Pint-sized dog inspires Bad Walter’s big-tasting ice cream – J.
Sydney Arkin spent her entire adult life thinking she wanted to work in advertising. But she began to have doubts about the career she had chosen. “It just wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be,” she said.
Then, at the start of the pandemic, she was fired.
While others were stocking up on toilet paper, she went out and bought 11 pints of ice cream, all at once. And then, worrying about possible shortages of her comfort food, she thought, “I’d better learn how to make some myself.”
In a now-common story, what started as a pandemic hobby is now a business: Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream.
Why ice cream? It’s the ultimate comfort food.
And why lactose-free ice cream? Because Arkin, 33, has lots of lactose-intolerant Jewish friends. She did it for them.
When she was growing up in Manhattan as a young competitive gymnast, her parents used to bribe her with not one but two scoops of ice cream (she says she’s both blessed and cursed with a metabolism that can the supporter).
“Also, I grew up with a mother who had the worst diet you could imagine,” she said. “We were a household that would have Froot Loops for dinner. The ice cream was perfectly acceptable all the time. (Froot Loops has a starring role in a few Bad Walter flavor combos.)
Arkin attended the Ramah camps, but during the school year, gymnastics took precedence over Hebrew School. Later, when she was involved with United Synagogue Youth, she felt like she had missed something. So she decided to learn Hebrew in high school and then do a bat mitzvah.
“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “Although I am quite agnostic, culture and traditions are very important to me.”
But back to the other culture close to his heart: ice cream. She started making it in her Oakland kitchen, then when a friend’s wedding was called off during the pandemic and six friends celebrated in a backyard, her ice cream made its public debut.
“You should sell that,” was the response from one of the guests, who was a longtime friend. That would be Marc Schechter, founder of Square Pie Guys pizza. When someone successful in the food industry tells you such a thing, it behooves you to pay attention.
Bad Walter was born – named after his “little terrorist” chihuahua, Walter.
Arkin started selling the ice cream from his house, and it quickly caught on. She only makes one or two flavors at a time. Her trademark is unique flavor combinations she develops from scratch, often giving them tongue-in-cheek names.
Mick Jagger is brown sugar custard with Oreos and salted caramel swirls; Stroll Through Provence is lemon ice cream with swirls of blackberry jam and a lavender cookie crumble; Breakfast in bed is retro vanilla custard, cara cara orange custard (with a splash of prosecco), and caramelized cornflakes. Arkin’s most popular flavor to date is Slumber Party, which is Ritz cracker ice cream with thick chocolate fudge swirls, hazelnut butters, and Reese’s Chunks.
“It tastes like being 12,” she said. “I didn’t think anyone would be excited about this, but it really works.”
For Hanukkah, she made Rolling in Gelt (chocolate with chocolate covered potato chips and olive oil) and Sufganiyot, using Donut Savant’s donut sufganiyot, jam and a swirl of icing . For Passover, Elijah’s Munchies combined sweet ice cream, matzah cracker, macaroons and a swirl of wine and berry jam.
Arkin’s advertising background means she has marketing knowledge. Every Wednesday, she posts the next Bad Walter flavor to Instagram with a food-porn shot of an overloaded spoon against a colorful background. Customers place their orders (pints, which cost $13.50, often sell out in minutes), then pick up takes place on Saturdays at his workspace, the Korner Kitchen in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Convenient it isn’t, but the system works for those who are always on the hunt for the next delicious thing.
“People are more willing to do that here,” she said. “There are so many pop-ups that do this and sell out immediately. I think that might even be part of the fun of being aware of something new.
And for people who bring their dogs when they pick up their orders, Bad Walter’s also has a flavor for the pooches: peanut butter (served in a 1 oz mug).
Arkin doesn’t know where she’ll go with Bad Walter’s, but at this point she’s not thinking about retail or scoop stores. Maybe an ice cream truck is more his style.
“My favorite thing about making ice cream is that it’s fun,” Arkin concluded. “There’s a reason it’s a universal comfort food and why people turn to it on vacation as well as as a reward and after breakups. It makes everything better.