Vanilla Bean Creamery in Cranford

As the summer winds down what better way to celebrate the end of summer than with two scoops of award-winning ice cream?  At Vanilla Bean Creamery in Cranford, NJ you can get exactly that, along with 31 other delicious flavors.

At the New Jersey Ice Cream Festival held in Toms River this July, Vanilla Bean’s Banana Foster took home the People’s Choice Award for Best Local Ice Cream, beating reigning champ Hoffmanns. Ralph Kopelman, the owner of Vanilla Bean Creamery, was confident they put out a quality product but was still happily surprised when they won. While Bananas Foster incorporates the best parts of the famous dessert (real bananas, brown sugar, a hint of rum), it’s not the only flavor that’s a far cry from what you’d find in an average ice cream shop, thanks to an owner who’s constantly experimenting and looking for ways to push the envelope.

The fact that Vanilla Bean Creamery was able to snag the People’s Choice Award after being open for just over a year signifies that this is an ice cream shop with a lot of passion and hard work behind it.  Ralph had worked for 25 years selling men’s suits, but found himself looking for a change and with his wife’s blessing, decided to pursue his love of ice cream.  He had previously made ice cream at home in small portions for friends and family but was looking for the chance to open his own shop.  He enrolled in Ice Cream University in West Orange, learning everything from the correct ingredients to the proper way to scoop ice cream, and in April 2010 Vanilla Bean Creamery opened its doors.

Now Ralph finds himself with a popular local hangout that attracts customers as passionate about ice cream as he is.  They’re eager to try samples of the flavors, and also just as willing to offer honest feedback.  There’s no better example of this than when Ralph felt he had found the perfect way to improve upon the classic Coffee flavor by adding glazed donuts.  As delicious as the flavor was, customers demanded he bring back the classic flavor they loved.  Ralph also finds himself balancing both the younger and older tastes.  Parents were nostalgic about his Ambrosia flavor, while their children had never even heard of the dessert it was based on.  While that flavor was short-lived, customers have flocked to others like Fudge It (chocolate ice cream studded with brownies and chocolate cake), Cookie Monster (vanilla ice cream loaded with both chocolate chip cookies and Oreos), and seasonal flavors like Pumpkin Spice, Caramel Apple and Gingerbread.

Vanilla Bean Creamery offers an owner who’s always looking for ways to challenge his customers’ taste buds, and encourages people to try samples of a flavor they’re unaccustomed to.  The customers aren’t alone in learning to adapt as Ralph is constantly reworking recipes to come up with the best product he can. Belgian chocolate, real ginger, Madagascar vanilla and Dutch cocoa are only a few of the quality ingredients he uses to give his ice creams their “wow” factor.  There’s little doubt he’s succeeding as people refer to his ice cream as a “religious experience.”  With high praise like that, it’s easy to see why Ralph chose ice cream over selling men’s suits.

Vanilla Bean Creamery

22 North Avenue West, Cranford, NJ 07016

Michelle Stavrou, the Union County regional editor, has hop-scotched across the Garden State, growing up in Bergen County, then moving to Hoboken (after a stop over in Queens) before finally settling in Cranford. After too many years stuck in tiny kitchens Michelle finally has a kitchen that can accommodate multiple batches of cookies. Her husband and her co-workers are probably even more thankful than she is. Michelle’s baking adventures are documented here: