Ryan Fitzgerald is living in a world of sweet and salty mix-ins.

Scattered around his Fairmount kitchen, the makings for fillers like peanut butter crunch clusters, malt chocolate fudge swirl, Vietnamese-brown-sugar streusel clusters, and candied lemon rind all await assembly. These are, Fitzgerald says, the “nuts and bolts” of 1-900-ICE-CREAM, which he launched in February. It’s not an actual phone number, so don’t try to dial; at 1900icecream.com, customers can order for pickup. The $10 pints go fast.

A self-taught chef, Fitzgerald is the founder of Boku Supper Club, a popular underground dining experience that he’s now closing. Fitzgerald wants to focus entirely on ice cream, taking inspiration from Ben & Jerry’s to craft pints liberally filled with made-from-scratch mix-ins. There’s some sort of crunch in every bite; many flavors feel as though they’re infused with homemade candy bars.

Fitzgerald told us what it’s like to launch an ice cream business and how to get one of his coveted pints.

Ryan Fitzgerald, owner of 1-900-ICE-CREAM, with a scoop of just-spun Dunkatron ice cream, loaded with mix-ins like peanut butter, dark chocolate chunks, crunchy brown butter solids, and fermented cocoa nibs.
Grace Dickinson / STAFF
Ryan Fitzgerald, owner of 1-900-ICE-CREAM, with a scoop of just-spun Dunkatron ice cream, loaded with mix-ins like peanut butter, dark chocolate chunks, crunchy brown butter solids, and fermented cocoa nibs.
Take me back to the beginning. When did ice cream come on your radar?

It really began five years ago, when I did the very first Boku. I had all my friends come and served this big meal with Korean fried chicken, pork buns, and ramen. I finished it with a tomato sorbet and a salted lemon sorbet. Everyone thought they were disgusting.

I started having guest chefs — qualified line cooks and sous-chefs — doing the menus for Boku, so there was a period where I wasn’t in charge of the cooking. But in 2016, I quit my full-time job, and that’s when I stepped back into the kitchen — and returned to ice cream. I needed something on the dessert side where I wouldn’t have to build a multicomponent pastry course.

When did you transition from scoops to sandwiches?

As I started to elevate my menus, I knew I couldn’t just serve up a scoop with a spoon, so I was putting ice cream in between sheets of macaron and cutting it into triangles. That’s when my ice cream began gaining a lot of attention.

How’d you decide to turn your dessert course into a full-fledged ice cream business?

It all happened organically. I was making really good ice cream. Then I made the ice cream sandwiches, and guests loved them. People started asking how they could get them, and so I was doing a bunch of custom orders. The demand was already vetted, and I knew if I set it up right, the business would have a lot more scalability. Running Boku became my life, and I desperately needed something that was easier to scale.

Are you sad to be saying goodbye to Boku?

It’s definitely sad, but I’m looking three years down the road — I’ll have a life back, I can see my friends, go to weddings. If I frame it that way, I’m really happy that we are putting Boku to bed. It’s the right time — it’s going to allow me to do something even better.

What’s best part about being in the ice cream business?

People call me a chef, but I’m not a chef. I’m a recipe DJ, a glorified home-cook that was cooking out of a book. With ice cream, it’s the one thing where it just comes to me. I did a lot of research on the base, and now that I understand how ice cream works on a scientific level, I’m able to shape the matrix of ideas flying through my head into a pint. I also love making a product people have been eating since they were kids. Everyone can wrap their head around ice cream.

Describe your ice cream. What makes it better than Ben & Jerry’s?

I don’t think it’s a better-or-worse equation. It’s another style, particularly for the Philly area. If you look at Weckerly’s, for example, they use a French-custard-style base with seasonally driven flavors — it’s a chef execution on a really great ice cream sandwich. Then you look at some of the other makers in Philly, and they’re more about high production. This also serves a need in the marketplace — relatively inexpensive ice cream you can get at your neighborhood scoop shop.

Then, there’s a space that was open for me, where I do a familiar base, not a pizza-flavored Little Baby’s base, and add a crunch and a swirl. Every single pint has those three elements. The mix-ins are fun and gratuitous, which is a nod to Ben & Jerry’s, creating a style we didn’t have here.

