As the founder of LA’s first organic, non-dairy ice-cream shop, Kippy Miller has found her calling. Her amazing path to success has been long and winding, marked by chance encounters, world travel, broken bones, unemployment and incredible determination along the way.
Do you remember your first week in LA?
Yes. I used to work in fashion in New York, so I would come out here on business. One of my girlfriends took me to Abbot Kinney, and then she drove me down PCH [Pacific Coast Highway] to the Valley where she lived. I remember thinking, "This is the best damn thing I've ever seen." This is not what I thought LA was like. It was beautiful. I wanted to live on Abbot Kinney. I wanted to drive down PCH.
When I first moved here, I had a boyfriend who had a house in Studio City with a swimming pool and all of that, and so I found myself living in Studio City and commuting downtown. I was like, "How the fuck did this happen? This was not my plan." So I hated LA for the first three years.
What made it even worse was that a couple of my girlfriends moved over from New York and we would just get together and rag on LA. We did that for three years. It was terrible.
That's a long time to be doing that.
Yeah. I don't know what it was.
Why did you stay then?
I left after three years and went to Spain. I was in Spain for a year and then I went to Texas for a year. I’m originally from Texas. But after living in Texas, I was ready to go back to LA. I came back at Christmastime 10 years ago and have loved it ever since.
And you didn't want to go back to New York at any point?
No. At one point I thought about going back to New York because I was still in fashion. I was going to open up a showroom there. That's what everybody expects when you’ve been working in fashion for a long time.
What were you doing exactly?
I did sales and marketing for designers. I worked for private designers and when they wanted to get into Neiman Marcus and all of that, my group did that for them. So it seemed like a natural progression to go back to New York.
When I came to LA I was still working in fashion, but I had been wanting to quit for a long time. When I was in Hawaii on my way to LA, I didn't work. I took a year off and was like, "Okay, I'm so done with this." But then I came here and fashion sucked me back in.
You’ve got to make money somehow.
Yeah. I was out of money and I was like, "Okay, time to start working again." When I lived in Spain and then in Texas, I knew I was really, really close to getting out of fashion. By that time, my health wasn’t great.
The reason I started my business is because I was getting headaches. I'd been having headaches my entire life, but they were getting worse in New York. I would always party hard and work hard.
I was only 28 or 29 years old, but I was calling in sick to work often. I went to the doctors and they just said, "You suffer from migraines. Here are some pills." I’d never been a pill popper, so it didn't feel right, but I didn't know what else to do. When I came back to LA for the second time, I was still having health issues. That’s when someone said to me, “You can take your health into your own hands—you can take your own power back.” No one had ever said that my health is within my control. I always thought that the doctor knew best and I should just follow procedure.
I’m really thankful that in LA, I started gravitating towards people who had certain lifestyles and diets. One of my girlfriends in fashion said to me, "You know, I stumbled upon this little co-op in Venice that sells everything raw and there's a guy there who’s eaten nothing cooked for years. I think you need to meet him. He might answer some of your questions."
So I called this dude up—his name is Max—and I said, "I hear you know a lot about raw food and you know my friend, and I would like to ask you some questions." And he said, "Well, you're going to come work for me and you can learn.”
Everybody thought I was crazy, but I started working for him on Sundays for $10 an hour, basically washing dishes. My boyfriend at the time did not understand what I was doing.
On my very first day, there was this big gallon of beautiful, raw honey in a glass jar on the table. It was calling my name. So I stuck a spoon in there and had a taste of raw honey, and I thought it might be the most beautiful thing I've ever had in my entire life. I grew up with Southern manners, otherwise I probably would've stuck my entire hand in that gallon of raw honey and just licked it.
As I came to find out, my body was so malnourished and raw honey has so many minerals and vitamins—it's one of the super, super, super foods of this world and it has all of your B vitamins. Anyway, Max had a ceviche company, so that's how I started learning about raw foods like this honey, and fermentation, and all these things.
I had been working for Max for a couple of months when one of my friends decided to go down to Argentina. I thought, “Okay, this is my last chance to find a South American designer that I’d want to work with and stay in fashion. But if I don’t find anything in South America, I’m out and done.”
So you gave yourself an ultimatum?
Yes. And so I went to South America. There are so many beautiful designers in South America and Argentina and I didn't meet one of them. Not one.
Were you trying, though?
Subconsciously you were sabotaging it?
Probably, because I didn't meet one. I brought back a lot of shoes but I didn't meet one designer. I came back to LA after a couple of weeks and I quit fashion and started working for $10 an hour for Max Wolf, who is now my business partner.
