The San Elijo couple’s chocolate ice cream won the competition with the best national award

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Many business owners like to claim that their products are the best in America or even the world. But new ice cream entrepreneurs Chris and Sarah Wynn have the science to prove it.

In November, the homemade chocolate ice cream the Wynns serve to their 2-year-old The Wynston Ice Cream Company. The San Marcos shop has been rated one of the four best chocolate ice cream in America by the North American Ice Cream Association.

The dense, velvety and not too sweet “For the Wynn Chocolate” ice cream won the national blue ribbon alongside three other chocolate ice creams from stores in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. The contest involved a double-blind taste test by professional food scientists from Cornell University as well as an in-depth scientific study of ice cream ingredients in Cornell’s dairy lab.

Ella Wynn, 17, wraps a pint of her family’s award-winning chocolate ice cream at Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The award took the Wynns by surprise, but they are grateful for the recognition because pursuing their dream of opening an ice cream shop has been a rocky road, not a variety of ice creams.

When they opened their 110 square foot store in the North City development near Cal State San Marcos in October 2020, the area was deserted. Most student apartments in North City were empty as the campus was closed and virtually all nearby retail businesses had closed due to the loss of foot traffic due to the pandemic. Then, last fall, the Wynns were forced to change their business name because another company already owned the “Wynn’s” brand.

So when the Wynns attended their first “ConeCon” convention in Orlando last fall and entered their chocolate ice cream into the North American Ice Cream Association’s annual Ice Cream Clinic competition, they had low expectations.

“We saw this as a great, inexpensive way to get feedback and research on our ice cream that would normally cost a lot of money,” Chris said.

So on the final day of ConeCon 2021, when the names of the winners were announced to the crowd, the Wynns were nowhere to be found. They had left early to take their daughter to visit the campus of a nearby university.

“We started getting all these text messages from people saying ‘congratulations’ and we didn’t know what they were talking about,” Sarah said.

Rachael and Benjamin Webster, 2, order ice cream at Wynston's Ice Cream Co. on Feb. 1 in San Marcos.

Rachael and Benjamin Webster, 2, order ice cream at Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday, Feb. 1 in San Marcos. The Websters come every Tuesday after visiting the local farmer’s market.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The competition’s winning ice cream flavors – chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and mixed flavors – were tested in the labs of the Sensory Evaluation Center and the Alcaine Research Group at Cornell. The ice creams were classified according to flavor, texture, smoothness, melting quality, appearance and color and they were also tested for fat content and bacteria level. The top four scorers in each category won the blue ribbon.

As news of the award spread, Wynston’s business boomed. Last weekend, the Wynns sold 170 gallons of ice cream, which is a lot for a store whose ice cream maker can only produce 1 1/2 gallons at a time. Although people make special trips to try FTW chocolate, its popularity still lags behind the store’s two best-selling flavors: Cookies In Cream and That Cookie Dough.

Ice cream is a lifelong passion for Chris, a Michigan native who can’t get enough of eating frozen desserts every day. He was 16 when he met Sarah, who grew up in Brazil, the daughter of Christian missionaries, and moved to Michigan at 17. They have been together ever since and have two teenagers who both work at the scoop store: Ella, 17, and Max, 16.

For over 20 years, Chris worked as an executive producer in the video game industry, producing titles such as Madden NFL, Gears of War and most recently Looney Tunes World of Mayhem. The work took the Wynn family to five states and three countries, including Sweden, before settling several years ago in the community of San Elijo south of San Marcos.

When their children entered their teens, the Wynns decided they were ready to settle down and pursue their dream of opening an ice cream shop. While still working full time for Scopely Studios in Culver City, Chris began experimenting with ice cream recipes at home. The very first flavor, which he spent a year designing and refining, was chocolate.

Ella Wynn, 17, grabs some ice cream at her family's Wynston's Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.

Ella Wynn, 17, grabs ice cream from her family’s store called Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“It was going to be proof to me that we were ready to start the business. I thought if I couldn’t make a good chocolate ice cream, I shouldn’t even try,” Chris said, adding that his winning recipe is made with Dutch cocoa powder from a European chocolatier, milk, cream, sugar and a touch of salt.

To keep the freezer free during Chris’ experimentation phase, Sarah began selling pints to friends, neighbors and other mums via group text messages, who provided valuable feedback and would become an embedded clientele when the store would finally open.

Finding a place was not easy. Neither landlord wanted to rent to the couple because they had no business history. But the staff at the Union CoWork space at 251 N City Drive in North City offered a corner of their lobby to the couple as an “entrepreneurial incubator” space and the shop was born.

Wynston’s business model is simple. It only sells spoons, pints and shakes. No cones, no toppings and no sundaes. The menu is also limited. There are seven “always” flavors, such as Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla; two dairy-free options; and a rotating variety of “sometimes” flavors that change monthly. Since opening the store, Chris has managed to introduce around 100 new flavors, while working full time in the gaming world.

The Wynns enjoy collaborating with other local businesses on new flavors. They use high mountain honey in their honey almond, Copa Vida coffee in their coffee flavor and hand-rolled Brazilian truffles for their Brigadeiro ice cream. Coming in March, Dani’s Next Level Samoa, made with Girl Scout Cookies.

Benjamin Webster, 2, eats ice cream at Wynston's Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.

Benjamin Webster, 2, eats ice cream at Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. on Tuesday in San Marcos.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Business is growing so fast these days that the Wynns are packed. To meet customer demand, they are stocking additional tubs of ice cream in four different freezers around the North City retail area. And because the business takes up so much of the family’s time, they’ve instituted Family Meal Night on Wednesdays to decompress together and talk about things other than ice cream.

In the spring, the store will move across North City Drive to a larger retail space with more freezer capacity and a larger production area that will serve as a flagship kitchen for a planned expansion. They hope to open their second scoop store in Oceanside by the end of the year.

Chris said it was gratifying to start receiving many inquiries from landlords, lenders and investors after struggling to find space in 2020.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said.

Chris and Sarah Wynn with their award-winning chocolate ice cream at Wynston's Ice Cream Co. in San Marcos.

Chris and Sarah Wynn with their award-winning chocolate ice cream at Wynston’s Ice Cream Co. in San Marcos.

(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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