Our family was in Downtown Phoenix the other day doing some R&D visits. We made our first family trip to Churn – the acclaimed ice cream shop by Upward Projects. I thought I’d share a few observations – both things we loved and a couple of details that bugged me.

Overall, we loved this place. The brand is spot on. It fits well into the family of Upward Projects concepts. True to form, there are a lot of really cool details designed into the environment (like the striped concrete parking block thingy in the pic below). Oh – and the food is excellent.

The place wasn’t packed when we visited on a Monday night. I hear there is typically a line out the door, though that doesn’t seem like much of a statement considering the place is TINY. When just a few families showed up while we were inside, suddenly we couldn’t even move around. This seems to be the trend with local, batch-scale ice cream parlours. They’ve opted for the Baskin Robbins footprint with an upscale approach to the product. The advantages are the reduced overhead and popularity perception – people always want to try the place that looks busy. On the downside, it’s frustrating when I feel like I need to corral my kids so they don’t get lost in the crowd.

I also dislike how most ice cream shops these days make you sort of fight for service. There were two employees behind the counter, and they sort of help a couple people at a time. I’m a big believer in making sure people are taken care of (eye contact, a smile, accurate order taking and fulfillment, etc.), especially when they’ve had to wait longer than usual. In typical fashion, we brainstormed a number of service models that might solve that problem while we waited in line. I’d tell you what they are . . . but you’ll just have to wait and see them when we implement them in a project we’re contemplating.

Anyway – since the place eventually got busy, I didn’t get any good wide angle shots. I’m borrowing this one from Phoenix New Times. The overall design reminded me a lot of old fashioned candy shops – not unlike Marceline’s Confectionery at Downtown Disney.

I love this little step they installed so that kids can easily see the ice cream in the dipping cabinet. Most place solve this problem (if they decide to solve it at all) by installing a fancier dipping cabinet with lower and wider display areas. When I saw this solution, though, I realized that I usually feel like I need to pull my kids away from display cases because I’m nervous about their little finger prints annoying the shop owner. In this case, it made the experience feel more inviting for my youngest child.

Looking at pictures of Churn on the internet, I noticed that they didn’t always have this built-in step. In one pic, I saw a small stool there. I think it’s great that Churn noticed a problem and installed an elegant solution. Kudos.

The shop offers a wall full of candy for sale. Some of the candy looked really tempting, and overall I love the idea of offering more than just ice cream in an old fashioned parlour concept.

But the execution of this candy wall felt like a bit of a disaster. Most of the candy was prepackaged and displayed in an unappealing way. I was especially disappointed by the amount of product that was sold right out of the display boxes that are meant for convenience store shelves. This works for a concept like Rocket Fizz, where the look of the store accommodates a cheap display approach. But for this upscale-looking shop, I hoped to see neatly organized candy merchandised in more simplified layers and a more appealing fashion.

Now, I’ll admit that the actual pharmacies that act as predecessors to modern soda and ice cream shops were packed full of merchandise that was poorly displayed. But I think we’re allowed to improve on concepts when we lift visual cues from them. And with the amount of attention these guys paid to the details of this space, I just expected a little more effort.

Here’s another shot of some of the merchandising mess. A little bit of work here would go a long way in delivering on the visual experience and – my history shows – boosting sales of these secondary products in the process.

This cone display is adorable, though.

And so many of the architectural and interior design details helped deliver a really cool experience. This restroom door is fantastic.

The only seating is outdoors – both in front of and behind the shop. But misters kept the area surprisingly cool despite the 100 degree weather. Here my son is trying to convince us of how much he’d enjoy having misters in our backyard.

Finally, the food. We were visiting other ice cream shops on the same day, so we only ordered two items. Additionally, we were on the prowl for specialty concoctions. So, while I hear their ice cream alone is delicious, we didn’t try a scoop.

The first item we ordered was a Caramel Apple Pie Float. It’s ingredients include vanilla ice cream, salted caramel, apple soda, and cinnamon sugar. It didn’t disappoint. My favorite dessert is a caramel apple dumpling we make every fall. The kids felt it tasted very similar to that. It’s crazy how you can get so much of the flavor for so little effort. My little critics thought the only improvement would be a touch of texture – a bit of crumbled pie crust on top or some cinnamon apple bits mixed in.

The second item was a S’mores Sundae. It consists of chocolate ice cream, hot fudge, butter grahams, and toasted marshmallow fluff. It was superb. The pics below show the Churn employee roasting the marshmallow and my daughter eager to dig in. All in all, despite a few opportunities for optimization (I’ve come to expect perfection from Upward Projects), we loved the space, the experience, and the food. We’ll definitely be back.

Dustin Smith

Author Dustin Smith

Dustin is the father of four awesome kids and works as a consultant and entrepreneur in the entertainment attractions industry.

More posts by Dustin Smith

Leave a Reply