Ici Ice Cream closes after 12 years of service in Berkeley

Ruby Sapia/Staff

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Ici Ice Cream, an ice cream shop known for using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, bid farewell to the Berkeley community after announcing the closure of both of its locations Thursday.

The company announced on Twitter and Instagram that it would be closing after 12 years of service, even though its second location on University Avenue opened December 2017.

UC Berkeley sophomores Namita Chandra and Lena Zhou worked at both locations of Ici Ice Cream from January 2018 until the company closed its doors. Zhou, who called the news “really unexpected,” said Ici Ice Cream owner Mary Canales did not give employees a specific reason for the sudden closure.

Both Zhou and Chandra gained new relationships with their co-workers and bosses, with Zhou referring to Ici as a “Berkeley landmark.”

“It kind of is a defining time period in our friendship,” Zhou said. “We both just really appreciate Ici for what is has been and what it is to us.”

Mary Denham, founder of Bay Area business M. Denham Baking Co., cited Ici as a factor in her decision to become a pastry chef.

Denham, who grew up in nearby Livermore, recalled going on “adventures” to Berkeley and visiting Ici. She said the company’s selections were always “really different” at a time when not many other shops were exploring unique flavors. Denham, who has harbored an interest in baking since she was a child, said Canales influenced her style with the subtlety and seasonality of her flavors.

“Ici was one of those places where I could see someone doing it well — doing it right,” Denham said.

Although Denham said she was sad and disappointed about Ici closing, she added that the closure of any food business is not that surprising. According to Denham, restaurants are having a harder time hiring staff at reasonable prices as fewer people can afford to live in the Bay Area.

“The restaurant industry in the Bay Area is this big bubble that’s bound to burst,” Denham said.

Tara Esperanza, the owner of Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, an ice cream shop near Ici’s original College Avenue location, said that although she does not know why Ici closed, running a small business is “really hard.” And though customers compare Ici and Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, Esperanza said she believes there are enough people in the Bay Area to support two ice cream shops that offer similarly organic and unique ice cream flavors.

Esperanza said she welcomes customers from Ici into her store and added that she shares the criticism Ici may have faced for its “expensive” prices. Using fresh, organic ingredients for ice cream is costly, Esperanza said, which is why both shops’ prices may be higher than the average grocery store’s pint of ice cream.

“I don’t think people realize the cost involved in running a small business,” Esperanza said. “I’m sure (closing) was a really really hard decision for (Ici) to make.”

Contact Sabina Mahavni at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabina_mahavni.