By Dave Yanko
Sometimes the answer is smack dab in front of you.
Regina’s Daniela Mintenko was musing about her future in the fashion industry while eating artisan ice cream at a shop in Vancouver, where she was advancing her training while her husband Rob studied orthodontics. Unhappy with the direction of her career, Mintenko was yearning for something new, something creative that she could throw herself into with a passion. And there it was on her spoon.
“I was thinking how much I love ice cream, and how popular it is in Vancouver,” recalls Mintenko, who spent her childhood in Colombia, where homemade ice cream was her passion and the most popular dessert in the country. “Then I thought ‘I can make ice cream, and I can make it even better.’” It was a revelation that spawned Dandy’s Artisan Ice Cream on south Albert Street in Regina.
To prepare for her entrepreneurial venture, Mintenko enrolled in Ice Cream 101 at Penn State University—that’s right, go ahead and google it. She then took combined diploma courses in culinary arts, and professional bread and pastry arts at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. She says the courses gave her a sound grounding in culinary arts and the discipline needed to run a kitchen. She and Rob moved back to Regina in the summer of 2018 to pursue their new endeavours. Dandy’s launched in February this year and employs 23 full- and part-time employees.
Mintenko bills the company as a unique-to-Regina shop that makes small-batch ice cream “handcrafted to perfection.” She makes all her ice cream in-house using local and seasonal ingredients wherever possible, including Canadian dairy, fresh fruits, berries, spices, spirits, and nuts.
The shop makes waffle cones on site and offers gluten-free and vegan options, including an “ice cream” that’s dairy free. “We use a coconut-milk base and people are crazy for it,” she says. “They tell me it tastes exactly the same or even better than regular ice cream.” Dandy’s uses compostable in-house and takeout packaging and works hard to recycle as much waste as possible. “We want to become a ‘Zero Waste’ company.” (According to the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, the goal of Zero Waste is “to promote clean production, prevent pollution, and create communities in which all products are designed to be cycled safely back into the economy or environment.”)
Something else that sets Dandy’s apart is its hours of operation, which may well be important to the company’s long-term success. It’s open from noon to 10 p.m., seven days a week, and features a 35-seat parlour—work is underway on an outdoor patio. In inclement weather, customers can come indoors and sit down for an ice cream treat or cup of coffee made from beans supplied by a local Regina roastery. Mintenko says Dandy’s already has a growing number of “regulars” and says “we can offer a cozy place to hang out in the winter.”
The company scores an average 4.6 out of 5 on more than 200 Google reviews; however, Mintenko says a several customers have questioned her prices. A single scoop goes for $4.90, a double sells for $6.90 and a children’s scoop, $3.50. “I think some people just don’t understand what goes into making artisanal ice cream,” she says. “We don’t use an artificial strawberry-flavoured syrup, for example; we make our own strawberry puree using real strawberries that are roasted to maximize their natural flavour. We make all of our own toppings and sauces.” She also makes add-in ingredients from scratch, including honeycomb candy, brownies, pie crumb and biscotti.
Mintenko says that while quality ingredients are essential to producing great ice cream, mouthfeel and product density are equally critical. Typical grocery store ice cream has a high overrun, which is the amount of air in the product, and tends to have an overly light and fluffy texture and average flavour. Gelato, on the other end of the overrun scale, has lots of flavor but with a much denser product. “The more air you put into your ice cream, the fluffier and less flavourful it is. We try to find the sweet spot in the middle, fluffy and creamy but very flavourful.”
While Mintenko co-owns Dandy’s with her husband, she manages the shop and calls the shots. “It’s my business, my ideas, my dream,” she proudly proclaims. She says Rob is the self-anointed “Chief Taste Tester” and the man responsible for payroll and paperwork, outside of his day job as an orthodontist.
And speaking of dreams, Mintenko hints at one of them on Dandy’s website. Readers of the homepage are invited to visit Dandy’s “flagship location.” Does this mean another Dandy’s is in the works? Mintenko admits she’d love to open another location. “But I need to see how business goes over a whole year before I start thinking about growing beyond this store.”