot, DJ Splitz and her beats, plus unique AR experiences and other fun surprises.

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Danielle Dorsey is the Los Angeles Editor at Thrillist.