“Who doesn’t like ice cream,” Omar Thorpe asks as he takes a break from his busy ice cream shop on a weekday afternoon. Thorpe and his wife, Astrid, are the owners of Crème & Cocoa, a storefront selling ice cream inspired by the Caribbean on the border of Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Crown Heights. As soon as you enter the shop you’re greeted by the smell of fresh dairy and usually Omar behind the counter. Sometimes he is flanked by two young men, his sons, who help scoop ice cream for customers and provide samples on tasting spoons. This is a family-run business and the result of a family’s love for ice cream and the ingredients and flavors of their childhoods.
Crème & Cocoa originally started as a coffee shop in 2016. Omar and Astrid sold sweets on the side of coffee but found that business was struggling. One night, they were discussing new possible business ventures and they realized that their new business idea was right in front of them—literally. “We make ice cream at home and have three ice cream machines in our kitchen so we decided to do that,” Omar remembers. Crème & Cocoa was reopened as a storefront focusing specifically on ice cream in July of last year.
The shop has quickly gained a following because of its creative Caribbean flavors that Thorpe says are a blend of his and his wife’s backgrounds—Thorpe is Panamanian and his wife is Haitian-American—and the surrounding neighborhood. “My wife and I wanted to use flavors that were inspired by our childhoods,” he says. “When I started making ice cream it was because I wanted to explore some of the treats that I had growing up in Panama. … I grew up eating passion fruit and that’s what I first started making with ice cream.”
Crème & Cocoa customers can expect scoops like sorrel sorbet and ice creams flavored with soursop, mango or even Grape-Nuts cereal. “We have the more traditional flavors like cookies and cream, but we want to use the rich history of our neighborhood, too,” he says. The Thorpes try to use ingredients from neighboring West Indian shops as often as possible and they also make a vegan ice cream with a coconut base.
Thorpe says the shop is a “tasting room” for what he’s working on and he adds new flavors to the regular rotation of 16 that the shop carries at any given time. He’s a mad scientist, modifying and perfecting recipes to create ice creams that he enjoys and his customers enjoy, too. “I love the way that the custard base of ice cream comes together and changes based on what you put in it,” he says excitedly. “It constantly fascinates me.”
Thorpe has big plans for the Crème & Cocoa brand. He wants to expand into retail in the future and has plans to launch a mobile bicycle that delivers ice cream to events and can be followed on social media like a food truck. He also wants to start selling at local grocery stores and hosting classes and events at the shop. “I think we bring something different to ice cream,” he says. For now, though, you can usually find him at the shop on Nostrand Avenue.