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Innovative Retailers Part 3 – Where ice cream is much more than just ice and cream

The Name: The Icecreamists

The Place: Covent Garden market and Maiden Lane

The Story: Matt O’Connor is the founder and he is very, very serious about ice cream and the business of sin. Starting out with just a pop-up store in Selfridges in 2009 he has already entered the PR hall of fame with the whole breastmilk icecream (Baby Gaga) shenanigans and subsequent legal battle with Lady Gaga over the name. Oh, and that was after Westminster Council tried to ban it from being sold.

Regrets? You are joking. Mr O’Connor is a one-man publicity machine and he got huge sales out of Baby Googoo (yes, they had to change the name eventually) whilst it was on sale. It sold out on day one. And even now 15-20 people a week come in and ask for it.

Dare I ask who was buying it? Women, women and more women. O’Connor never saw a man ask for it during the whole period. One donor was supplying all the milk for it and for a while ‘it looked more like a milking parlour than an icecream parlour’ back of house. It was all very wholesome however until a certain pop star objected.

What happened? Big lawyers, big threats. O’Connor offered name changes but unaccountably she wasn’t keen. Not even on LadyBoy Gaga.

What’s a cross-dressing LadyBoy Gaga  ice cream made of? Don’t even go there.

Moving on, where does the interest in ice-cream come from? He has worked in ice cream for 25 years but is still fascinated by its mix of childhood fantasy and adult indulgence. He describes his ice cream fantasies as “bitter and twisted like a Roald Dahl story”. And he rails against the paradox of low fat health-trend ice cream.’ In these god-forsaken times people are looking for indulgence.’

So, are toddlers queuing at the door too? Well, not if they have seen the website. It’s all gothic skulls and sharpening knives sound effects. Adult only then. With names like Molotoffee Cocktail, which comes flambéed to your table, it’s definitely aimed at adults. However, his children like it – they say it’s like being in his head. It’s a heady mix of music, fashion inspired by the punk ethic. But he would have made it more x-rated if he could. Having said that, the Maiden Lane outlet is billed as a gay pop-up for over 18’s only.

Do they serve vanilla? Behave. They make all their ice cream fresh every day. They develop a winter collection and a spring/summer collection every year so they have a back catalogue of hundreds of varieties. O’Connor titles himself the ‘Quality Fat Controller’ and does frequent tastings. There will also be a 40-strong blindfold consumer tasting to launch the winter collection. According to O’Connor their popcorn ice cream made Heston Blumenthal (who also has a version) look like Ronald McDonald. He raves about the mulled wine and port sorbetto and don’t even get him on the subject of the popping candy ice cream.

Why? Because apparently it will blow your fillings out.

Crikey, how much does all this excitement cost? £4.50 for two scoops and up to £20 for the ice cream cocktails. The average punter parts with around £10.

Any news on expansion? There’s been lots of interest, from New York, Las Vegas, and Shanghai. But he does not know how it would or could be run overseas. Certainly they would only open one outlet in each country. He does not want to be Starbucks.

Supermarkets must be queuing up? But he’s not keen. In the shop he constructs his own theatre around the customer, with retailers he is stuck with half price deals and BOGOFs. O’Connor thinks allthe value has been stripped out of the premium ice cream sector by the likes of Ben and Jerry’s. He’sgot more important things to think about anyway, there is a TV series filming in October and a bookcoming out next year. And of course his winter collection.

Anything scandalous in it? He’s concentrating on hot desserts, fondues and the like. And his staff will be wearing pink/green tartan kilts – a homage to Dame Vivienne Westwood. But if its scandal you want keep an ear out for his lollies?

Pardon? He’s got a controversial ice lolly coming out. It’s rude apparently. And illegal.

Where can I find out more? Probably on Twitter. O’Connor says social media has been “absolutely critical” to his success. Any slight dip in quality for example and someone will Tweet. Then it is dealt with immediately.

Can he do the same for yogurt? Hell no. Yogurt is for choirboys. But doughnuts are a different matter.  O’Connor is poised to give the British seaside doughnut a punk makeover.

