WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Just in time for summer, people with allergies have a new place to enjoy ice cream that’s safe for them.
Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts recently celebrated the grand opening of its first standalone shop in Wyoming. The store is located at 2265 Porter St. SW, just east of Byron Center Avenue and Lamar Park.
Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts serves up vanilla soft-serve ice cream, slushies, freeze pops, chocolate chip flurries and other icy treats, all of which do not contain dairy, nuts, gluten, egg or soy.
“This shop is the first minority woman-owned, allergen-free vegan shop in the state of Michigan. It just floored me because all I wanted to do was just to provide an option for people to have ice cream where it was safe and where it was good. But knowing that is just, it’s monumental for me,” owner Kalene McElveen said.
McElveen says the response from the allergen-free community “has been overwhelming.”
“I had a mom share with me that for the first time her son was able to come to an ice cream shop. He was 8 years old and he never had the experience of going and sitting down at an ice cream shop, just like a regular kid would have. He didn’t have that. And so that just made my day, knowing that I’m able to offer something for kids that they’ve not had before,” McElveen said.
FROM THANKSGIVING TOFURKY TO AN ICE CREAM DREAM
McElveen became a vegetarian in the 1990s when her mom brought their family into the dietary lifestyle.
“It was like, we’re not having turkey, we’re having Tofurky for Thanksgiving. So we were probably one of the only families in the ‘90s… in Detroit eating Tofurkey and tofu when everybody else had fried chicken and ribs. So it was very different. But I learned to adjust to that,” she said.
With limited food options, McElveen honed her skills in analyzing ingredients and finding substitutions.
“If we wanted to eat it, we had to learn how to adapt. And so when I started Tastefull (Vegan Frozen Desserts), I was looking for something that didn’t have all the high fructose corn syrup, all the artificial ingredients, and… I couldn’t find it. So I made it,” she explained.
Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts started in the fall of 2020 with strawberry lemonade and mango freeze pops and quickly expanded its products at the Fulton Street Farmers Market as people told McElveen what they liked and what they were looking for.
Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts now distributes its products to specialty stores including Harvest Health Foods, the Bridge Street Market and Forest Hills Foods. McElveen says she added four stores to her distribution this year and brought Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts to the east side of the state by stocking Spun Sugar Detroit in South Lyon.
“It just kind of blossomed. And now being able to offer those and ice cream, it’s just one of the dreams that I’ve always had. I’ve always wanted to own an ice cream shop, but a non-dairy ice cream shop,” she said with a laugh.
WATCHING WYOMING EVOLVE
McElveen grew up in Detroit but came to West Michigan to attend Grand Valley State University.
“I just ended up loving West Michigan and just the family atmosphere and having my church roots here and so, with that and with the support of the community, it’s made starting this business a lot easier,” McElveen said, pointing to the support she got from Start Garden, Michigan State University Extension and the Downtown Market.
McElveen moved to Wyoming about a decade ago and lives just a short walk away from the shop she now owns.
“I’ve just watched the area evolve,” she said, pointing to the former 7-Eleven site that’s now Two Guys Brewing.
McElveen saw the Porter Street ice cream shop change hands several times before she saw her opportunity to strike last fall. She says being able to restart the neighborhood ice cream shop she also used to visit “was a bonus in just adding to the city I live in.”
“People in the neighborhood had been kind of really concerned because for a long time there was a ‘for sale’ sign, and they didn’t think anybody would buy it. And this is the neighborhood ice cream shop, so people walk all over just to come here, and some people are just happy that it’s open,” she said.
GROWING THE ‘TASTEFULL FAMILY’
McElveen says some visitors seeking standard ice cream have been “pleasantly surprised” to find out the shop now serves only vegan desserts.
“I’ve had some people try it and they didn’t really recognize that it was vegan. They asked, ‘Is this vegan?’ For some people, they enjoy it even better than the traditional, soft serve (ice cream),” she said.
McElveen says one adult came to the shop and ordered ice cream only to later realize after reading some news stories about the business that it was vegan ice cream they had.
“They were like, ‘I didn’t know I was eating dairy free ice cream!’ So that’s good because I want people to be able to not miss the flavor and the taste just because it doesn’t have some of the other traditional ingredients in it,” McElveen said.
She says the difference is the natural sweeteners she uses, which include maple syrup in some products and pure cane sugar in others. Most of her desserts use coconut or fruit as a base.
Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts’ menu is constantly changing based on customer feedback, which McElveen encourages her “Tastefull family” to leave on her website, tastefullvegan.com. McElveen releases the weekend menu every Thursday on the business’ Instagram page.
Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts’ starting hours are Friday through Sunday, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. McElveen says she may consider extending those hours as she adds staff.
“My family is my crew right now, my family and close, close friends,” she said with a laugh. “But I do have people that I’m looking to be able to grow in the building.”
McElveen plans to update her shop over time, changing the blue exterior paint to green and adding a permanent sign for Tastefull Vegan Frozen Desserts.
McElveen says the interest in her shop already extends beyond Michigan, with calls from Florida and visitors from New York.
“On opening day, I got a request to open up in Woodstock, New York. I said, ‘I want to start in Michigan expanding first before we go out of state.’ But at some point, it would be great to have people have that option in every state,” she said.
McElveen says since she opened the ice cream shop, she’s getting more customer inquiries and her products in local stores have “flown off the shelves a lot quicker.” She’d love to eventually bring Tastefull Frozen Vegan Desserts to Whole Foods and other stores nationwide.
“I feel like whether it’s by choice or whether you have to for health reasons, you should be able to eat the way you want and not have to suffer. It shouldn’t taste like sand. It should taste good. So that’s what’s important to me,” she said.