Over the last forty years, the Foster-Powell neighborhood has developed substantially — its major thoroughfare Southeast Foster Road, once home to many abandoned storefronts, is now lined with coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. But there was one thing that Thunderbird Bar co-owners Mike Mello and Nate VanDeventer thought was missing. “The neighborhood has a ton of good stuff for all age ranges, but we [specifically] have a lot for adults,” Mello says. “There’s not a lot for young people. We wanted to have something that’s nice for kids.”
Mello and VanDeventer both live nearby, so for them, making a positive addition to the neighborhood felt personal. So in late December, the pair behind the nearby bar opened what some might consider the opposite of a cocktail bar: an ice cream shop. St. Francis Ice Cream is slinging dairy and vegan scoops out of a small storefront in the historic For Mrs. Noble building, with flavors ranging from mango habanero to strawberry cheesecake.
Mello and VanDeventer opened Thunderbird Bar in 2017, but as the pandemic forced bars and restaurants to close in 2020, they started a new project. The two teamed up with Johannah Zuniga of Dream Cakes to start Dream Bird Cookie Co., a vegan cookie dough business specializing in take-and-bake and safe-to-eat dough. Eventually, Zuniga returned the bulk of her attention to making wedding cakes. But Mello and VanDeventer decided they wanted to expand the business, and started looking for a permanent space.
“This opportunity came up in the neighborhood and we thought it would be a cool thing to combine the cookies with another dessert, which was ice cream,” Mello says. “The long-term plan to join those worlds — use the Dream Bird cookies for ice cream sandwiches and just having fresh cookies available.”
St. Francis’ menu includes dairy flavors like vanilla peanut butter, lemon marionberry, and ube, and vegan offerings like ginger snap cookie and strawberry swirl, all of which are rotating. On average, the shop has around 10 dairy flavors and five vegan flavors in its case. Dream Bird’s vegan chocolate chip cookie dough is featured in both dairy and vegan forms.
The shop’s vegan base uses gluten-free oat milk and coconut cream to mimic the fat content of dairy, but figuring out how to make ice cream was something Mello and VanDeventer only tackled after they built out the shop. Three months of trial and error went into perfecting their recipes. “We didn’t have experience in ice cream,” Mello says. “But we come up with cocktail menus at the bar and so we kind of understood the concepts of putting flavors together.”
In the design process for the shop, Mello and VanDeventer prioritized using pops of color to create a bright space. “It’s ice cream,” Mello says. “It’s gotta have happy vibes.”
The name St. Francis pays homage to a San Francisco diner called St. Francis Fountain that Mello, his brother, and his sister-in-law used to frequent on the weekends. Mello and VanDeventer met down in San Francisco and Mello’s family members are now partners in his ice cream business. “It just kind of felt right to use the connection that we all have of this place,” Mello says.
St. Francis Ice Cream is open 4515 SE 63rd Avenue.