Yes. It's really beautiful—it just took me making a phone call and saying, “I don't know what you do but I'm really interested.”
That's so crazy! And it changed the whole course of your life.
Yes! A couple of months after I started, I fell down some stairs and I broke both my ankles at the same time.
Oh my gosh!
It's very rare that someone breaks both their ankles. They weren’t clean breaks, either; it was terrible. I knew the moment it happened that my life was over. I just knew it. I was in a wheelchair and I couldn't go to the bathroom on my own, I couldn't drive, I couldn't feed myself. I was basically in a wheelchair trying to figure out my life.
I thought I could go back to Texas and let my family take care of me. I love my family, but I did not want to go back. Max said, “Why don't you just come and stay with me for a couple of months?”
How did that work out for you?
That was the best thing that ever happened to me. I still had fashion ties at that time, and I was also working with Max but I was like, "This is never going to support me in the way that I'm used to being supported." But when I broke my ankles, my fashion career was over and done with.
It was funny… I have good friends, but because I’d been going through this whole soul-searching phase at the time, no one was in a good space to take care of me. They all said, "I'm sorry, Kippy. I love you but no, I can't take care of you.”
My money was gone; I had made money previously and I was out of it. So I gave up my apartment and moved in with Max in Culver City. I thought, “This is the biggest dump I've ever seen, but I'm so grateful he's taking care of me.” Staying with Max, in the wheelchair, it didn’t take long for me to see how eating raw food made a difference in my body.
What about your headaches?
The headaches were still there. One day Max and I were at the raw co-op, and we saw some people making coconut cream. They were taking the meat of a coconut and pressing it together. They weren't extracting anything and it wasn't milk—it was thick and rich. I took a bite of the coconut cream, and at that moment, I knew that the headaches were going to go away because coconut cream is a raw saturated fat. My body needed it, because it had been so malnourished.
When I was growing up everything was ‘no fat.’ There was no distinction between good or bad fat. So there I was, 30-something years old and I’d never had fat in my body. I was just bone skinny. I felt the same way I had with the raw honey. I ate this coconut cream and I thought, "This is going to change my life." At the same moment, I got a tingly feeling and so did Max. We were like, "This is the substitution for dairy. We can make ice cream with this!"
It was a whirlwind two years of trying to quit fashion, meeting Max, learning things, breaking my ankles, moving in, finding coconut cream and being poor. I was just like, "Oh my God, I have no money and here I'm going to go start a business.”
Max and I started what we called Truly Raw Gourmet at that time. We made ice cream with coconut cream and raw honey instead of sugar. At the time, agave was getting a lot of press, but it didn’t hit my body the way raw honey did. We started making something that wasn’t in the market.
I was calling little stores like the Santa Monica Co-Op or Pacific Coast Greens in Malibu, and they started to carry our Truly Raw Gourmet ice cream. We were making it by hand and the labels were terrible. We were putting it in glass because we wanted to be super eco. Because of my background in fashion, it didn't take me long to pick up the phone to Whole Foods and send them samples.
It was really funny, because I think they lost the samples. But because I'm used to sales and big-store distribution, I got myself into a meeting with a buyer at Whole Foods headquarters. She said, "I don't know how this happened, because you're way too small for me. But if you can talk somebody in one of our stores into putting all of your flavors into the system, you can go to each of the Whole Foods and they can decide whether they can carry you or not. I will give you the approval that you can do this."
So I went to each of the Whole Foods locations until somebody decided to take the time to put all of our information in the system. Over the course of four and a half years, we got into 45 Whole Foods stores.
It was a good ride with Whole Foods for four and a half years. At the time, we had a kitchen on Lincoln and Rose where I would make all the products. My health inspector was tired of listening to me complain about how little money I was making with the Whole Foods deal. Everyone thinks you’re a millionaire once you’re in Whole Foods, but that’s just not the case. My health inspector was like, "Okay Kippy. I'm retiring soon, so if you want to turn your back office into an ice-cream shop, here’s what you’ve got to do and we'll decide if you can make money or not. You’ve got one week ‘cause the new health inspector's coming." So in one week we repainted the place, got a gelato case, and put some things up on the wall. Initially we thought people would try the ice cream at the store, but then go to Whole Foods to buy it.
As it turned out, everybody loves to come to an ice-cream shop. The first year was crazy, it was me running the ice-cream shop and also making the product that would go into Whole Foods. It was growing month by month. I had no sign on the building, but everybody just knew where I was and that I was selling my product fresh. Five people started coming a day, then there were 10 people coming a day, and then 20 people.
Three months later, we put a sign out the front that said Kippy's. We only had three tables and nine chairs. The shop was so small and the A/C barely worked, but everybody loved that shop.