I think we’d better end there.

http://www.retailinsider.com/

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GOD SAVE THE CREAMJean Paul Aubin-Parvu meets founder of The Icecreamists Matt O’Connor – ice cream evangelist, peerless publicity maker and the man who wants to do for frozen desserts “what the Sex Pistols did for music”

Do you really eat, sleep and breathe ice cream?

I’ve never slept with an ice cream in my life – I’m a married man. I’m an entrepreneur by day, provocateur by night, and a huge ice cream aficionado. The Icecreamists are here to liberate the world one lick at a time, baby.

How long have you worked in ice cream?

Nearly 25 years. I’ve worked for all the big brands and still work as a consultant. Ice cream is a passion of mine. I think it’s a really interesting food because of its fleeting, fickle nature. Life is always in flux, as is ice cream. I was a seaside boy, brought up on Planet Thanet and Morelli’s ice cream parlour on top of the cliff at Broadstairs – I had my first knickerbocker glory there.

Tell me about The Icrecreamists.

The name came about through my political experiences. The police came to see me in Hampshire a couple of years ago even though I’d retired from political campaigning. I told them I was in ice cream but they didn’t seem to believe me. They must have thought it was some kind of front for overthrowing the government and were worried about domestic extremists. But I said: “I’m not an extremist, I’m an icecreamist.” And the name was born. There was a young people in Belarus who defied a ban on political demonstrations by gathering in the main square to eat ice creams. I thought that ice cream could be satirical, provocative and also a unifying force for change. And then the Israelis bombed the only ice cream factory in Gaza. But the fact is that both the Palestinians and the Israelis love ice cream. There is a higher consumption of ice cream per capita in Baghdad than in most American cities. You go to Afghanistan, you go to Pakistan – everybody loves ice cream.

When did you launch The Icecreamists?

We launched with a pop up store at Selfridges in September 2009. We wanted it to be funky, different and revolutionary. We went to Italy to work with gelato masters, who are like Jedi masters only taller, and then brought the ideas back. Our chef Mark Broadbent worked on them and I also brought in a cocktail guy called Alex Kammerling. We did ice cream on toast and we came up with the Molotoffee Cocktail, which is the one we blow torch at the table – I’ve got pyromaniac tendencies, so I like to see ice cream that’s on fire. We managed to do stuff that was new and different, and at the centre of this complete swirl of ideas was me orchestrating it. So gelato master, chef, mixologist, pull a team together, give it a funky, daft, political name – and that’s it.

What makes your ice cream so good?

A lot of ice cream hasn’t seen a cow in its life. Some of the ice cream you buy in America is crap – it’s vegetable fat. Then you get the Ben & Jerry’s and the Häagen-Dazs, which are higher in fat, higher in sugar, full of just really bad, unpleasant stuff. It tastes fine but a lot of it is just sugar and sugar and sugar. We’re trying to create more balanced, more adult ice cream, so we use things like Angostura Bitters and balsamic vinegar, all sorts of weird stuff just to balance out the flavours. So there’s a real subtlety to it. A lot of love and thought go into the recipes. We’re about the smoothness, the purity and the richness of the ice cream. It’s freshly made every day at our shop on Maiden Lane.

What are a few of the highlights?

The Choc & Awe is a 70 per cent Ecuadorian dark chocolate – literally chocolate and water mixed in a way that gives you the texture. Technically it should be a sorbetto, but but in reality it’s a very smooth, beautiful yet powerful ice cream. Our Sex Bomb has been known to raise people from the dead. It’s got a whole range of natural Brazilian stimulants in it. The Miss Whiplash is a seasonal berry sorbetto with a little cheeky splash of raspberry vodka, so it will throw you forward as you throw it back, neck brace not included. We also do one called the Apocalypse Chow. I love the smell of ginger in the morning, and that one’s got ginger, chilli and lemon grass. So we’ve got fire, we’ve got ice, we’ve got stimulants – you name it, we’re doing it. We’ve got a back catalogue of 250 different ice cream ideas. Honestly we have so many ideas – we just don’t have enough time.

