In the Philippines, Cobie Damsel’s grandpa was known as The Ice Cream Man.
His grandparents had a streetside business making frozen treats in plastic tubs for delivery around town. The venture was family lore and, as a child, Damsel and his father would daydream about opening a shop like that in Winnipeg. That daydream has become a reality amid the pandemic — but there’s a piece missing.
"I don’t have a relationship with my dad anymore," Damsel says. "That’s actually how it is for a lot of gay people."
Earlier this year, the 25-year-old entrepreneur launched an online ice cream shop called Daddy D’s Ice Creamery. The name is an homage to the estrangement from his father: "I (realized) I don’t need my dad to do this, I can be my own dad," he says. "The queer community finds their own home."
After six years in Vancouver studying business, Damsel returned home to Winnipeg in January 2020 and promptly landed his "dream job," working as a management consultant for Deloitte. He was excited. Things were falling into place. Five months later, he was unemployed — a casualty of pandemic job cuts.
"After losing my job… I was pretty depressed, I was dealing with really bad anxiety," he says. "It’s gonna sound so lame, but (ice cream) has kind of helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel."
He applied elsewhere and started doing freelance diversity and inclusion training. The collection of odd jobs made for a surprisingly busy schedule and Damsel needed a way to unwind at the end of the day. He needed a hobby.
One online impulse purchase later and there was a small ice cream maker sitting on his kitchen counter. While he doesn’t have a traditional culinary background, Damsel does know his way around frozen desserts thanks to time spent working at a popular ice cream shop in Vancouver.
At home, he started playing around with traditional Filipino ingredients — like ube, a sweet purple yam, with homemade toffee and pandan, a tropical plant reminiscent of vanilla.
"My grandpa’s top flavour was ube," he says. "A lot of these flavours you can’t find in the store… you can’t find in Canada."
Realizing there was an un-scooped local market for Asian-inspired ice cream, Damsel introduced his products to the public with a Valentine’s fundraiser — anyone who donated to a local charity would receive a free pint. Word spread quickly and Daddy D’s gained something of a cult following on social media.
Damsel moved into a commercial kitchen and started churning out ice cream every weekend. Since May, he’s sold more than 300 pints and landed a stall at the South Osborne Farmer’s Market. Now that he’s back at work full-time, Damsel is looking to hire kitchen staff and move into a larger prep space.
Operating online has allowed Daddy D’s to grow slowly with low overhead. The small-batch model has also given Damsel licence to experiment with new flavours, like charcoal honeycomb and Vietnamese coffee.
His ultimate goal is to have a storefront that’s more of a gathering place than a business.
"I want to make it this community hub for the gay and people-of-colour communities," Damsel says. "So they have a place to showcase their art and a place to really feel like themselves."
Until then, he’s supporting the LGBTTQ+ and BIPOC communities by donating a portion of his proceeds to local scholarships and resource programs.
Pints are $10 each and available for pick-up or delivery. Visit daddy-ds-ice-creamery.com to order.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.