If Portland were a guest at your Thanksgiving dinner table, it would be most critical of your pie. Its sweet tooth has inspired ice cream, donuts and churros that have brought the national culinary scene to its knees. Now, there's a new treat in town. It comes armed with a guilt-free agenda: Sorbabes' line of specialty sorbets wants you to feel good while you're having dessert and afterwards, too.
Sorbabes is much more than a pun-y name. It's a bold and defiant woman-owned enterprise that originated in Brooklyn, New York. It is the passion project of Deborah Gorman and Nicole Cardone, two women who ventured to make sorbet indulgent, rich and creamy – without compromising whole, real ingredients.
WW: How did the two of you meet, and who were you before Sorbabes?
DG: We were actually introduced by a mutual friend who happens to be Nicole's mother-in-law. I was a private chef working in kitchens in New York and I had worked in fine dining for many years. Nicole was a new mom at the time. Nicole was already working on a concept for sorbet. She said there was an opportunity here to make a sorbet unlike anything that existed.
NC: My husband worked all of the time, so it was me taking care of the kids and starting a business. We brought babies to a lot of meetings.
WW: How did you start making the sorbet?
NC: We started playing around with a Pacojet, a machine that allows you to freeze ingredients. We would fill 1 quart beakers with pistachios soaked in simple syrup, freeze them overnight and then the Pacojet spins and shaves them into delicious frozen desserts. We thought, "We're making something in the height of the whole foods craze that is not a coconut milk ice cream!" It's a version of sorbet that no one has seen before with all of these heart healthy nut fats. It's not being diluted with milk or coconut: it's really just pure flavor.
DG: Yeah, up to that point, no one was really doing sorbet with nut butters.
WW: Who came up with 'Sorbabes?'
NC: We were making sorbet in a small Brooklyn ice cream shop called Ample Hills Creamery. We would go in in the middle of the night for a few hours to make our sorbet, and there were a whole bunch of ice cream guys in there with us. They were wonderful, and they'd say "Oh, the Sorbabes are coming!" It kind of stuck.
DG: We tested the market in 2012 at farmer's markets where we would occasionally joke around and say, "Yeah, we're the Sorbabes."
NC: We bucked it for a while because we were like, "Don't call me babe" – but then it really grew on us. We realized it was up to us to define what it means to be a babe in today's day and age; it's very different than a traditional view of what a babe should be.
WW: What is the craziest thing you did at the beginning before this really took off?
NC: We hardly had any money so we would use a stroller to transport groceries. One time we were in the middle of a huge intersection–in the Times Square area–and this huge watermelon rolled out of the stroller and into the street. So I yelled, "My baby!" The entire block froze because everyone thought an actual baby had rolled into the middle of the road in Manhattan. I swear I heard cars screeching to stop.
WW: And how did the Sorbabes finally take off?
NC: In 2013, we had an official launch in the Hamptons. My husband is from Sag Harbor. We knew all of the local people who owned all the gourmet stores, so it was easy for us to distribute and sell into these little shops. We spent the summer out there doing three farmers markets and selling into about 20 specialty shops where we could distribute ourselves from my truck with dry ice.
DG: It was hard, but every time someone said "no" we became more defiant. The first distributor we talked to said we were "too nice" and told us to get out of the business.
NC: That made us want to do it even more. We had this big meeting with another distributor, and I was really nervous. I had just had a new baby and we walked in, expecting the typical tough guy establishment, and it turned out to be the only distributor in the whole Northeast that was all female – a total anomaly! We couldn't believe it, all of these women were so understanding and came out of the woodwork just to see the baby. Even when the baby started crying at one point in the middle of the meeting everyone just gave the needed space and allowed me to handle it, like it was nothing at all, then back to the conversation. I actually think the baby helped seal the deal – for once, it was a godsend!
Another godsend: the Sorbabes product list of ingredients. All of Sorbabes' seven, groundbreaking sorbets are dairy-free, gluten-free, GMO-free, corn syrup-free, soy-free and vegan. A few flavors are also nut free, and the ones that aren't were planned that way. This is not any old sorbet; and sorbet is old–older than ice cream in fact. Up until Sorbabes, sorbet companies weren't capitalizing on the silky, creamy admixture that nut butters and decadent fruits combine to form.
When you think of sorbet, you might imagine popsicles or other icy desserts you don't want to see at the end of a pre-paid three-course meal in the place of ice cream. The Sorbabes products have much more in common with ice cream than you think–and not just because they're sold by the pint.
They incorporate chunky, decadent toppings, akin to the craft ice cream revolution that has put Portland on the map. Sorbabes' sorbets experiment with nature's candy, and various flavors are churned with almonds, pistachios, dark chocolate, vanilla chips and fudge. Undiluted by cow's milk, the Sorbabes prioritize pure, natural flavor–nut butters, as opposed to dairy, which means healthy fat as opposed to you-feel-gross fat. This is no diet product, it's just a healthier-choice dessert option. It's half the sugar of normal sorbets and relies on a trustworthy base: water and whole foods.
Not unlike many other Portland transplants, Sorbabes' products underscore the ethos of the Pacific Northwest. They're healthy, homegrown and female-empowering. And if they hadn't displayed this level of determination? Your local Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons and Walmart would have much sadder a frozen sections without Sorbabes' ice cream cone-horned unicorns on shelves.