For 1,500 miles, Karen Krinsky drove her new truck up the interstate, wondering what she had gotten herself into. She had never run a food truck before. She’d never made ice cream, much less vegan ice cream. All Krinsky knew on that fateful day in 2010 was that she had just purchased a sizable used vehicle, and now she had to drive it from Boynton Beach, Florida, to Providence, Rhode Island.
“As I’m driving it, I’m just thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, I cannot believe I’m doing this,’ ” Krinsky recalled in a recent interview.
But Krinsky, now 46, had a vision. This vision would eventually become Like No Udder, a vegan creamery in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence.
Krinsky grew up on Long Island, in New York, and has fond memories of getting ice cream from Carvel, a popular chain, with her late father.
Taking cues from her older brother, Krinsky had become a vegetarian at age 10 and a vegan after high school, so the idea of a plant-based business excited her. At first, Krinsky said she had imagined a vegetarian hot dog cart, but she opted for animal-free ice cream instead.
“I researched for three years before I bought the truck,” she said. “It just seemed like it could be really fun.”
Krinsky named the truck Betsy Loo, and began operations with her husband, Chris Belanger. This was not the first joint venture for the couple, who have been together since 1999; they had previously collaborated on a wholesale baking business called The Screaming Vegan. Now, they felt ready for a new challenge.
Betsy Loo would be known thereafter as the first vegan soft-serve ice cream truck in the world.
But there were major hurdles. At the time, food trucks were a new concept in Providence, and many potential customers balked at the idea of non-dairy ice cream.
“Running a truck can be so fun and so rewarding, but trucks break, and it rains, or events can get canceled,” Krinsky said. “There are many obstacles, so you have to be full-in to do it, and I’m so grateful I had support.
“I’m not going to lie, I cried a lot. My truck was towed many times. But the reward of working veg fests, birthday parties, weddings, street festivals, and being part of the community – that’s just who I am. I like to serve people.”
The years passed, and Krinsky and Belanger persevered. Like No Udder became a flagship of the burgeoning food-truck scene, and plant-based businesses popped up across the city, normalizing their cruelty-free mission. Then, in 2016, the pair opened a brick-and-mortar ice cream store on busy Ives Street.
No longer confined to a vehicular workspace, Krinsky could expand her operations.
“We offer so much more here than we did on the truck,” she says. “We make our own hard ice cream here. We have soft serve and floats and shakes and sundaes, and we even make things like knishes and challah.”
(Meanwhile, Betsy Loo is “hibernating” at the moment, according to Like No Udder’s website, https://like-no-udder.com.)
Today, Krinsky has flowing silver hair, fashionable glasses and a joyful laugh. She describes herself as “kind of a hippie,” and her store is crowded with cat pictures and toy unicorns.
But despite her free-spirited demeanor, Krinsky mixes flavors into plant-based milks and loads her 24-quart ice cream machine with the precise efficiency of an assembly-line riveter.
“We just replace the dairy with other proteins, other fats,” she explains. “I take raw ingredients, like cashews and full-fat coconut milk, and I blend them and let them chill. I try to use local ingredients wherever I can.
“I’m fortunate that I can produce almost five gallons at a time. But to make a batch of ice cream takes approximately an hour and a half per flavor, so I can’t do more than six to eight flavors in a day.”
Krinsky takes pride in her vegan recipes, but some customers miss the memo and assume they’re eating traditional ice cream. Most people, she says, can’t tell the difference. And while vegan ice cream can’t be considered a “health product,” Krinsky feels there are many benefits from her sweet concoctions.
“The benefit is you’re not getting cholesterol, hormones, and there’s no suffering for these animals,” she said.
She adds, “Vegan products have come so far. I remember in my early days of veganism, there was tofu ice cream. It was not good. The vegan cheeses were rubbery and terrible. Now you can go into any grocery store and buy a quality vegan product.”
Krinsky is low-key about her Jewish heritage, but hints of Judaism at her shop are visible here and there – such as in the challah and knishes she bakes each Friday and a “Mitzvah board” that invites visitors to pre-purchase items for future customers.
Krinsky’s great-grandparents were tailors in New York City, and her grandmother’s stories about their shop continue to inspire her.
“I think being Jewish, and being close to my family, and learning about how they just worked hard to get where they were and live a comfortable life has always stuck with me,” Krinsky says. “I’ve always felt compelled to work hard, serve others, and this business allows me to do that. I’m so grateful that I love it and I get to make people happy.”
ROBERT ISENBERG (email@example.com) is the multimedia producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and a writer for Jewish Rhode Island.