Cauldron, home to the viral ‘puffle cone’ ice cream, opens first San Diego shop


San Diego County’s already got Creamistry and Freeze San Diego. They make fancy ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Now, they’ve got new competition. Cauldron Ice Cream will host a grand opening of its Kearny Mesa store Saturday – its first of at least six franchised shops in San Diego County.

Why pay more for this premium ice-cream: At Santa Ana-based Cauldron, a large scoop of made-to-order ice cream wrapped in a waffle cone costs $6.50. Just the ice cream, minus the waffle cone is $4.75. The process starts with a liquid ice cream base that’s frozen quickly on the spot by liquid nitrogen at minus 321 Fahrenheit degrees entering through a pipe connected to the mixer. It’s a combination of the freshness of the ice cream – the liquid base is made in house just that morning – and the liquid nitrogen that gives the ice cream its smooth, creamy texture beyond traditionally hand-scooped, hard-packed ice cream, said James Ho, a franchisee of the Kearny Mesa store.

Back story: Cauldron’s founders, Desiree Le and Terence Lioe, both 29, met in high school in Orange County and started dating as students at UC Irvine. She majored in psychology and he studied film. Le went on to become a wedding coordinator and Lioe a business investor and day trader. After the pair discovered the liquid nitrogen ice cream-making technology while visiting Singapore in 2014, they left their full-time jobs to open Cauldron. The day they opened their first store in Santa Ana in 2015, they had only $47 left in their joint bank account.

Ho, 27, is familiar with San Diego County as he attended UC San Diego, worked in San Diego County for six years and is now a Mira Mesa resident. How did he come across Cauldron? “I was living a block away from the Santa Ana location,” Ho said. “I drove by it frequently. For the year I was living there, I consistently saw lines out the door. One February night, it was fairly cold. You had to wear a jacket. It was 9 p.m. and there was still a line outside. If people are willing to wait for ice cream on a cold week night, there must be something going on there.” So he quit his job building software products to open Cauldron stores.

How is Cauldron different from rivals: Its unique ice-cream flavors, Ho said, include Sun Moon & Stars, a creamy blend of oolong, jasmine and green tea; and H2O Rose, a delicate floral flavor garnished with a coat of rose sugar. But it’s also got classics like Double Shot Chocolate and S’Mores.

And it’s known for its puffle: a puffy waffle that’s crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, looks like bubble wrap and folded into a cone to hold the ice cream. This egg waffle is a popular street snack in Hong Kong that Lioe grew up eating. The puffle, which has been featured on the Food Network and Cosmopolitan and made fresh every morning, comes in original, red velvet and churro flavors. It also earned buzz for its Instagram photos of its puffle cones.

Also, its ice cream can be shaped like a rose. “The rose is part of our philosophy,” Ho said. “Not only do we want our product to taste great, we want it to look good too. People eat with their eyes.”

What’s next: Cauldron has partnered with Fransmart, a franchise development company behind brands such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Qdoba Mexican Grill. Cauldron currently has four locations, two of which are franchised, including the 1,600-square-foot Kearny Mesa shop. In addition, Cauldron has signed deals with franchisees to open 24 more stores. Specifically, Ho signed a deal with Cauldron to open two more locations in San Diego County. “I feel like San Diego County is very underserved by strong delicious dessert concepts,” he said. Another franchisee has also signed a deal to open three more Cauldron stores in San Diego County. They are eyeing Carlsbad, San Marcos, Del Mar and Encinitas as possible locations.

Take note: The Kearny Mesa store at 4646 Convoy St., which opened Memorial Day, will hold its grand opening this Saturday with a live DJ. The store will give away special merchandise to the first 100 people. Also, everyone who comes on Saturday will get a chance to spin a wheel to try to win a backpack, bag, key chain or free ice-cream coupon.

Hang Nguyen is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.