After selling out on a cold winter weekend, Wanderlust Creamery might keep the Chinese New Year special indefinitely.
Everybody else can have their unicorn food. The biggest dessert sensation in L.A. is a plain-looking white ice cream that tastes like milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla. It also tastes like a childhood memory for a lot of people.
Wanderlust Creamery, a scoop shop with locations in Venice, Atwater Village, Tarzana, and downtown L.A.’s Sunday Smorgasburg market, started serving White Rabbit ice cream as a Chinese New Year special at the beginning of February. The ice cream is made with dissolved pieces of the iconic White Rabbit candy, including the edible glutinous-rice paper. Wanderlust Creamery co-founder Adrienne Borlongan began working on the flavor after Foodbeast managing editor Richard Guinto suggested it in October.
Jon-Patrick Lopez, Wanderlust’s other co-founder, estimates that there’s about 1.3 of the habit-forming Chinese candies in each of scoop of ice cream. The ice cream totally tastes like the candy, which is to say that it’s milky and sugary with a hit of synthetic vanilla.
Sales of the White Rabbit flavor were normal at first, and then some combination of social media (including WeChat and Instagram), word-of-mouth, and other assorted buzz made things completely insane last week. The ice cream is a collaboration with Foodbeast, which has promoted it, but Borlongan can’t pinpoint the exact reason that the flavor has gone super-viral.
“I literally don’t know,” she says.
Borlongan says that Wanderlust sold 50 gallons of White Rabbit ice cream from February 1 to 20. Then 50 more gallons were sold last Thursday through Saturday as word spread. Lopez knew something was really up when he saw a huge line at his Tarzana store on Saturday night. That was a 50-degree winter evening, which is positively frigid by L.A. standards.
Then on Sunday, Wanderlust sold its remaining 39 gallons of White Rabbit ice cream, nearly 1,000 scoops, in eight hours. Borlongan and Lopez felt bad when they learned that one guest had driven more than 300 miles from San Jose only to find out that the flavor was sold out. Lopez laughs when he tells me about e-mails he got asking if he could ship ice cream to Hong Kong. One customer, confused about what was going on, asked if there was an actual rabbit in the ice cream. Some guests were disappointed that the flavor wasn’t more attractive for Instagram.
“A lot of people complain,” Borlongan says. “When they actually come and get it, they’re, like, ‘Oh, it doesn’t come with a wrapper’ [like it did in a photo shoot]?’”
But overall, things were consistently busy and happy over at the weekend at Wanderlust. Another Chinese New Year flavor, jasmine green tea with “lucky candy,” started to sell briskly after the White Rabbit ice cream went viral. But the White Rabbit was clearly the main event
“It’s shocking,” Lopez says, who stresses that Wanderlust is a tiny operation that makes all of its ice cream at its 1,200-square-foot Tarzana location. “We obviously didn’t expect this. We don’t know how this happened. To see that many people mobilize just to taste one flavor is pretty cool. I think it reaches that little kid in everyone. For me, it was nostalgic.”
After a weekend where they saw lines snaking through their shops and into a sidewalk and a parking lot on cold winter days and nights, Borlongan and Lopez knew it was time to make more ice cream. But there was a problem, beyond the fact that there are only five people making ice cream with limited capacity in Tarzana.
The big issue was that Borlongan and Lopez needed to get more White Rabbit candy, and some wholesalers they visited told them that another ice cream shop had already called to reserve cases of it. Borlongan, who’s in charge of creating and conceptualizing all of Wanderlust’s ice cream, sounds like she’s fine with the idea of some still unknown rival R&Ding White Rabbit ice cream. She says she expected it, but maybe not quite this quickly. She just wishes it was easier for Wanderlust to buy more candy.
“We recently found a distributor to source it,” Lopez says.
Borlongan and Lopez also drove around L.A. to specialty stores and even outposts of Cost Plus World Market in Burbank and Glendale to get White Rabbit candy.
“There was an Asian wholesaler downtown,” Lopez says. “We cleaned them out. It was funny. The lady behind us in line was, like, ‘Why are you buying this? It’s not even Halloween.’”
Borlongan and Lopez, who are Filipino-Angelenos and grew up enjoying White Rabbit candy, have created other sensations at Wanderlust. The crowds swelled for a lineup of Filipino flavors last October. A couple years ago, guests showed up in costumes to enjoy Games of Thrones-inspired flavors, which is something Wanderlust plans to bring back in April. Meanwhile, a Mardi Gras-themed flavor inspired by breakfast at Cafe du Monde could be a big hit in March. It’s a delightful coffee ice cream with pieces of extra-crunchy double-fried beignets inside. And, of course, there are year-round flavors like mango sticky rice, ube malted crunch, and violet marshmallow, all of which are more Instagram-friendly than plain white ice cream.
But it’s the White Rabbit flavor that might be the beginning of a global craze. Malaysian ice cream shop Inside Scoop started serving its version of White Rabbit ice cream today after seeing a post about Wanderlust’s flavor. The funny thing is, a Singapore dessert café called Sunday Folks introduced a limited-time-only ice cream inspired by White Rabbit candy in November, but that didn’t go viral enough to influence any ice cream shops in neighboring Malaysia. Something, the only predictable thing about the Internet is that things will be unpredictable.
Wanderlust was planning to stop serving White Rabbit ice cream at the end of February, but it will now be on the menu through March at least. Maybe this even becomes a year-round option that replaces Wanderlust’s tonka bean as the everyday “vanilla” option at the shops.
“It’s like ice cream gold at this point,” Lopez says. “Maybe we’ll call it vanilla rabbit, so people don’t go so crazy.”