The sweet taste of success: Q&A with Ajoa Mintah
Ajoa Mintah is a chemical engineer-turned ice cream maker. In the heat and humidity of the summer of 2003, instead of buying an air conditioner, Mintah bought an ice cream maker. It was a life-altering purchase. Ice cream became an obsession, an art, a science and her passion. Her mission was and is to create handcrafted ice cream made with all natural, locally sourced ingredients for all types of ice cream lovers—bringing ice cream to the people.
Four All is looking to partner with local growers, farmers and business owners to help them bring real, natural ice cream to the community that inspired it.
I spoke to Mintah about her work, her education, her offerings and her thoughts—in general about food, and in particular about ice cream.
Please tell us a little about Four All Ice Cream, your products and how you came up with the name.
I love ice cream. You are taught that to eat clean, you can’t eat ice cream. For individuals with gluten and dairy issues, I wanted to solve that problem. The idea behind Four All Ice Cream is to have ice cream for all with choices for everybody. The reason for the name “Four All” comes from a play on my own family’s experience. There are four different flavour categories that began as a reflection of my family—Classic flavours (my husband does not like any weird tastes), Nostalgia (fun flavours for my daughter), Vegan (my daughter’s sensitivity to dairy), and Foodie (for those who are interested in flavours they haven’t tried before—this represents me). Whiskey Caramel Pecan ice cream is my favourite vegan option. We also have certain flavours that are [always] vegan. For example, our Mint Chocolate Chip option is only available with vegan ingredients. We have 12 flavours at a time and have a core four that never change (Chocolate, Vanilla, Salted Caramel, and Espresso). The whole idea behind the company is “ice cream for the people.” We wanted to give back.
Tell us about your education as a chemical engineer and how it merged with an interest in ice cream.
I hadn’t worked as a chemical engineer (I went to design cars, went into consulting for nine years, and never worked as one until now). Chemical engineers are everywhere. My education allowed me to be confident. I can design a process, and I know the system. My focus when I first started was how to make the product and to learn the process. We are a licensed dairy plant, which is the only legal way you are allowed to make and distribute your own ice cream products. The only route I wanted was to go with the exact fresh ingredients I had in mind. The one variety of milk we had chosen (4.8 per cent) is better tolerated than conventional. We only use Guernsey milk in all of our products that involve dairy.
Please tell us about your flavour combinations, where do they come from and what inspires you?
I have so many ideas all the time. It’s hard to restrain them, and I am always writing stuff down. For this to go well I need to run this the way I want and stay true to brand. The flavour category that I love the most is the Foodie category because I love trying different types of flavours I am not familiar with. Furthermore, I watch a lot of cooking shows.
I opened a second retail location, in Kitchener, Ontario and work in 500 square feet in our original space, which is not a lot of room. In August 2018, we launched our second location, with restaurant groups that respect our flavour categories. Through my family, we are speaking to everybody. I look around for what’s good together. The way I design is in a spreadsheet, where I balance ingredients; my background is in science.
You offer vegan options—why was this important to you?
In launching “Four All,” that was a big part of the business. In speaking to people who are vegan, they want ice cream. It wasn’t an afterthought. It was one of the cornerstones of launching the business.
Our vegan formulation: I went to ice cream “University” in Guelph, where you dive deep into the science of ice cream. What are the plant-based substitutions to meet these criteria? Fat, water, solids and sugar. What are my substitutions? Knowing science helped me to perfect [the recipes].
Can you tell us about your interest in food in general?
One of the things I appreciate is how simple it can be. Manufactured food is not simple. When you look at the label, there are so many ingredients that you don’t know and do not need when you make these things yourself. They are being added in. I like being able to figure this out. Ice cream is my canvas. It is a challenge I wanted to solve and doesn’t have to be complicated.
What is one of the greatest challenges facing you as a foodservice operator?
It is a new industry for me. Specific to ice cream there are a lot of regulations that were written half a century ago that have a lot of rules that may not apply for today. Based around food safety, it needs to be looked at again. It also makes it challenging for the ice cream industry to grow.
Can you offer any advice for restaurants who may wish to get in touch with you and carry your products?
We definitely would like to, Toronto is close by. We have been contacted, but at first, did not have a good distribution method. We are solving it currently. Get in touch with us, and we will make it happen. One thing is that we love to do custom ice cream flavours for restaurants. Let’s make something special. We have restaurants that carry us from Guelph to Stratford. We offer a half litre. We wholesale to gourmet food stores, gift stores, and specialty grocery stores. None of them are massive as of right now, but they care. We are also still a young business that is focusing on building ourselves first.
Do you have any favourite concepts or ideas from the world of food science that you can share with us?
Being sure of your own values. Say “no” to ones that don’t fit. Our growth has been slow and measured. We do not want to grow too fast. Our first tagline is “Natural, Local and Mindful.” While our second one is “Ice cream is for the people.” We are trying to make sure we are designing flavours with that audience in mind. Not being weird to “be weird.”
I am not a chef. It is all about how (flavours and ingredients) come together and being smart about it. One of our ice cream flavours is banana. To create it, we soak bananas in milk, which makes the flavour transfer from the bananas to the milk. There are never actually any bananas in our ice cream. We don’t always know how we are going to create something, but there is never just one way. I love the entire science behind it. Every once in a while, we will colour an ice cream with all natural colouring, including our “Bubbble Gum” ice cream, in which the triple “b” in the spelling stands for beets as that is how we colour it. We also have a blue ice cream, which is coloured with spirulina.
Four All makes ice creams and sorbets, and they are licensed to make mixes. With a scientific approach, they break everything down, and they take that time to deal with any unusual ideas. Mintah says they are excited to forge more partnerships with potential clients and she finishes with a call out to one of their supply partners—Eby Manor. Eby is a Guernsey cow dairy farm in the Waterloo Region. Four All orders milk weekly for their dairy-based products. Want to learn more or get in touch? You can contact Ajoa Mintah at fourall.ca.
I just read the article about your ice cream making, and can certainly relate to much of what you said. I own a small ice cream shoppe in Merrickville, where we make all of our own ice cream, and gelato, and offer dairy free and gluten free options. I was curious about you selling to restaurants and other stores. We were told by OMAFRA that we were not allowed to sell any dairy products outside of our own shoppe. Have you checked with them? If so, and they gave you the go-ahead, I would love to have the name of the contact person if you would be willing to share. It really restricts the amount of wholesaling we can do. We have our dairy free options available at our local health food store, but would like to explore other possibilities.
Interesting fact: we purchased our shoppe in December 2002, and had our first season in 2003. We began making our own product in the spring of 2004, so a very similar timeline to yours. Where is your original shop? Is it in Kitchener as well?
Thank you for your time and interest.