Was that the moment you thought, "This is really something”?
There was a moment. It was on a Tuesday night and there was a line out the door. I was like, "Where are you all coming from? I didn't know that you could find me." They're like, "We come here three times a week, Kippy!" At that moment, the business was just me and Max. We were trying to bring on a financial guy from New York to help us with Whole Foods. In the end, we decided that we couldn't do both. Our ice cream was in 45 Whole Foods but I couldn't keep up—I was still making it by hand and we were delivering it ourselves.
I was having a really good time making different flavors for the shop, and really letting creativity take over. I love Whole Foods and I really appreciate what they did for the business, but I had only 12 flavors at Whole Foods. I couldn’t bring in my newest flavor without a bunch of hoopla.
It was really sad to make the decision to pull out of Whole Foods. Everybody thought that I was crazy. Because in the food business, Whole Foods is your golden ticket—and it is, in some ways. I have meetings with investors now and they're all concentrating on getting back us into Whole Foods.
I called Whole Foods, and I just said, "I can't do this anymore. I want to rework my brand and come back when I am bigger and better, and when I have more ice-cream shops and I have more branding." They were really supportive. So I pulled out of Whole Foods and I concentrated on making the ice-cream shop the best that I could. It made me cry because Whole Foods was my identity, in a way….
It means you're legitimate.
Yeah. It’s difficult when you have a retail shop because you're basically saying, "I'm going to generate my own customers." Whereas Whole Foods does all that for you. It was a big step, but as a business owner you have to listen to your instincts. And if it goes against logic, you still have to go with your instincts. It was the best decision I made, because not only did I stop splitting my capital between Whole Foods and the shop, but I got really focused what I needed to do to improve my shop.
The vision became very clear: We are the first organic, non-dairy ice-cream franchise across this country and we will put in 50 stores in five years and 400 stores in the next ten years. I had to get Whole Foods out of my mind to get clear on that vision. Soon after that, I was approached by a company to take our concept to Tokyo! We would never have been able to do that if I was still working with Whole Foods.
Japan loves American brands and I think they are specifically interested in brands that can be healthy and fun at the same time. Kippy's! is the brand that merges the two. We're saying that you can have ice cream and that you can have fun and it can be healthy at the same time.
They fell in love with the taste and the ingredients, and we opened up the store last October.
There has not been a concept in food that takes non-dairy ice cream and makes it into a full-fledged retail shop. There are ice-cream shops that have vegan or non-dairy flavor options. That's where we've come in and said, "We think the marketplace wants and demands a non-dairy ice cream that doesn't sweeten with sugar." So that's what we're doing.
I basically spend all of my time raising money and cultivating what Kippy's! brand looks like, and what the inside of the stores look like, while still working on being creative with new flavors and working on my supply chain and making it bigger and better. I think in two years, we're going to buy a coconut farm.
What's your favorite flavor at the moment?
Mmm. My fallback is always smooth dark chocolate. But I will mix it up between blackberry and strawberry. Sometimes I eat chocolate chip.
One thing that's so inspiring are these moments in your life where you've just taken a huge chance. What gives you the ability to do that?
I'm not a gambler. You can put me in Vegas and I'm not interested in any of that. I'm interested in growing as a person and as a human being. There's a responsibility right now, being on this planet, to be the best you can to raise this planet up to be what this planet can be.
This hit me years ago, I just didn't know how it was going to manifest. I talk about this when I do lectures on yoga or things like that, especially kundalini. Kundalini yoga changed my life because it’s not just physical. It's emotional and mental at the same time.
I'm always ready to make a leap because I’m not attached to the outcome. That's the thing about making decisions—you can have the outcome that you would like in mind, and you can work towards that outcome, but you can't be attached to it because you will get very blinded on how to get there. Sometimes in business, you just have to do the next logical thing that you instinctively feel is better. Logic and instinct don't always line up, but you have to take that next step. Sometimes that next step is a huge jump, and yet you have to do it. Otherwise, you're not going to see the potential or the growth that you could have.
That's so amazing. What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
You just have to follow what you want to do—always.
What if you don't know what you want?
You just have to take the next step. Just keep walking, keep moving.
What does LA mean to you?
Growth, more than anything. If you want to come to LA, you can find a group of people that will support you in your growth. That growth can be in many different areas, but I'm positive that you can find a group of people that will support you. That's the beauty of it.
Visit Kippy's! Ice Cream Shop:
245 Main Street #3D
Venice, CA 90291
Hours: 11am-11pm Daily!
Photography by Magdalena Wielopolski ©