Lauren Guptill, who grew up in Berwick and whose family owns Hackmatack Playhouse, learned the dynamics of running a business at an early age. She spent most of her college years and 20s traveling abroad before starting her first company, Gateway Argentina, in Buenos Aires.
Under that business, which she ran for five years, Guptill developed customized packages for American students to travel to Argentina and learn the Spanish language. She lived in Argentina until 2010.
While there, Guptill discovered – and fell in love with – Argentina’s artisan ice cream, which, she said, is creamier and more flavorful than America’s traditional ice cream.
“It’s more influenced by Italian gelato. It’s a much richer product,” said Guptill, who has a degree in anthropology from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. “Growing up here, I was never much of an ice cream eater. When I was living in Argentina, all of a sudden I was like, ‘Wow, the ice cream is really good here.’ I found myself becoming quite a self-proclaimed ice-cream snob.”
Guptill, 32, is now the owner of Rococo Artisan Ice Cream in Kennebunkport, which crafts a variety of unconventional, artisanal-style ice cream flavors, made with natural cream and milk from Hatchland Farms, a family-owned dairy farm in northern New Hampshire.
The biggest difference, said Guptill, is that artisan ice cream contains egg yolk, which adds thickness, density and creaminess to the ice cream. It’s frozen slowly with less air, and served at a warmer temperature to enhance the flavors.
“I opened Rococo Ice Cream in Kennebunkport because I was drawn to the wonderful year-round community that exists there,” said Guptill, who lives in Ogunquit.
She studied ice cream making in both Argentina and the U.S.
“Living in Argentina was a phenomenal experience, but I began to miss Maine and my family terribly,” said Guptill. “It made me realize that what I really wanted was a business that could be part of a community.”
But Rococo is not your conventional ice cream shop. Flavors at Rococo include Lemon Thyme Shortbread, Goat Cheese & Blackberry Chambord Swirl, Strawberry Basil, and more.
Guptill opened Rococo Ice Cream in spring 2012, two years after selling her company in Argentina, and has been making her craft ice cream ever since. Being an ice-cream maker requires Guptill to be up to speed with the different trends in the ice cream industry.
“I need to know that the new flavors I create are going to sell and fit into my vision,” said Guptill. “Ice-cream making for Rococo is part trend-watching, part experimental, highly creative and very dynamic.”
Her favorite part of the business is that it gives her flexibility to be creative with different flavors. It’s also exciting for her to watch her customers taste-test an ice cream flavor they’ve never heard of, then order a full helping.
“The best part of what I do is watching my customers taste and react to the new flavor concoctions that they see in the (food) case,” said Guptill.
All of her ice cream is made from scratch. Last summer, Trip Advisor ranked Rococo Artisan Ice Cream as the sixth best ice cream shop in America based on quality, quantity and consumer reviews.
In the future, Guptill plans to open several more Rococo Artisan Ice Cream shops in New England. She’s looking forward to the possibility of growing the brand and offering her unique ice cream flavors in more communities.
Rococo is open from May through October, but during the winter months, Guptill spends time traveling.
“I like to do at least one trip a year that is ice-cream focused. This past year I went to Italy,” said Guptill. “I did a lot of gelato tasting and went to a rather large Italian gelato convention.”
According to Guptill, in the world of ice cream, “there’s been a lot of trending toward more ‘fresh’ and ‘local,’ more transparency in food businesses and more consumer awareness of ingredients and food sources,” all of which she finds exciting.
“I love to see customers come into the shop and get excited about talking to their ice cream maker, or ask questions about the whole ingredients that go into their ice cream,” said Guptill.
Lauren Guptill of Ogunquit is the owner of Rococo Artisan Ice Cream in Kennebunkport, an artisan ice cream shop that offers several specialty, standard and seasonal flavors, including roasted pear and candied ginger. Courtesy photo