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San Elijo couple’s chocolate ice cream has scooped the competition with top national award

Chris and Sarah Wynn with their chocolate ice cream at Wynston's Ice Cream Co. shop in San Marcos.
Chris and Sarah Wynn with their nationally ranked chocolate ice cream inside their small Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. shop in San Marcos.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Marcos shop’s For the Wynn Chocolate ice cream has been ranked among the top four in America

Lots of business owners like to claim their products are the best in America or even the world. But newbie ice cream entrepreneurs Chris and Sarah Wynn have the science to back it up.

In November, the house-made chocolate ice cream the Wynns serve at their 2-year-old Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. shop in San Marcos was ranked one of the four best chocolate ice creams in America by the North American Ice Cream Association.

The dense, velvety and not-too-sweet “For the Wynn Chocolate” ice cream earned the national blue ribbon alongside three other chocolate ice creams from shops in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. The competition involved a double-blind taste test by professional food scientists at Cornell University as well as an extensive scientific study of the ice cream’s ingredients in Cornell’s dairy lab.

Ella Wynn, 17, packs a pint of chocolate ice cream at Wynston's Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.
Ella Wynn, 17, packs a pint of her family’s award-winning chocolate ice cream at Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The award took the Wynns by surprise, but they’re grateful for the recognition, as following their dream to open an ice cream shop has been a rocky road, and not one of the ice cream variety.

When they opened their 110-square-foot shop in the North City development near Cal State San Marcos in October 2020, the area was deserted. Most of the student apartments in North City were empty as the campus was closed and virtually all of the neighboring retail businesses had closed due to the loss of foot traffic due to the pandemic. Then last fall, the Wynns were forced to change their business name because another company already owned the “Wynn’s” trademark.

So, when the Wynns attended their first “ConeCon” convention in Orlando last fall and entered their chocolate ice cream in the North American Ice Cream Association’s annual Ice Cream Clinic competition, they had low expectations.

“We saw it as a great and inexpensive way to get some feedback and research on our ice cream that would normally cost a lot of money,” Chris said.

So on the final day of ConeCon 2021, when the winners names were announced to the crowd, the Wynns were nowhere to be found. They’d left early to take their daughter on a campus tour at a nearby university.

“We started getting all these texts from people saying ‘congratulations’ and we didn’t know what they were talking about,” Sarah said.

Rachael and Benjamin Webster, 2, order ice cream at Wynston's Ice Cream Co. on Feb. 1 in San Marcos.
Rachael and Benjamin Webster, 2, order ice cream at Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday, Feb. 1 in San Marcos. The Websters come every Tuesday after visiting the local farmer’s market.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The contest’s winning ice cream flavors — in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and mixed flavors — were tested in the Sensory Evaluation Center and Alcaine Research Group labs at Cornell. The ice creams were graded by flavor, texture, sweetness, melting quality, appearance and color and they were also tested for butterfat content and bacteria level. The top four scorers in each category earned the blue ribbon.

As word about the award has trickled out, business at Wynston’s has exploded. Last weekend, the Wynns sold 170 gallons of ice cream, which is a lot for a shop whose ice cream maker can only churn out 1-1/2 gallons at a time. Although people are making special trips to try FTW Chocolate, it’s still trailing in popularity behind the shop’s two top-selling flavors: Cookies In Cream and That Cookie Dough.

Ice cream has been a lifelong passion for Chris, a Michigan native who never tires of eating the frozen dessert every day. He was 16 when he met Sarah, who grew up in Brazil, the daughter of Christian missionaries, and moved to Michigan at 17. They’ve been together ever since and have two teenagers who both work in the scoop shop: Ella, 17, and Max, 16.

For more than 20 years, Chris has worked as an executive producer in the video game industry, producing titles such as Madden NFL, Gears of War and, most recently, Looney Tunes World of Mayhem. The job has taken the Wynn family to five states and three countries including Sweden, before they settled several years ago in the San Elijo community south of San Marcos.

As their kids moved into their teens, the Wynns decided they were ready to settle down and pursue their dream of opening an ice cream shop. While still working full time for Scopely Studios in Culver City, Chris started experimenting with ice cream recipes at home. The very first flavor, which he spent a year devising and refining, was chocolate.

Ella Wynn, 17, scoops ice cream in her family's Wynston's Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.
Ella Wynn, 17, scoops ice cream in her family’s shop called Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“That was going to be the proof to me that we were ready to start the business. I figured if I can’t make a great chocolate ice cream, I shouldn’t even try,” Chris said, adding that his winning recipe is made with Dutch-process cocoa powder from a European chocolatier, milk, cream, sugar and a touch of salt.

To keep the freezer free during Chris’s experimentation phase, Sarah started selling pints to friends, neighbors and fellow moms via group text, who provided valuable feedback and would become a built-in customer base when the shop finally opened.

Finding a space wasn’t easy. No landlords wanted to lease to the couple because they had no business track record. But the staff at the Union CoWork space at 251 N City Drive in North City offered a corner of their lobby to the couple as an “entrepreneurial incubator” space and the shop was born.

The Wynston’s business model is simple. It only sells scoops, pints and shakes. No cones, no toppings and no sundaes. The menu is also limited. There are seven “always” flavors, like chocolate, strawberry and vanilla; two dairy-free options; and a rotating variety of “sometimes” flavors that change every month. Since the shop opened, Chris has managed to introduce about 100 new flavors, while still working full time in the gaming world.

The Wynns enjoy collaborating with other local businesses on new flavors. They use High Mountain Honey in their honey almond, Copa Vida coffee in their coffee flavor and hand-rolled Brazilian truffles for their Brigadeiro ice creams. Coming in March will be Dani’s Next Level Samoa, made with Girl Scout Cookies.

Benjamin Webster, 2, eats ice cream at Wynston's Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Business is growing so fast these days, the Wynns are bursting at the seams. To keep up with customer demand, they are storing extra tubs of ice cream in four different freezers around the North City retail zone. And because the business takes up so much of the family’s time, they’ve instituted a Wednesday family meal night to decompress together and talk about topics other than ice cream.

In the spring, the shop will move across North City Drive to a larger commercial space with more freezer capacity and a bigger production area that will serve as a flagship kitchen for a planned expansion. They’re hoping to open their second scoop shop in Oceanside by the end of the year.

Chris said it’s been gratifying that they’re starting to get a lot of inquiries from landlords, lenders and investors after struggling to find a space in 2020.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said.

Chris and Sarah Wynn with their award-winning chocolate ice cream at Wynston's Ice Cream Co. in San Marcos.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)


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