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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Vaca’s Creamery Brings Vegan Soft Serve To Wicker Park-Noble Square Border

Dylan Sutcliff and Mariana Marinho said they can already picture their neighbors picking up ice cream and enjoying it at nearby Pulaski Park.

Dylan Sutcliff and Mariana Marinho are the owners of Vaca's Creamery in Noble Square.
Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago
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NOBLE SQUARE — A vegan soft serve ice cream shop will open this weekend near Pulaski Park.

Vaca’s Creamery will open Friday at 1436 W. Blackhawk St. The shop’s walk-up window offers vanilla and chocolate soft serve and a rotating seasonal flavor, all of which can be served in cones, cups, shakes and sundaes. The soft serve has an oat milk base, and gluten-free waffle cones are available.

Dylan Sutcliff and Mariana Marinho worked in the vegan food scene in Austin, Texas, for several years before moving to Chicago at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Chicago doesn’t have many exclusively vegan ice cream shops — if any, Sutcliff said.

“Going to an ice cream shop is an experience that can’t be duplicated,” he said. “We want to be able to let people run wild with their dessert fantasies.”

This weekend, the seasonal flavor is a soy-based blueberry passionfruit; guava, dulce de leche and tiramisu are in the works.

“We’re gonna do things that aren’t so easy to find around here,” Marinho said. “There is a big hole here that we’re trying to fill.”

Credit: Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago

Marinho and Sutcliff met in Texas while working at vegan ice cream shop Sweet Ritual.

They fell in love and decided to go into business together, making gluten-free waffle cones to sell to Sweet Ritual and NadaMoo! Scoop Shop. Avid bakers, they also founded All Tomorrow’s Pastries and baked vegan cakes out of their home kitchen.

When the pandemic closed ice cream shops, the couple lost a majority of their sales. They shared a long-term goal of opening their own vegan ice cream shop together.

Because Austin was already so saturated with vegan ice cream shops, they said, they decided to try their idea in Chicago.

Sutcliff grew up in the suburbs, so the city was close to home. When they moved to Noble Square, they fell in love with the quiet tree-lined streets near Pulaski Park.

“What really sold us was the walk-up window,” Marinho said.

The word “vaca” means cow in Marinho’s Portuguese as well as in Spanish.

“The idea is that this is ice cream that would make cows happy, or a cow-friendly ice cream,” she said. “We thought ‘if a cow could consent to being the face of a business, they wouldn’t want to sell their own milk, which is for their babies.’ “

The couple said they can already picture families from the neighborhood grabbing cones and walking to nearby Pulaski Park to sit and enjoy their ice cream.

“We’re not flashy people,” Sutcliff said. “Having a small neighborhood shop that feels chill … we’re very happy to be where we are.”

Seasonal flavors will largely be inspired by Marinho’s hometown in southern Brazil.

Developing the soft serve was challenging.

Traditional soft serve uses three types of milk, including heavy cream and powdered milk.

While oat is a creamy substitute for regular milk, the couple had to spend a couple months experimenting with fat and protein levels to come up with their recipe. The oat milk the couple is using for the soft serve is certified gluten-free.

And there is an art in matching flavors to their most complimentary dairy alternative, Marinho said. For example, coconut milk compliments acidic flavors such as lemon and lime, but it doesn’t do justice to peanut butter or pumpkin.

Marinho said she wants neighbors to know every ingredient at Vaca’s is as ethically sourced as possible. For example, no ingredient includes palm oil, which has damaging effects on the environment.

The shop’s coffee is local, sourced from Passion House. And the chocolate, a commodity infamous for child labor abuse, comes from suppliers who work directly with farmers.

“We’re not cutting corners in terms of quality and ethics,” Marinho said.

Vaca’s is near two recent additions to the Wicker Park vegan food scene: Last year, Cinnaholic brought vegan donuts to Milwaukee Avenue and family-run raw foods kitchen Uncooked opened on Damen Avenue.

In addition to opening their ice cream shop, the couple is working on a cookbook that will include their vegan cake recipes. The first books are promised to the couple’s Kickstarter donors. In the meantime, check out some recipes here.

Vaca’s hours will be 1-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Follow the creamery online and on Instagram.

Credit: Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago

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