Wasn’t one of those ideas to make ice cream using breast milk?

Yes, the Baby Gaga – it’s now called Baby Googoo. People said: “You can’t do breast milk ice cream, breast milk is designed for babies.” But guess what, cow’s milk is designed for calves. Would you rather have a cheeky suckle of an attractive woman or a cheeky suckle of a cloven hoofed beast covered in dung? Obviously Westminster Council waded in like the Gestapo. They seized the last two scoops and marched out like they’d discovered some biochemical hazard. It’s breast milk – relax. There’s not a single recorded death from anybody consuming breast milk in the history of the world. They banned it for a couple of weeks and then capitulated, saying that it was safe for human consumption.

I gather Lady Gaga wasn’t a huge fan.

After we had all this publicity Lady Gaga jumped on the bandwagon and threatened to get an injunction against us using the name Baby Gaga. We got this letter from her solicitors threatening to sue us. It was a ridiculous and stupid overreaction on her part. She called the ice cream “nausea inducing” – this from a woman who wears dresses fabricated from the flesh of dead animals. So, yeah, it did cause a bit of a shit storm. We thought it would cause a ripple, but it was a storm in a D cup.

You don’t seem to be the sort of bloke who takes things lying down.

It’s my Irish heritage. My family come from Kerry, where they pick fights with just about anybody. But it’s not so much that, it’s the fact that they threatened me as an individual in the first letter – my personal assets, my house, bank accounts. But I’m not worried, because a couple of people have threatened to shoot me before – that’s when I was worried. I’ve dealt with some very serious stuff in my time – this is frothy and fun. We deal with more serious stuff than a pop superstar with no sense of humour.

Weren’t you the founder of Fathers4Justice?

Yes, guilty as charged. I started that in 2002. Four members of Counter Terrorism Command used to greet me off the train at Waterloo Station and then follow me around all day, wherever I went. I’m not joking. I once hailed a taxi, but the police car stopped it from pulling out. So I jumped out and ran through Soho to a sex shop which a friend had told me about – obviously I’d never frequent such places. I knew it had two separate entrances and exits, so I ran inside, followed by these cops, and accidentally fell into the big stand of vibrators. All hell broke loose. I ran out the other exit, down towards Regent Street and jumped onto a routemaster bus. The cops were running down the road and I was just waving away: “Love you! Thank you for looking after me today.” I felt like Bill Clinton, going around London with four cops round me. I was the most protected man in London.

Do you have a favourite Fathers4Justice stunt?

I guess it was Batman at Buckingham Palace. Big Ron Davis was on trial that day for his part in flour bombing Tony Blair, so we were in court at Bow Street. I had a woman from Time magazine with me, and all the police, and it gave the others a clear run at Buckingham Palace. They dropped into a fancy dress shop, picked up a Batman outfit and then picked up the ladder, which they didn’t even tie properly to the roof of the van. And off they rolled. I got a call saying: “I’m up. We’ve taken Buckingham Palace.” That’s probably the one, because you are trying to create awareness about a problem. In each one of those protests or stunts we were just pressing the alarm button. But Fathers4Justice is unfinished business.

And are you on a similar mission with The Icecreamists?

Yeah, this is a kind of pop culture juggernaut really. It’s the intersection between life, death, sex and ice cream. We’re just trying to do something with attitude – to do for ice cream what the Sex Pistols did for music in the 70s. We are more Sid and Nancy than Ben & Jerry. And it isn’t a bullshit manufactured brand. This is a name and ideology that has soul at its very heart. I’m just hoping people buy into it. Nobody’s done what we’re doing and I’m just flying by the seat of my pants. I genuinely don’t know if it’s going to work. If it doesn’t, you’ll find me selling The Big Issue underneath Waterloo Bridge. Then you’ll know that it’s all gone horribly wrong.

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MATT 'ICECREAMIST' PORTRAIT LOBullying is said to be a sign of insecurity, perhaps paranoia.

