Kate Bhatia loves ice cream. "I've eaten a lot of ice cream!" she exclaims when I ask her how she learned to make the delectable sweet treat. She tells me how she and her husband/business partner, Amit Bhatia, seek out small, craft ice cream makers when they travel and how she started making ice cream when she moved to Bend because she was missing the dense, hard-packed ice cream she grew up with in the Midwest.
Bhatia taught herself how to make ice cream by reading books, watching YouTube videos and spending time on Reddit. In the summer of 2022, while on maternity leave from her corporate tech job, she started making small batches of ice cream for herself and her family. She would end up with more pints than they could eat, so she started sharing with friends and neighbors. Then one day she posted about the extra leftover ice cream online and folks noticed.
"People just went crazy for it. I kept making more and more to appease those who wanted it from me. I started an Instagram account and would post my available 50 to 100 pints on Fridays and it would be gone within five minutes." The best part, Bhatia says, was the people she was getting to know through her ice cream. "They would come to my house and pick up ice cream and we would hang out and chat. It was a beautiful community-building moment."
Bhatia and her husband had made a pandemic move from Chicago to Bend. "We knew we wanted to eventually have a small business because we wanted a way to plug in to the community we lived in," she said. But starting an ice cream company that has blossomed so quickly wasn't planned or expected. The plan was going back to work at the corporate job after her baby was born. Last August Bhatia did indeed go back to that job – for four days.
"I thought I could do both my day job and make ice cream, along with being a mom of two little ones. But I was mopping up spilled ice cream on the kitchen floor at 2:30 in the morning and realized I couldn't do all three," Bhatia confesses. She and her husband had a long talk about what they wanted their life to look like. They reflected on the organic demand for Kate's ice cream and how they loved the way the community was responding. That led to Bhatia giving notice at her day job and saying out loud, "I'm starting an ice cream business." Grey Duck Ice Cream was born.
It took from last fall until the first of June this year for Bhatia to find a facility and get all the proper licensing and paperwork in place. There is still no physical storefront, but the plan is to have a walk-up window open at the ice cream production facility in Bend's Maker's District by this fall, where customers can buy minis, pints and nostalgic push pops. Meantime, Grey Duck Ice Cream tricycles are peddling around town and Grey Duck paddle boards are floating on the river. They're also at Northwest Crossing Farmers Market on Saturdays and at other events listed on the Grey Duck website calendar. Bhatia is also slowly making her way into retail stores such as Wild Petals Provisions in Brooks Alley downtown.
But honestly, it's not about ice cream, or so says the perky woman I'm talking to about the Earl Grey ice cream of hers I just ate and couldn't get enough of. "Ice cream is a means to an end," Bhatia explains. "And the end is connection, joy and real change." The actual mission statement of Grey Duck is: "We will look to the most in-season ingredients to create ice cream flavors that surprise and delight our community. With a focus on sustainability and impact, we see ice cream as a means to an end, where the end is: connection, joy and real change." And by real change, Bhatia means building a business that will grow and get big enough to have leverage and help make positive change. She views Bend as a place that is growing and changing and she wants to be a part of that.
For those of us indulging in Grey Duck Ice Cream, however, it is about the ice cream — at least while we're eating it and licking every last bit of it off the spoon. There are a handful of core Grey Duck flavors currently always available, including the Earl Grey Cookie as well as Cookies & Cream, Key Lime Pie, Birthday Cake and Chonana Nut featuring caramelized banana ice cream with a peanut butter ribbon and dark chocolate flecks. New flavors rotate in every week; for example, Fennel Orange Curd and Goat Cheese with Fig Jam, which Bhatia says to think of as a cheesecake with goat cheese bringing tanginess, fig jam adding sweetness and a touch of savory coming from a cinnamon streusel.
Oh, and the name Grey Duck. That's a nod to Bhatia's Minnesota heritage. As she puts it, "Minnesotans are non-confrontational about everything, except the childhood game which they refer to as 'Duck, Duck, Gray Duck' not 'Duck, Duck, Goose'. You can look it up; it's a real thing," she smiles.