OAKLAND -- One after the next, people pause in Berkeley Bowl before the row of ice cream pints. They look, they taste, and then almost every single one reacts just like shopper Aiano Nakagawa.
"This is one of the creamiest ice creams I've ever had," she marveled.
But the twist is that the produce on offer isn't really ice cream. It's "Mr. Dewie's" cashew milk ice cream, made by a small company based in Oakland.
"It was amazing," Nakagawa said. "I didn't know it was not a dairy product."
For Mr. Dewie's creator, Ari Cohen, that is kind of the point. He first got the idea to make Mr. Dewie's when he found out he was lactose intolerant and needed a healthier diet in general. Now Cohen is poised on the edge of major success with Mr. Dewie's, which is getting rave reviews from customers, even those without any food sensitivities.
"Sometimes people just don't realize they're tasting a nut milk ice cream," he said.
The ice cream -- which is officially not ice cream but a "frozen dessert" -- is made with a cashew milk base, making it good for people who don't like dairy, can't handle soy, or who eat a vegan diet. But Cohen said the high protein product is not just for those niche eaters.
"There's so many people now that are looking for a good healthy alternative," he said.
Mr. Dewie's, which currently comes in flavors like chocolate orange and caramel almond crunch, also contains organic ingredients and is gluten free and kosher. And the ingredient list is small -- the coffee ice cream, for example, contains only cashew milk, cane juice, vanilla, coffee and salt. Mr. Dewie's also makes an almond ice cream, although they are phasing it out.
"The cashew just makes a better ice cream," Cohen said.
Cohen, who grew up in Berkeley, came to ice cream making in a roundabout way.
After working with a nutritionist to change his own diet, including giving up milk, he was desperate for a way to eat his breakfast cereal. He started experimenting with making his own nut milks, which led him to try ice cream -- doing it all in his Glenview District home kitchen.
He got so many rave reviews he decided to try and sell it, which is when his brother, Andrew Cohen, a former entrepreneur and police officer, stepped up to help.
"He was born to sell," Ari Cohen said of his brother.
Even then, it took Cohen a year and a half of fiddling with recipes to make the first batch good enough for his standards.
"Andrew will tell you, it drove him crazy," he said.
But it was really when the Cohens partnered with nut butter company Antisana, owned by Premier Organics, which now has a stake in the company, that things really started to roll for the company.
The brothers started selling locally, beginning with Laurel neighborhood stalwart Farmer Joe's. Now they're getting into Whole Foods across Northern California and have other stores clamoring for distribution. They're also outgrowing their West Oakland facility, where they're currently making around 3,200 pints a day, Cohen said.
The frozen dessert is currently available across the Bay Area, including at the original Berkeley Bowl, Andronico's, San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery, North Berkeley's Monterey Market and Rockridge's Market Hall. In addition, it's available in numerous other natural food stores throughout California, Oregon and Washington.
Even with their factory space, Cohen's kitchen is still filled with ingredients and ice cream makers, with jars of nut butter lining the cupboard shelves and bags and bags of vegan cookies on the counter, experimental ingredients for a new flavor.
"I take up most of the room around here," he said, pulling open the freezer to reveal piles of ice cream pints.
But even if it's filling his kitchen, as well as his basement, Cohen hopes Mr. Dewie's will keep growing. And the way things are going, it looks like it well -- as long as enough people keep tasting it.
"It sells itself," he admitted.
For more information about Mr. Dewie's frozen dessert, go to the website: http://www.mrdewies.com/.