The co-founders of Lick Honest Ice Creams reflect on their beginnings after nearly a decade in business
by Lauren Jones
Photographs by Annie Ray and Claire Schaper
Everyone loves ice cream. When it’s hot in Austin, which, let’s face it, feels like most of the year, nothing is more satisfying than heading to your favorite spot for a scoop, or many, of freshly made ice cream. There’s something so nostalgic about that first spoonful that we’re transported back to childhood every time. And for Austinites Chad Palmatier and Anthony Sobotik, it’s similar experiences that inspired them to found Lick Honest Ice Creams in 2011.
The couple, who met in New York in 2005, both grew up in small towns: Palmatier in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Sobotik in Hallettsville. “We would ride our bikes to the creamery downtown in the summers,” Palmatier says of life in the Amish country. “There was always some kind of seasonal flavor, and it was churned on-site. We knew nothing different.”
And while Sobotik’s early memories consisted mainly of chains like Dairy Queen and Sonic, Lancaster was a short train ride from the Big Apple, and he quickly fell in love with the way ice cream was made there. “I noticed right away that the creameries were attached to the dairies, and I thought that was amazing,” Sobotik says.
By 2006, the couple decided to start a business together, and while an ice cream shop was always one of their ideas, the aha moment really solidified on trips to visit Sobotik’s family in Texas. They began to question why no one was making honest ice cream like the kind they’d found in Lancaster. “We decided that we were going to be the people to open the kind of ice cream shop we wanted to go to,” Sobotik recalls.
Sobotik, who has a background in the culinary arts, and Palmatier, who has a background in design, aimed to start a business that would combine their talents, and opening an ice cream shop seemed like the perfect fit, from the branding and interiors of the new storefront to flavor development.
Lick Honest Ice Creams would be the ice cream destination that the Austin public was sorely missing. It would feature locally sourced dairy and ingredients from farmers and food artisans, something that no other ice cream shop was doing at the time. “We could be doing things differently and making more money, but then we’d be just like everyone else,” Palmatier says. “We make our own base, and we support a dairy out in Waco [Mill-King Market & Creamery] where you can literally go and touch the cows. We just value that.”
Given that Palmatier and Sobotik had both grown up in rural, agricultural communities, supporting small, independently owned operators was nonnegotiable. “If we couldn’t find a dairy that was going to do it with us, we weren’t going to do it,” Sobotik says. “We do things now the same way we did when we opened eight years ago. It was one of the conditions of opening Lick: to support dairymen and artisans through our ice cream.”
Over the years, they have come to work with more and more people from the surrounding communities, from the likes of Urban Roots, Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Austin Orchards, Pure Luck, San Saba Pecan Company, Texas Olive Ranch and Good Flow Honey. “As businesses grow, they make compromises, and we haven’t made any of those compromises,” Sobotik says. “It just doesn’t interest us, and it’s not the reason we started the company. We want to be thoughtful with how we grow and stick to our mission.”
And in sticking with their mission statement of turning out honest ice cream, it’s no surprise that the pair know each and every ingredient that goes into their ice creams. “We take the word ‘honest’ very seriously,” Palmatier says. Everything is made from scratch in the company’s Cedar Park kitchens, from sauces to syrups to cookies and marshmallows, all added into nearly 700 gallons of ice cream churned each week.
When it comes to flavors, Sobotik sees ice cream as a great place to experiment and use his culinary background, taking favorites from the dessert world and turning them into something that isn’t intimidating. Lick’s first flavor, cilantro-lime, is Sobotik’s favorite to this day and utilized ingredients grown in and around Austin. “It really tastes like Texas in the summer,” Sobotik says. Meanwhile, Palmatier was the mastermind behind Lick customer picks, such as Texas sheet cake and Seven Layer Bar, while he often draws inspiration from home for Lick’s fall flavors.
At the end of the day, Lick is a business that is imbedded within the Austin community, and for its co-founders, getting to eat ice cream on a daily basis is just one of the perks. “[This job] never gets old,” Sobotik says. Lick is helping to provide livelihoods for local farmers while producing some of the best ice cream in the capital city.