If you know, you still go to Bi-Rite Creamery, the original artisanal ice cream shop in sunny Mission Dolores. Where fans have kept coming back for nearly two decades, for salted caramel and balsamic strawberry flavors so vivid you couldn’t mistake them with your eyes closed. These days, there’s a whole ice cream scene in San Francisco, from old-school shops like Swensen’s and Mitchell’s to the boozy cereal soaks of Humphry Slocombe and freshly mixed feats of Smitten. But in a city churning with local, seasonal, and organic claims, Bi-Rite was the tastemaker for “artisanal” ice cream, long before that term got tired. On a warm summer Saturday, the fans lined up for hours to get a scoop to walk over to Dolores Park. And now we feel so lucky to carry frosty pints across the Bay Area, so you can savor them on the couch on a Friday night.
Two cool ladies founded the creamery, and they’ve been dessert partners in crime for 25 years. Anne Walker and Kris Hoogerhyde met as pastry chefs at the late 42 Degrees restaurant, started baking for Bi-Rite Market in 2002, and opened Bi-Rite Creamery in 2006. In addition to being an experienced pastry chef, Walker is also married to Sam Mogannam, so she’s literally part of the Bi-Rite family. These days, Walker has stepped back from day-to-day operations, while Hoogerhyde is still in the kitchen and scooping behind the counter a couple days a week.
Back in the early 2000s, Hoogerhyde says as much as they loved the old-school shops, when they looked around, nobody was crafting ice cream quite the way they dreamed. The Creamery was the first in the city to use organic Straus dairy. They featured seasonal produce, relying on Bi-Rite’s relationships with local farms, pulling heirloom strawberries from JSM Organics and storied peaches from Masumoto. As well as local makers, including Guittard chocolate and Ritual coffee. They handmade nearly everything, from graham crackers to tons of hot fudge. And they exclusively churned the ice cream in small batches of just two gallons. A few years ago, the machines moved from the shop on 18th Street to a larger kitchen in the Bayview, so they’d have more space to spin — but Hoogerhyde says the base recipes never changed.
The results are lushly textured and intensely flavorful. “We want you to close your eyes and be able to know exactly what you’re tasting,” Hoogerhyde says. The most vivid example is the salted caramel, the bestseller since day one. “It’s an ice cream that hits all of your taste points. You get the bitter, sweet, salty, creamy. And it’s such a good balance of every single one of those that it really makes all of your taste buds scream for more.” The summer crush is the balsamic strawberry, featuring Chandler strawberries balanced by the mellow acid of aged vinegar. Hoogerhyde's personal favorite is the peach cobbler, jamming together heirloom peaches and buttery crumble. If you need two scoops, the most popular combo is the lilting honey lavender with earthy black sesame. And over the years, they’ve added more vegan options, as well as soft serve, sandwiches, and cakes that bring sprinkles and joy.
Before opening, they worried about selling 100 scoops a day. Now they look back and laugh. In its heyday, the Creamery easily welcomed more than 2,000 people through its doors on a sunny Saturday. Sometimes the line wound all the way down the block and around the corner, and fans would wait more than an hour. It was a sensation, no summer was complete without it, and it was an ongoing argument with your friends in Dolores Park, whether to give up your spot to get in line. At one point Bi-Rite Creamery had the most Yelp reviews of any business in San Francisco. Currently it has nearly 10,000 reviews, so it’s still top 10 in the country. Locally, it’s only been edged out of the number one spot by Brenda’s. (Which the ladies don’t mind in the slightest. They used to share a kitchen with Brenda Buenviaje.)
There have certainly been setbacks in the past few years. The Creamery had to close for several months for a seismic retrofit in 2019, and then again for many months due to the pandemic in 2020. But now the space is fully renovated, colorful, and cute. And Hoogerhyde is excited to see locals and tourists trickling back in, even if this summer feels a little sleepy in San Francisco, and even after all these years.
“I feel really proud. It’s a labor of love. I’ve actually been there since day one …. ” Hoogerhyde says. “I love making desserts. And I love seeing people get excited for the ice cream.”
Bi-Rite Creamery is open for walk-ins, pickup, and delivery in San Francisco, and the ice cream is available for neighborhood pickup across the Bay Area through Pastel.