Rolled ice cream finds sweet spot with Atlanta frozen-treat lovers

Forget the scoop. Hold the cone. Atlanta’s frozen-treat lovers have fallen hard for the trendy new phenomenon known as rolled ice cream.

Since the arrival of 8 Fahrenheit on Buford Highway in March 2016, the region has gone totally bananas over the style, which dispenses with churns and tubs of ready-made ice cream in favor of an experience that is as much about spectacle as flavor.

In the past year and a half, rolled ice cream stores have popped up from Buckhead to Duluth to Athens — so many it’s hard to keep track. 8 Fahrenheit now has seven locations across the Southeast and Texas.

Ready made for the Instagram crowd, rolled ice cream is believed to have started in Southeast Asia as a Johnny-on-the-spot street food. (Thailand often gets credit, which is why the concoction is frequently called Thai rolled ice cream.)

In tropical climes, soaring temps can make it hard to keep ice cream rock solid. So savvy vendors fashioned a way to freeze the liquid base on a super-cold flat metal surface. Once it’s mixed and spread pancake thin, they slice the ice cream into strips, roll it up into a bunch of neat little mini-cigars, plop it into a cup, douse with syrups and sauces, and shower with toppings.

Voila! Rolled ice cream!

“Over 90 percent of Americans love ice cream, and this is just a new way of making it,” says Tony Garcia, a partner-owner at Roll It Up, which opened on Buford Highway in January and added a second location in Athens last month. Garcia says the product tastes better because it’s made fresh.

There’s no chance of freezer burn, no opportunity for thawing and refreezing, which can mar the texture.

“We just kind of compare it to the frozen yogurt phase in the ’80s and ’90s,” says John Martin, who opened a franchise of Philadelphia-based Sweet Charlie’s on Roswell Road in June. “It was just kind of a different way to consume something that’s been around forever. And people like to see the ice cream made right in front of their eyes.”

Because many of the early makers, including 8 Fahrenheit, claim to be Thai-inspired, their flavors reflect a tropical palate: Thai tea, mango, lychee and pineapple.

But as the ice cream has become assimilated into the larger culture, flavors have become less exotic and more American. The top sellers for Sweet Charlie’s are Wonderfilled (Oreo), Namaste (fresh strawberries and cheesecake) and Piedmont Park (peanut butter, pretzel and chocolate). Most places sell cups in the $6-$7 range.

So who’s eating all this good stuff?

Martin has noticed a pattern of families with young children. Garcia says his frozen fare appeals to young and old but admits: “We cater definitely to a younger crowd.”

And business owners agree that rolled ice cream has been like manna for social media.

“I’d say over half the people that come in film their ice cream being made,” Martin says. “And even more take a picture of the final product. Social media has been huge for us.”

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