Either way I can’t help thinking that if I was the world’s most famous pop megastar I would have other things to worry about in life like my face horns, nipple tape, chopping up dead bovines for my latest dress.

That sort of thing.

As a humble ice cream man, I can’t compete, except with a couple of cones placed in a defensive position.

As ‘Gagagate’ tediously lactates its way towards the courts, this Lady has changed position more times than she has recycled Madonna’s image.

First it was an injunction (offered her a choice of alternative names and then called it Goo Goo instead of Gaga), then it was damages (said we’d see her in court), then it was costs (an unlawful claim as litigation hadn’t begun), then she was bizarrely demanding to make a joint statement with me.

Now she is demanding censorship.

Yes, this self-styled champion of internet freedom is throwing her toys out of the pram, screaming (yawn into cornflakes) we remove any reference, anywhere in the universe, to this story and her threats (made public by me) that she threatened to seize my assets and those of my business.

Now, lets get a few things straight here.

I personally don’t have any assets apart from whats sitting on my shoulders and even my wife says thats debatable. If you want to discuss assets, then speak to my ex-wife who has them all and best of luck to you if you did better than I did, which was zlicho.

Or in plain English, fuck all.

However, I don’t take kindly to being threatened, or having my family singled out, or having her legal gestapo at Mishcon de Reya running around bullying, threatening and demanding money with menaces. That’s called extortion.

Further, telling me to shut up and not talk about it – or else – is called blackmail.

And lets be in no doubt here. Ate My Heart Inc is 100% owned and controlled by Lady Gaga.

Sure, she might have advisors, but she has a brain right? She was advocating artistic freedom and freedom of the internet in Malaysia but a few weeks ago? Or was that the amazing impersonator Lady Boy Gaga who will love you long time with thawplay lines like ‘love you long time’ and ‘chicks with licks’.

Her actions are a legitimate matter of public interest as are those of Mishcon de Reya. The fact they are now demanding we remove any reference – including those to third party sites – is as stupid as it is offensive.

Last time I checked, I didn’t live in North Korea, China or Iran.

The story is a matter of public record and in the public domain. Get over it, move along for fucks sake. Don’t be so arrogant as to think you can rewrite history – its called censorship. Its called fascism.

It’s also a super-sized slice of hypocrisy given just a few weeks ago she was talking about freeing Malaysia from censorship because “honesty and truth are always going to liberate us.”

Is that the same sort of liberation that involves running around the planet threatening people’s families, threatening to bankrupt a start up business despite them agreeing to her demands because the alternative was bankruptcy?

If Lady Gaga were a regime, she’d be following the Colonel Gaddafi/Robert Mugabe model, running her empire from a secret compound working on her performance as ‘The Great Licktator”

So what is this about?

Is it one lonely individuals deluded, paranoid obsession that the world is out to get her, when in fact it is she who is out to get the little guy? It is now a David and Goliath confrontation – standing up to a female dictator who wants to own the first utterances of our children, trademark a name first used in pop-culture by the rock band Queen and claim it as her own, original idea.

What has upset her most is that somebody has had the temerity to stand up against her, and fight her publicly over her actions. At best her attitude is like our ice cream, a bit rich. At worst, it’s called fascism and you know what?

Fascism sucks.

Or maybe, just maybe, her lawyers are driving this in a get rich quick scheme to extort as much money out of her as they can? Parliament is a sardine can full of them. They run the country and they run it into the ground. You wouldn’t trust the fuckers to run a bath let alone UK PLC. Using a lawyer is an unpleasant necessity, like a trip to the toilet after a chicken vindaloo.

You know you gotta go. You know its going to be painful. And you know the smell will outlast religion.

Whatever the truth, I’ll offer Lady Gaga this once in a lifetime invitation: Loosen up a bit. Chill out with The Icecreamists, not your lawyers.

We love you, but we don’t love your threats or them.

I’m sure we can sort this out and move on with our lives over a couple of scoops, just you and me, and some dirty ice cream.

Unless of course, you are just stalking me.

Matt O’Connor


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