Like many a Jewish mother, Ronne Fisher loves to bake. But then she kvetches about the rugelach sitting on the counter, tempting her. So she stuffs them by the bagful into the freezer.
One summer day in 2008, her daughter, Meredith, visited her in East Hamption. On a whim, Ronne pulled out a batch of frozen rugelach from the freezer and dipped them into vanilla ice cream. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could have rugelach ice cream?” Meredith told her mom and sister, Isabelle. “How come Ben and Jerry’s hasn’t done that?”
The three women began brainstorming traditional Jewish dessert-themed ice-cream flavors they would love to taste: macaroon, matzo, and, of course, rugelach. Six months later, the idea was still percolating in their minds when they read an article in the New York Times that mentioned ice cream consultant Malcolm Stogo. They met with him and shared their business idea. To succeed, he told them, they would need a lot of money and a lot of time. “Neither of which we really had,” Meredith says. “But we tried it anyway.”
Ronne, an architect turned interior designer, assumed the role of Chief Flavor Officer and began testing recipes using a basic Cuisinart ice cream maker. (She later upgraded to a commercial version.) Meredith, an online marketing director for Diane Von Furstenberg, began to visit her parents’ home each weekend, when the Fisher family would host informal ice cream tastings.
In January 2011, Fisher left her job to focus her efforts on launching the mother-daughter business, which they dubbed Chozen (www.chozen.com) – ice cream with chutzpah. Chozen is a play on the idea of the Jews being a “chosen” people, and the combination of it being a frozen product. (Jewlato, the original name for the ice cream, did not elicit as positive a response.) Union Market in Brooklyn and Fairway began stocking the pints of novelty ice cream for about $6. Chozen was sold in the Brooklyn kosher megastore Pomegranate for a brief period of time, but targeting kosher stores proved challenging since the ice cream is not chalav yisrael. Since then, more than 40 stores, including Whole Foods, Zabar’s, and Dean & Deluca, have begun stocking Chozen ice cream. The company has expanded its offerings to Coconut Macaroon, Matzoh Crunch, Ronne’s Rugelach, Chocolate Gelt, and Apples and Honey. Those who frequent the Chozen ice cream cart this summer can also taste Chocolate Babka, Heavenly Halvah, and Dead Sea Salt & Caramel.
Chozen “isn’t just about being Jewish and enjoying ice cream inspired by Jewish food,” says Meredith, 31, who lives in the West Village. All of the ingredients that go into the ice cream are 100 percent natural and 100 percent kosher (the ice cream is certified kosher by the Star-K). “We don’t put anything chemical or preservatives into our products,” she says. “We don’t use corn syrup or gum products – these are “chozen” ingredients.”
The ice cream is manufactured at a dairy in upstate NY, about an hour outside of Syracuse.
Chozen’s ice cream flavors have a unique taste that appeals to Jews and non-Jews alike. “You won’t find any other ice cream out there has matzah or rugelach in it,” Meredith says.
Food has “always been a really big part of my family, culturally and spiritually,” says Fisher, who grew up in a Reform household in New York.
Working with her mom has “given me an opportunity to get to know her and spend time with her,” Meredith says. “It’s great for our relationship. We now have our fights down to about 30 seconds. We can yell at each other and then 30 seconds later, we can move on.”
While she’s working harder than ever, Meredith says she enjoys tapping into her entrepreneurial spirit. “This is my eighth job in 10 years,” says Meredith, who worked in politics and then worked as a food and fashion writer. “But it’s the one job I can see myself having for a long time.”