After several years of homework, a former teacher combines local pride with a child-like love of ice cream and is met with sweet success.
Across from the renown Antoine’s Restaurant, less than a block from the never ending bustle on Bourbon Street, lies Sweet Saint. Like so many great finds in the French Quarter, this itty-bitty ice cream parlor is tucked between two larger establishments, and if it wasn’t for the sandwich board touting their sweetest specials, you might walk right by without even knowing it.
New Orleans-native Kenneth Chauvin opened the shop a little over a year ago, offering handmade hardpack ice cream, sherbets, and sorbets with help from his wife Florecita, and 15-year-old daughter Julietta. “I’ve always loved ice cream,” Chauvin confessed. “My nickname as a kid was Sweethead, that’s where the ‘sweet’ part of Sweet Saint comes in.”
Raised in Bayou St. John, and then Old Jefferson, Chauvin attended high school at Archbishop Rummel, and went on to earn a psychology degree, and subsequently a teaching degree, from the University of New Orleans. “ I taught for 20 years in the local public school system,” says Chauvin. “But I knew before the 20 years was up that I wanted to retire.” In his last three years of teaching, Chauvin was the Social Studies teacher at John Adams in Metairie, but most of his career was spent in schools on the Westbank such as John Ehret High School and Stella Worley Jr. High.
Chauvin’s plan to be an ice cream man was sparked a couple of years before he retired. “I was doing tours in the French Quarter with my friend that owns Flambeaux Bicycle Tours,” he says. “One day he said ‘Hey, there’s this new ice cream place, a rolled ice cream shop.’ I didn’t know what it was. So I started looking into it, and it looked like they were doing pretty well. So, I really started to delve into the whole ice cream thing.”
Like any teacher worth his salt, Chauvin knew the value of doing research. “There’s truly a science to making ice cream and I kinda went back to school myself and bought a bunch of books.” One significant educational experience was a visit to Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon, a rapidly-growing ice cream company recommended by his brother. “I was like if I am going to do this, this is what I want to do,” says Chauvin. “They do everything from scratch, they source a lot of local ingredients and they do a lot of different, interesting flavors, but I wanted to do it with a New Orleans twist.”
The burgeoning ice cream-maker was also greatly inspired by the work of James Beard Award-finalist and “certified ice cream genius” Pastry Chef Dana Cree. Her cookbook, Hello My Name is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop, helped Chauvin understand how the ingredients interact, and more importantly, how to use that knowledge to create your own flavor combinations. “I bought a machine at home and started making it there,” he explained. “It was really creative to make and it’s funny, because I never felt like I was creative.”
When Chauvin was finally ready to give it a go, he found a small storefront on St. Louis Street, right across the street from Antoine’s Restaurant, and it felt like kismet. When Chauvin was around 15-years-old, his uncle, Louis Parker, was the Beverage Manager at Antoine’s. “He said ‘I’m going to take you to Antoine’s, I’m gonna sit you down and have a little lunch, and then I’m gonna kind of show you around.’” says Chauvin. “Growing up, Antoine’s was always like the restaurant in New Orleans. To have our uncle working there, it was kind of a big deal. I remember walking through that long cellar they have that runs all the way to Royal St. It left a big impression on me.”
Chauvin threw open the doors of Sweet Saint Ice Cream, right across the street from the landmark restaurant in April of 2022.
Drawing upon his own experiences, Chauvin created flavors which resonated with his personal relationship to New Orleans. His chicory and coffee ice cream, a rich combination of local roaster French Truck’s Guatemalan medium dark roast and CC’s Coffee’s roasted chicory tinged with a “freckle” of sweet chocolate, reminds him of his mother. “Even today if you go to my Ma’s, she’s probably smokin a cigarette on the back porch drinking her chicory and coffee.” The St. Pierre, made with Mauthe’s Progress Milk Barn’s Creole cream cheese, was named after his grandmother. “She used to feed that stuff to us when we were kids, you know in the mornin’” says Chauvin. The Creole cream cheese base is tempered with Steen’s cane syrup and topped with O’Delice French Bakery’s brioche crumbles.
Though summers are notoriously slow in New Orleans, Chauvin has been getting a great response to his seasonally-appropriate sorbets, a much lighter alternative to ice cream. Two vegan sorbets Chauvin magicked into being have been serious crowd-pleasers; The Marigny – an intense cucumber sorbet with a burst of lemon and sweet basil; and The Ponchatoula made with (you guessed it) fresh Louisiana strawberries, lime juice and just a hint of basil. “I knew I had to have light flavors on the menu for two reasons,” says Chauvin. “A – I have to compete with the snoball and B – it gets really, really hot here!”
In the short time it’s been open, Sweet Saint Ice Cream has already garnered over 300 Google reviews, every single one a five star rating. Everyone from savvy (or lucky) tourists to local hospitality employees make repeat trips into the St. Louis Street shop, like Richard, a Captain from Brennan’s Restaurant who comes in regularly for a scoop of The Ponchatoula. “He came in on a Friday and it was our [wedding] anniversary but my wife and I had to work,” recalls Chauvin. “He came back about a half hour later with a bottle of champagne and two little Brennan’s plastic cups and popped it and poured it for us! That is what New Orleans is all about.”
Chauvin has lots of plans on the horizon with some recipes ready to go, and others still “in the mix.” His fall menu includes a pumpkin ice cream with orange curd and dark chocolate, and satsuma sherbet with a sorghum, butterscotch ripple. He’s also considering a flavor dedicated to his older brother dubbed The David Letterman. “On Friday nights before Letterman we’d go down to the convenience store and we’d pick up a pint of Häagen-Dazs Swiss Almond, bring it home and take a knife and cut it in half,” laughs Chauvin. “He would eat one half and I’d eat the other.”
With Chauvin’s passion for quality, creative flavors, and treating everyone who walks through the door like family, it’s obvious he takes pride in his product and his community. “I’m in the French Quarter, a local guy that’s doing his thing and trying to do the best he can do,” says Chauvin. “It feels like a dream come true.”
*Article originally published August 2023 in the French Quarter Journal
**Lead image courtesy of Ellis Anderson