Frozen Kushterd: Out to FK the System
“The first place I sold was Dolores Park. I packed it up in pints, and I was dragging a cooler through the park, going up to groups and selling pints for six bucks and giving samples, and I kept going until I sold out. That told me, one, that people really enjoy frozen custard, and two, that I had the drive to move it.”
In an orange-billed Giants cap and a black tee, Frozen Kushterd founder Jason Angeles dominates a window table at the newly-opened Trademark Sports Bar on Folsom Street, motioning me to an expensive-looking stool as I squeeze past a flirting couple. Jason’s at Trademark tonight to check up on his latest Frozen Kushterd project, FK Reserve: a line of boozy desserts served exclusively at the South of Market bar. It’s barely rush hour, but already the spot’s buzzing with fresh-faced guests, plastic badges hanging from their hip pockets. With one of the most recognizable and popular food truck brands in a competitive market, Jason’s proven his ability to tap into the collective sweettooth of a health-conscious Bay Area population -- a determined hustle that was borne out of the economic downturn earlier this decade.
“My job got moved to Austin and I had the choice to move to Austin and keep my job -- so I stayed, and took the layoff package. I wanted to get into the food scene because I wanted to use my creative juices that I couldn't really use in my tech job. And at the time my homie was traveling and he said, 'Yo, I just went through St. Louis, you gotta try frozen custard!' So I said, 'Fuck it!' and bought a plane ticket, and I found a one-week class, checked out St. Louis, tried like nine different frozen custard places, you know, Ted Drewes, and I was like, ‘Alright, I'm going to do it.’”
Jason’s decisive drive to bring the midwest American delicacy to a West Coast audience is a product of his dogged business acumen as well as his visionary understanding of what makes people happy.
“I walked in [to Trademark] today and I saw this lady who got one of our [FK Reserve] milkshakes, and she had this big smile. And man, I started when I bought this almost a $20,000 custard machine, and set it up in my garage, and I was doing it straight gangster, doing the underground markets, making frozen custard at my house, doing shit pretty illegal until I got a food truck. And we were blessed -- I think we still are the highest-rated dessert food truck in the Bay, and now we've got [the FK Reserve] concept here [at Trademark], we have our scoop shop opening on Haight Street, and we have our Frozen Kushterd bar concept that we’ll be showcasing at Undiscovered.”
With FK and associated projects blossoming, Jason’s taken care to butter the bread of his own community, offering open-door mentorship through Frozen Kushterd as well as sister brands Hookt Donuts and Sugar & Spun.
“If people feel like [business ownership] is a path they want to take, I am going to help as many Filipinos as I can along the way, and I have been mentoring people, and showing these young cats you can make money doing the food hustle. You are blessed when you get to a certain point in your life, and the best way to give back is to bring your people up with you.”
Of course, Jason also sees the scope of his menus as a critical part of bringing honor to the community, proudly promoting the flavors of his Filipino heritage through inviting iterations of island classics -- like the Champorado Sundae.
“Straight up, it's not traditional Champorado with sticky rice, and I use actual semi-sweet chocolate, so it's an elevated Champorado, but it's elevated and I get to share my background in a way that a lot of people don't expect to learn about Filipino culture, and they come up just thinking they are going to get dessert, so when people come up on a cold night, they want something warm, we have Champorado for you, and people ask what does it mean, and it gives me that opportunity to tell them that Champorado is a traditional filipino dessert, but that we’ve kind of remixed it by putting a scoop on top, using all natural ingredients, using an organic condensed milk to finish it off. Frozen Kushterd is a canvas. We can paint and do whatever we like.”
For Jason, this blank-canvas mentality comes out of a more conservative initial approach to the project -- and now, with FK in full bloom, it also means a strong insistence on the presence of Filipino flavors in a kind of ‘Phase Two.’
“For Frozen Kushterd, it was already a struggle to sell something that was a traditionally midwestern dessert, so we wanted the masses to try it and give it the opportunity -- but that all changed once we started to get a decent following. It’s time for us to show who we are and showcase things as Filipino-Americans. And I never try to dumb it down. I might try to modernize it a little, but if it’s called the Bibingka sundae, I'm not going to say it’s a ‘rice flour muffin.’ I’m going to say it’s a Bibingka sundae, and I’ll have my cashier or my employee explain it for you.”
This interplay of curiosity about Filipino culture being met with delicious food is traffic that Jason sees as traveling in two directions, engaging Filipino-Americans in the act of stewarding and understanding their own identity while also providing a space of learning and exploration for those outside the community.
“If you think about the food landscape now, it’s a lot different than it was before. People are looking for different, right? Instead of before, where they were avoiding things, they are actually looking to challenge their palates. And, by the same token, I would say us second- and third-generation Filipino-Americans, we are trying to reach for who we are, whether we are learning about our culture through school, or through family and relatives -- it’s so important as a Filipino to eat, because you actually learn a lot about who we are through the food, the preparation, the traditions, the flavors.”
Those anxious to explore FK's take on those traditions can find a special experience at UNDISCOVERED, where Jason and his team will be serving Frozen Kushterd bars alongside their take the classic Filipino turon -- in partnership with another Bay Area food truck favorite, The Lumpia Company.
“What we are doing special for Undiscovered is we are going to do an ube-white chocolate dip, so you can choose any bar, and that's going going to be a specialty dip. And we are also collaborating with The Lumpia Company, and we are doing a turon bar: a Frozen Kushterd bar dipped in butterscotch, with turon fused on, and finished with white chocolate.”