Ube cheesecake, Lilikoi Macaron, Blue Raspberry Basil: These are just three of the more than 250 ice cream flavors Kryse Panis Martin has created since 2016, when she opened Central District Ice Cream Company with her ex-husband Darren McGill.
As the couple’s personal relationship was dissolving, she stepped away from the business — and the couple’s other restaurants, including Happy Grillmore, Seattle Freeze and Nate’s Wings and Waffles — in March 2019 and began working with Kristi Brown (That Brown Girl Cooks; Communion) “to do some healing.”
“I had to fall off the face of the Earth. I’m not saying I was famous, but it was hard to be. I dropped off social media, put my head down, went into the kitchen as a prep cook and ended up as Kristi’s sous chef right before I left,” Martin says during a recent phone call.
When the pandemic hit, Martin began working with chef Tarik Abdullah (Feed the People Seattle; Midnight Mecca; Seattle Community Kitchen Collective). At the same time, she was doing the work of clearing out all the locations of her businesses as they closed. Almost on a whim, she decided to keep the ice cream machines from Central District Ice Cream Co.
“People were asking, ‘Are you ever going to make ice cream again?’ I didn’t think I would. My family and I had been through so much transition, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to start or run a business again,” she says.
But after a while, she started thinking about flavors again and experimenting with making ice cream. In September 2020, she posted on Instagram, hinting at what would become KRYSE Ice Cream. The first of weekly sales of handcrafted flavors dropped in early October. The featured flavor, Candied Purple Yam, sold out within a few hours.
“I didn’t know what to expect. With CD Ice Cream, not everybody knew I was the one creating the flavors. I wasn’t sure how people would respond, or if they would remember me. But they did, which is awesome,” she says.
She kept at it, dropping a mix of new flavors and old favorites weekly, with pickups happening a week later at The Station coffee shop in the Central District. There was Elote, a corn-flavored ice cream with lime and Tajín caramel; and Dirty Matcha with an espresso ice cream swirled together with matcha green tea and chocolate chips. An Apple Pie a la Mode in partnership with fellow Seattle pop-up Grayseas Pies; and Wu-Tang Forever, a French vanilla, butter-pecan chocolate deluxe.
She had her old notebooks from Central District, where she debuted eight new flavors each month (and rarely repeated any), but she never wrote down recipes. Some of her flavors are re-engineered and tested from those old notes; others are brand new, sourced from a multitude of places she finds inspiration.
It might be from her daughter suggesting flavor combinations, or from flavors she remembers as a child growing up a second-generation Filipino American. Some come from an idea just a day or so before the drop, while others take some noodling — flavor combinations she’ll see that aren’t necessarily ice cream, but that she then turns into a compelling flavor.
Those original machines she packed up from Central District have gone kaput; they were restaurant-grade, but not made for mass production. So, as of now, Martin is working out of Michael Huynh’s commercial kitchen (Macadons; Pink’s Ice Cream).
“He’s super cool, especially considering he also does Asian-inspired flavors of ice cream. There’s a lot of gate-keeping, but there are enough (customers) for everybody,” she says.
Ice cream lovers can get KRYSE through her weekly drops — which tend to sell out within an hour or two of posting — or they can grab scoops at Musang, Sugar Hill, Communion, Taste of the Caribbean and the Musangtino pop-up run by Musang’s Melissa Miranda. Martin also takes special orders for parties and events, but says she’s not looking at opening a scoop shop again.
“I have done it, and I was like, why are we doing this in Seattle? It’s such a seasonal product, and unless you have the money to be able to take a hit for 10 months, waiting for spring and summer to make money, more power to you, but it’s pretty hard for us regular folk.”
Instead, she’s focused on the good feelings she gets creating ice cream flavors, and the joy it brings to people.
“I really missed creating, and it’s nice for people to have something exciting to look forward to,” she says.