The Scoop On The Closing Of Scoops In East Hollywood

Scoops in East Hollywood, seen in June 2019. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Before there were organic, artisanal, hand-milled ice cream shops peddling wacky flavors in every gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhood, there was Scoops.

Opened in 2005 off Melrose Avenue in East Hollywood, the boutique ice cream shop helped usher in a wave of frozen fabulousness.

Black sesame. Blueberry thyme. Matcha. Horchata. Pineapple lime.

Modern sophisticates wouldn't bat an eyelash at these flavors. During the topsy turvy mid-aughts, as we were still recovering from from 9/11 and before we knew Late Capitalism was doomed, finding chocolate, bananas and caramel in the same pint was the ice cream equivalent of breaking the fourth wall. Scoops was a gem. It still is. But times have changed. No one knows that better than owner Tai Kim.

"[In the] good old days, it was okay," he says, "but now the competition. There [are] about ten ice cream shops within less than two miles away. In less than three years, there are so many places that are open — and they [are] still coming."

Various flavors seen at Scoops in East Hollywood in June 2019. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Earlier this month, Kim announced that his original Scoops shop would shut its doors. Its last day of business will be Tuesday, June 25.

Kim, 52, is sanguine about the closure. He says it's due to a confluence of factors. His lease expires at the end of the month. He doesn't know what his new rent will be. He has trouble finding people to work the store. One of his key employees is moving to Irvine. On July 1, L.A.'s minimum wage will rise to $13.25 per hour for businesses with fewer than 25 employees.

"It adds up, and then I decide, okay, let's close this location," Kim says.

Scoops in East Hollywood, seen in June 2019. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

When Kim opened the first Scoops, around the corner from Los Angeles City College, he says he chose the spot because, "This location was the cheapest location I can afford besides Compton." He was paying $1,500 per month in rent. These days, he pays $2,800 (not including insurance and other expenses).

For a hot minute, Hel-Mel, the micro-neighborhood at the corner of Heliotrope and Melrose, had a hipster surge. In addition to Scoops, it briefly boasted a vegan restaurant with a microbrewery, a couple of cool stores and the Bicycle Kitchen. The "revitalization" didn't pan out so Kim expanded his business in other ways.

Matt Kang, the editor of Eater L.A., opened a Scoops in the Palms area of West L.A. in 2010. One of Kim's former employees, Chris Gere, opened an outpost in Chinatown in 2014.

In 2012, Kim opened a shop in Highland Park, where the ice cream for all Scoops locations is made. With the Heliotrope location closing, that's where Kim will spend most of his time, much of it focused on creating new flavors.

Kim hadn't planned to be the tip of L.A.'s modern wave ice cream spear. He wanted to be a painter.

Scoops in East Hollywood, seen in June 2019. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

After emigrating from South Korea as a teenager, he ended up at Cal Arts. "You can pretty much do anything you want to do [there]," Kim says, so in his last year at school, "I thought, maybe I should do something different. So I ended up turning my studio into a karaoke bar and restaurant."

He began opening up his studio, one night a week, as a small pop-up restaurant and serving what he describes as "ethnic food with a couple of twists."

Kim wanted to get more serious about his culinary endeavours so he enrolled at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland. At a work-study job, he discovered a small ice cream machine and started experimenting with different flavors. Kim remembers his initial attempts at tarragon (not bad) and unripe melon (it left a bitter aftertaste).

"I was like, oh, this is what I'm enjoying," Kim says. He wanted to do something in the world of ice cream and eventually he decided to work for himself.

"When I opened my ice cream shop, I wanna do creative flavors. There's so many flavors we don't even know," Kim says. That's how he came up with Scoops' signature flavor, Brown Bread, a toasty vanilla ice cream with Grape Nuts cereal. "That's the one we always have. Everything else, we change."

Scoops in East Hollywood, seen in June 2019. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

You'll still spot Kim behind the counter in Highland Park. He has found an oat milk supplier he likes and he plans to start developing vegan oat milk ice cream. He's also opening a new Scoops location in Torrance, hopefully by the end of summer. It's on 182nd Street in the same shopping plaza as Nijiya Market. His nephew will run it.

The glut of high-end ice cream shops (hell, you can get ube ice cream at Trader Joe's now) with their coconut lemongrass, radish ricotta and chocolate jicama doesn't seem to faze Kim.

"More people [get] exposure to different things, which is great, so they understand the flavor. But [at the] same time, I don't know how many places [will be] able to survive."

We don't know either but we're going to enjoy the ice cream bubble before it melts.

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