We love a good story about people who’ve found a way to combine their passions and build unique careers, and Natasha Case is the perfect example of that. After working as an architect with Disney Imagineering, she founded Coolhaus, a gourmet ice cream company that melds her architecture background with her love of tasty ice cream. Since it’s founding, Coolhaus has gone from a food truck at Coachella to an international brand you can have delivered to your doorstep. With a vision, lots of passion, and plenty of determination, Natasha built her business into something truly one-of-a-kind.
Name:Natasha Case Location:Los Angeles Title:CEO and Co-Founder of Coolhaus Company:Coolhaus What it is:A gourmet, all-natural, premium, and inventive ice cream company built on the idea of farchitecture (food + architecture), which offers frozen treats that are sustainable and locally sourced ingredients. Educational Background:B.A./Major in Architecture/UC Berkeley; Masters of Architecture/UCLA
Was architecture what you dreamed of doing when you were growing up?
My dad is an architect and my mom is an animator; I always thought they had awesome jobs, but wanted to do something different. I ended up being an architect at Disney — so a combination of them, essentially. But not long after, I started Coolhaus — and now I consider myself a ‘farchitect’ (food architect).
How did you get the idea to combine ice cream with architecture?
While studying Architecture and Design at UC Berkeley I thought of a concept called Farchitecture to combine my love of food and baking with my love of well-crafted architecture. I began thinking up whimsical flavor combinations and used those ideas to create sweet treats I named after architects and architectural movements that inspire me. I thought that by marrying design with something everyone loves — ice cream sandwiches — I could make architecture more accessible to the public.
We can’t ignore the mouse in the room: What exactly was your job with Walt Disney Imagineering?
I worked in hotel and master planning — working on everything from Disneyland Shanghai to the Donald Duck suite at Tokyo Disneyland.
How did your career there benefit you in launching Coolhaus?
Aside from the obvious architectural training. Disney is the master of visual story-telling — which is very important for brands these days more than ever.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No two days are the same, which is what I love about what I do. But every day has some design work, PR/interviews, team meetings, business development, tasting or innovating to develop new products, and always something active (golf, tennis, walking, bike-riding, spin). I’d say I’m not at my computer more than 50% of the day.
Coolhaus has grown from a food truck into an international company. Were there difficulties with the growing pains and bringing on a full team? Was it difficult to relinquish control?
Yes, growing a business, being an entrepreneur — it’s an incredible experience, but it’s also incredibly hard work. Learning to manage people, learning who you are as a leader and manager — it takes time to develop that craft. And of course, money and finances are always challenging. You just must stay on top of things, hold yourself and your team accountable, and build a system of checks and balances and transparency.
What was it like to expand into the international market? What were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
We overcame the challenges of scaling at an international level by having an awesome partner like California Milk Advisory Board who created much more of a plug and play infrastructure for us: distribution, a sales team that understands retail in Asia and the Middle East, which trade shows to attend out there, etc.
Do you still have a hand in creating flavors and ice cream items?
Absolutely! It’s a tough part of the job, but someone has to do it.
Do you have a specific strategy for social media?
Being clear and communicating as much as possible about the uniqueness of our story, brand, and flavors. Also, being fun, intelligent, and clever — not taking ourselves too seriously.
Do you have a career manifesto or mantra that you use as a guide for Coolhaus?
You can walk through a wall when you don’t know it’s there.
Did you anticipate Coolhaus growing as quickly and far as it did? What do you hope for Coolhaus in the future?
We abstractly knew we had something big on our hands, but today we have a much clearer vision. We hope to be the household brand of our generation especially as far as the decadent and innovative, culturally cool brands come!
You used to work with your wife. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from that? How did you separate your work from your relationship?
Freya left Coolhaus in 2014 to pursue another venture (she founded Ludlows Cocktail Co.), but prior to her departure, we learned to not let business disagreements translate to disagreements at home. When we have differing opinions, we embrace it and allow them to let us have a better understanding of each other. We also make it a point not to neglect our relationship. We’ve established clear boundaries between work and our personal lives so we still have time for fun.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
These days I spend most my time fawning over my newborn, Remy, who was born in March. If I ever need some time to myself, I love sitting in my garden, which is my happy place. A great night in for me involves relaxing and watching the Bachelor with my friends. And when I go out, I’m always a fan of a dirty martini with a blue cheese-stuffed olive.
How do you maintain balance in your life between work and hobbies?
I think it becomes easy to balance it all because I could turn something I genuinely love into my career and despite having the title of CEO, I still haven’t abandoned the core elements of the job that I’ve always loved. I still oversee packaging and merchandise design. I still create the seasonal menus and test products. I still think of new ways to expand the business. I feel so lucky that my passions and hobbies are so ingrained in my business model.
What’s your favorite part of what you do?
The people. I love my team — they are so passionate, devoted, and fun to be around. I love our customers — they are adventurous, communicative, and loyal. I love the partners who we’ve built our brand with. People do business for people, and we couldn’t get where we want to go without any of those folks!