Meet Lori, Owner of Rocko's Ice Cream Tacos!
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
I really just have to take my head out of the work for a second and just watch people interact with and enjoy the product and that reminds me of why I'm doing this.
My name is Lori Phillips and my business is Rocko’s Ice Cream Tacos. It was a culmination of a lot of sort of shifting influences in my life. I was finishing up a grad degree at stanford. I got my degree in Immunology and while I was finishing my PhD and thinking about what I wanted to do in the future, I decided that I was really interested in entrepreneurship and business development. I went to the graduate school of business at Stanford and started taking some entrepreneurship classes there. I did a summer intensive course which was about a six week business program to take a startup idea from concept to pitch. Throughout that process I learned a little bit about entrepreneurship but really it sparked my interest in that sort of field in general. It solidified the idea that I was really interested in business and starting a business and learning how to grow that business.
Around that time, I started thinking more about how I was eating and what I was putting into my body. I read Michael Pollan's omnivore's dilemma and that really changed the way that I thought about food and food systems. I started doing a lot more shopping at the farmer's market and was really interested in knowing who's growing my food, what's going in my food, and why is that stuff going in my food. All of that was sort of culminating around this time and my dog's name is Rocko. It was just a joke that I would own a taco truck and I would call it Rocko’s Tacos. That took another step forward so we decided it would be Rocko's Choco Tacos.
A choco taco is a novelty dessert that was invented in 1982 in New Jersey. It's been around. The chocolate taco has been around for as long as I've been alive and that's really where the idea came from. Since it’s a childhood dessert favorite of mine, I decided that when I remake it, it would be Rocko’s chocolate tacos made with organic locally sourced ingredients without all the junk, artificial preservatives, flavors, colors and all that stuff. It would just be a really delicious, fun dessert. I went and bought a choco taco to figure out what it is that I'm trying to beat. As an adult eating that product that I used to really love as a kid, it tasted fake and tasted overly sugared. I was like okay, I can do this! I can make it gourmet and I can make it live up to what my nostalgia told me that this great dessert was when I was a kid. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and ice cream for a lot of people is wrapped up in a lot of childhood memories. For me, trying to take one of my childhood favorites and make it really taste like what used to light up my brain as a kid, and as an adult this product does light up my brain, it's a really well made product.
It is a craft made from start to finish. We take a lot of pride in the ingredients that go into it and really tell people that if you choose the right ingredients for your food, you don't have to do that much. The right ingredients will shine through and if you strip away all the things that are unnecessary and you're using high quality ingredients, that's going to show up in the taste. We make all of our ice cream tacos using liquid nitrogen and there is a show to be had there. The nitrogen is functional obviously for us, but it is also a very magical looking process. You put something into a canister and you get a big puff of smoke. For young kids, this is a very magical thing to experience. In 2012, I started at the farmers market in Downtown Palo Alto which is where I was doing my shopping. I found partners there to buy wheat and dairy. The Bay Area is obviously very rich in resources and producers. There's a lot of ways to source organic product from within. It was easy to find the things that I needed in a local environment.
One car turned into four carts. Four carts allowed me to buy a truck. We ran the truck for a lot of years until we could find a home where we wanted to be able to produce our ice cream and park the truck. We also have a retail location so it took quite a while to find the Cinderella location to find the shoe that fits. This location serves all of our needs here in Santa Clara and so we've had the shop open now for three years and we'll be here for at least another three.
My employees tell me that they'll go out to a catering gig and when they show up people will hug them! They are always so excited that we are bringing our products for their event. This employee has been with me for eight years because he says I've never had a job where people are so happy to see me and that is really what keeps him here at Rocko's.
You need to do a few things really well and that's always my mindset here. I'm not going to serve a million things here. I'm going to serve a couple products. I'm going to make them really darn good and that's all we have. An ice cream taco, an ice cream cake pop, and a frozen banana. We serve milkshakes now because the community asked us for it. We have on offer 18 to 20 different flavors of ice cream to go inside your taco. We have four different dips. We have 10 different toppings and so combinatorially there's a million things that you can do to make your ideal taco. The best-selling taco is cookies and cream that is our most popular ice cream across the board. The best selling taco is the cookies and cream. I think it's because it's a flavor that appeals to both kids and adults. The combo is called the youngster which is cookies and cream ice cream with milk chocolate topped with rainbow sprinkles.
I try to tell my female employees that you don't have to know what you want to do for the rest of your life at 22. You can just pursue what you're interested in and follow whatever the next thing is. I started out very interested in science and I still love science. I pursued it and if you love your job, you will never work harder. It's not that you aren't working. You are working hard. At the end of the day, you're doing something that you find fulfilling so it doesn't completely drain you.