East Rock data scientist seeks to launch Orange Street ice cream store

NEW HAVEN — Elena Grewal can’t help but feel like her long walks in East Rock Park are missing something: an ice cream cone.

Grewal returned to her hometown of New Haven several years ago after living in San Francisco. She loved the East Rock neighborhood, she said, but missed having an ice cream shop within walking distance.

One day, as she walked past a vacant storefront, a light bulb went on: if an ice cream shop opened at 829 Orange St., her problem would be solved.

That’s how profession data scientist Grewal ended up working to establish Elena’s on Orange, which would offer soft serve ice cream and other treats. His request for a waiver to use the site, which was submitted to the Board of Zoning Appeals this week, remains pending.

“It all started because I love ice cream. It’s really simple,” Grewal said. take me to Ashley’s.”

An ice cream enthusiast, Grewal chose her San Francisco apartment “because of its proximity to ice cream,” she said.

She loves how easily the treat brings joy to people.

“Every time I had a bad day, I would go get an ice cream,” she said.

A former Airbnb executive, Grewal is familiar with the business world, she said, but knows less about making ice cream, although she has plenty of experience in taste testing and flavoring.

When she pondered the possibility of opening a store in East Rock, she asked the founder of her favorite place to get a cone in San Francisco for advice, an ice cream truck called Twirl and Dip.

“I owned an ice cream truck in San Francisco, and Elena was a fan of mine,” Meg Hilgartner said, adding that she hadn’t known Grewal before. “When (Grewal) started thinking about doing this project, she sought me out because she wanted to…choose someone’s brain.”

The time had come for Hilgartner to do more than give advice: she ended up joining the company.

After selling Twirl and Dip in 2018, Hilgartner said, she went back to school to improve her baking skills.

She then got a job producing baked goods at an upscale restaurant, Hilgartner said.

But the pandemic hit, wreaking havoc on the food industry. For this and other reasons, Hilgartner ended up moving back to upstate New York, where she grew up.

When Grewal finally asked if Hilgartner would help him start the business, Hilgartner said yes.

“After kind of losing my job and not working for a little while, it just seemed like an absolute dream come true,” Hilgartner said.

“It was so amazing. I was like, ‘I guess I have to do it now,'” Grewal said. “It kind of fell into place that (Hilgartner) had the availability to do it with me. .”

Initial soft-serve offerings will include vanilla, chocolate and vanilla-chocolate swirl, Grewal said.

“The data shows that vanilla is the most popular,” Grewal said with a hint of disappointment. “Personally, I like chocolate.”

She also expects to feature rotating flavors, she said.

Hilgartner said she’s been working on developing dairy-free recipes, one using oat milk and another using nuts.

This latest idea came from Grewal, inspired by a delicious macadamia nut soft serve she once had.

For the business to survive the winter, Grewal expects it will have to serve more than ice cream. While the final menu remains up in the air, Hilgartner is developing recipes for pastries that will pair well with coffee.

And the duo hope to serve what might be an unconventional find at an ice cream parlour: wine. The concept came to them via an article by chef David Lebovitz about a store in Paris that sells wine and ice cream, Grewal said.

Grewal applied for a use waiver to allow ice cream, beer, and wine service at 829 Orange St. The Zoning Board of Appeals referred the proposal to the City Plan Commission.

While many community members expressed support at Tuesday’s meeting, Grewal said, there were concerns about the liquor license and the noise that might be associated with it.

But Grewal pointed out that the Caffe Bravo restaurant, which is on the same block, already serves alcohol.

“Our feeling is that if we’re going to offer wine, it’s totally in line with what’s in the neighborhood,” she said. “We’re really excited about the ice cream and I think it was clear there was a lot of support.”

“I’m happy to talk to anyone who has questions,” she said.

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Sean N. Ayres