The S.B. Questionnaire: Rori Trovato

Chatting Yarn and Parenting with Santa Barbara’s Ice Cream Entrepreneur

Rori Trovato at her Public Market location
Paul Wellman

It’s highly entertaining to share a meal with Rori Trovato, who tells engaging stories about her life with a terrific sense of humor. She’s the owner of Rori’s Artisanal Creamery, which makes and sells scrumptious ice creams from Santa Barbara all the way down to Los Angeles.

“My business started in wholesale,” she explains. “I was spinning ice cream in the back of Gelson’s in 2010.” Eventually Whole Foods and Bristol Farms started to carry her product as well.

Jim Rosenfeld, who owns the Montecito Country Mart on Coast Village Road, kept pushing for Rori to open her own location there. So in 2012, she took the plunge. “Once I opened the retail, I had to close the wholesale,” she explains. “To reach a sweet spot in retail, you have to be a bigger machine.”

Her retail success in Montecito led to expansions into the Santa Barbara Public Market as well as Carpinteria, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica, with a new store about to open in Century City. “It’s a lot of work,” she shares. “I just want to make ice cream.”

Although that isn’t particularly easy either. “It’s a very challenging medium,” said Rori. “Very delicate flavors have a difficulty coming through when they’re cold, like persimmon. You can’t freeze brioche or candy and retain the same flavors.”

It’s because her ice cream explores those more exotic corners that she’s won so many fans. “I don’t make things that you’re not going to crave at 3 a.m.,” she says with a sly smile. “I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. I want you to madly fall in love with my passion.”

Her best seller is salted caramel, which was a surprise, because it’s sweeter than other flavors. Another popular one is lemon curd, which is on the more tart end of the spectrum. Personally, she prefers the “boozy ice creams,” like the the St. Patrick’s Day flavor of Irish coffee, which contains Irish whiskey and Bailey’s Irish cream. Don’t eat and drive, she warns. But her favorite is milk chocolate chunk. “It’s something you want to curl up to,” she confides. “It has a creamy, safe feeling.” Many women claim it to be their go-to PMS comfort food.

Originally from Long Beach, Rori went to Pennsylvania for culinary school and trained in France at the prestigious La Varenne. She then worked for Martha Stewart for two years as a recipe developer and food stylist, traveling to every continent for the job. “She’s a force to be reckoned with and you do learn a lot,” says Rori of Martha. “She can do everything she says she can do.” Then she worked as a freelance stylist and writer for Oprah Magazine and Food & Wine, among other magazines, and penned her own book, Dishing with Style, showing people how to make food more presentable.

After 9/11, she left New York, where she had lived a mile from the Twin Towers, and came to Santa Barbara. When she got pregnant at age 45, her traveling days came to a halt, but the ice cream idea popped up. “I’d never done a product,” she says. “Ice cream was always my shtick.”

As to the real key to her continued success? “When people go out for ice cream, they’re already in a good mood,” she says. “We make people happy.”

Rori Trovato answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your greatest fear?

Mediocrity. I’d rather suck at something than to be just meh. I’m not a total perfectionist, although my staff may disagree, but why do it half way? Why not try to be the best?

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’m a fireball! Like all redheads, I don’t hold back. If I feel it, you know. My mother used to always tell me, “Refrain from tongue and pen, Rori.”

What do you like most about your job?

Ice cream makes people happy! It’s so cool having a job that puts people in a good mood. We have the power to make screaming kids smile! (I’m an ice cream super hero!)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A cup of coffee and the New York Times.

Who do you most admire?

My parents. Now that I’m a parent of one, I’m completely blown away with what it took for them to raise four. Actually I’m baffled as to why they didn’t kill a couple of us — we were not easy kids!! Yet we all ended up with all our limbs and relatively sane. Relative being the operative word!

What is your greatest extravagance?

Yarn. I’m a huge knitter and I have enough yarn to open my own shop. And unfortunately for my bank account, I only like working with amazing natural yarns like cashmere. My son has 32 sweaters and we live in Santa Barbara! I might be a tad A.D.D.

What is your current state of mind?

I wish I could tell you I live in a blissful state and I’m internally calm. People tell me one can just choose this as their state of mind. But the truth is my state of mind is a crapshoot. I’m a mom before I’m anything else, so my son helps ground me for sure, but life has bumps.

What is the quality you most like in people?

The ability to laugh at life and themselves, quick wit and intelligence, and a love for food!

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Lack of generosity in spirit and thought. Stingy people should live on their own island.

What do you most value in friends?

Curiosity, humor, trust, and hunger.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I overuse most swear words! My three phrases I most overuse are: “It’s not that I’m bossy, I just have better ideas.” “Use less words. I’ve lost interest.” “There’s only one bitch in this kitchen and that’s me.”

Which talent would you most like to have?

To sing like Etta James.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

The ability to find people interesting when they’re not.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Giving birth to my son. I was in my mid-40s when I had him and he completely changed my life, my views, and has rocked my world ever since. I take no credit that he is the greatest human being ever. And no, I’m not biased!

Where would you most like to live?

How can one not say Santa Barbara, it’s breathtaking. But I am a big city girl. Ideally, I would move back to New York City. I’d live there half the year and live here the other half. I miss the energy and pace of NYC, but then it’s time to regroup and that’s what Butterfly Beach is for!!

What is your most treasured possession?

My memories of my mother.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My son, Roman. He’s quicker and has more wit than most grown ups I know. He can crack me up with just a look!

What is your motto?

Life’s too short to eat rice cakes!

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Today, Humpty Dumpty! Life feels like I’m on the fence teetering just a bit! But on most days it’s Dorothy Parker. She was bright, witty, and absolutely fearless.

On what occasion do you lie?

When asked about my weight, but I’m not fooling anyone!


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