Did you have a go-to Ben & Jerry’s flavor?

Phish Food. It has a lot of textural components going on — gooey marshmallow, smooth caramel swirl, and crunch from the chocolate chunks.

What goes into crafting a new flavor?

I start by looking at a product that’s already made, like blueberry cheesecake, and how I can make that into ice cream. I’ll deconstruct the different ways that each component can be executed. Do I want to use freeze-dried blueberries as the crunch or use a blueberry compote and add a crunchy graham cracker crust?

The mix-ins — you make them all from scratch?

The mix-ins need to do a job: Provide crunch, salt, chew, sweetness, umami, and color. They are the nuts and bolts of the whole ice cream robot. When you make them yourself, you have the flexibility to adapt their flavor profile.

Tell me about the ‘God Mode’ flavor, the weekly release you’re doing in collaboration with local coffee roasters.

It’s a pint where I take a local roaster’s coffee and I reconstruct the flavor profile. It’s like wine — the coffee bag might list flavor notes like blood orange, red apple, pecan, and chocolate. I start by steeping the beans in my standard base for 12 hours. Then I think about how I can add and accentuate all of those different flavor notes. Maybe it’s a pecan praline and chocolate chunk situation, with a pureed blood orange swirl. I have to think about how I can accommodate two different fruits with the red apple — the hard part and where the real fun begins.

Ryan Fitzgerald, owner of 1-900-ICE-CREAM, holds a handful of the crunchy mix-in for his "Dunkatron" ice cream.
Grace Dickinson / STAFF
Ryan Fitzgerald, owner of 1-900-ICE-CREAM, holds a handful of the crunchy mix-in for his "Dunkatron" ice cream.
Were you concerned about starting an ice cream business in the middle of winter?

No. It’s counterintuitive, but people often buy more ice cream in the winter. They don’t want to go walk outside to the scoop shop, but they’re still picking up pints at the store. It just happened to be winter when my ice cream started to really take off, so I went with it.

What’s the story with the name 1-900-ICE-CREAM?

I was struggling so hard to find a name that would fit. I’m a ‘90s kid, so I started thinking about the psychic and sex hotline commercials you’d see on TV. Then,1-800-FLOWERS popped into my head, which shifted to 1-900-ICE-CREAM — 1-900 because you need to have a little edge. I grabbed the domain as a placeholder, figuring I’d figure out the actual name later. Then news started to spread, and now I’m just kind of stuck with it.

Your flavor names — Crunchy Munchy Man, Funny Bunny — they’re equally playful. What’s the process for crafting those?

Crunchy Munchy Man is what I call my parents’ dog. They have this four-pound, blond teacup poodle. The pint is caramel-colored, and it just fit. Dunkatron is that pint where you go to the movie theaters, get a bag of popcorn, and put Reese’s Pieces and Kit Kat into it. This pint feels like you dunked a peanut butter container into the ice cream, and the “tron” gives the dunking a nice aggressive tone. Really, the naming is just about showing that it’s important to have fun with yourself.

What are some of your favorite flavors?

I love the Dunkatron and the Apple Streusel Doodle Pie. The God Mode we just did with ReAnimator [coffee] was also really dope — that was a plum caramel swirl, fermented cocoa nibs, and smoked, candied almonds.

Four out of five times visiting your website, every pint reads ‘sold-out.’ What’s the secret to getting one?

It’s all based on a preorder system. On midday Sunday, I’ll post the flavors of the week to Instagram stories and to my website. You want to place your order by Sunday night, because I cut off orders on Monday, and the earlier the better, because certain flavors get capped. I make the mix-ins on Mondays, and the bases on Tuesdays, so I need to know how much of each I need. Right now, the whole production is being held together by duct tape, but in the future, I promise, this will be the easiest ice cream you can buy.

What are your future ice cream goals?

I’m moving to Liberty Kitchen until my own retail shop and production facility comes to life. But I don’t want to do a scoop shop, where you come in and get a cone. If at all, I’ll scoop one flavor, but I want to focus on pints and sandwiches. I’ll finally be able to sell individual sandwiches, which wasn’t feasible before. We’ll have delivery, through Caviar or wherever. It’d be great to even have a truck of our own, driving through city streets handing out sandwiches.