Cream vs. Dream: Telegraph Ave. ice cream face-off

A promotional image for Rasputin's Dream ice cream. Courtesy: Ken Sarachan

A promotional image for Rasputin’s Dream Ice Cream, proposed to open as a take-out counter at Rasputin. Courtesy: Ken Sarachan

The owners of one of Telegraph Avenue’s most popular ice cream spots have asked Berkeley officials to revoke the permit for a new ice cream take-out window set to open right across the street, at Rasputin Music.

Tuesday night, Berkeley City Council members heard the appeal, by Cream ice cream parlor, 2399 Telegraph, against Rasputin’s Dream Ice Cream, which won approval in September from the city’s zoning board.

Problem was, a city staff member said the city failed to notify nearby businesses about the proposal. If Rasputin’s permit is ultimately approved, the two businesses would essentially stare each other down across Channing Way.

A drawing of the proposed Dream ice cream and cookies signage. Source: Avila Design

A drawing of the proposed Dream ice cream and cookies signage. (Click to see the drawing larger in the project application.) Source: Avila Design

Rasputin owner Ken Sarachan said he wants to convert 205 square feet of his existing retail space at Rasputin into a take-out operation that would serve natural, organic ice cream developed by Atomic Ice Cream owner Ray Lai. (Lai already sells his ice cream at another Sarachan business, Blondie’s Pizza.) Sarachan also plans to offer low-sugar pastries and drinks. Flagging retail sales at Rasputin have pushed him to experiment, he said, and find a creative way to make up lost revenue.

Sarachan said some of the inspiration for flavors will come from produce from his own organic farm. Tuesday night, Lai — who described himself as an “ice cream man” trained at Bi-Rite Creamery and Fenton’s, with a “farm to scoop” vision — gave out strawberry ice cream samples to interested parties outside the City Council chambers, noting “Nothing says ‘summer’ better than strawberries.”

As part of the appeal, filed in February, Cream co-owner Gus Shamieh argued that the long red curb along the block in front of the proposed Dream location would lead to access issues; that the take-out window would result in a sidewalk clogged with pedestrians; that a second nearby business selling ice cream and cookies would mean market saturation and be detrimental to Cream; and that the proposed signage is out of character with the existing Rasputin building and neighborhood.

A typical CREAM offering, if such a thing exists:  snickerdoodle cookies with salted caramel ice cream. Photo: CREAM, via Facebook

A typical Cream offering, if such a thing exists: snickerdoodle cookies with salted caramel ice cream. Photo: Cream, via Facebook

Cream, which features among its offerings an array of ice cream sandwiches, customizable by fresh cookie selections and ice cream flavors, has developed a regional cult following, and a huge fan base, including more than 12,000 fans on its Facebook page, and more than 1,000 reviews on Yelp. The Berkeley storefront often has lines stretching east down Channing; there’s also a location in Palo Alto and a planned outpost in Walnut Creek.

About 10 members of the public, many of whom were past or present Cream employees, asked the City Council to support the business’ appeal. They spoke about Cream’s supportive, family-like approach toward employees and the shop’s extensive community partnerships and contributions.

Alex Popov, manager of Pappy’s and founder of the recently-created Telegraph Restaurant Assocation, said adding the take-out window would create pressure on existing businesses, and questioned a count by city staff that he said underestimated the number of existing food-service spots already on the avenue. (Popov has advocated to keep quotas in the neighborhood following a city proposal to relax them for the next three years.)

Several Rasputin supporters urged the city to uphold the Dream permit, noting that Berkeley should not be in the business of encouraging monopolies or limiting consumer choice.

Council members were divided on the issue, with Jesse Arreguín and Max Anderson indicating that they supported Cream’s position, and others — permit aside — saying they were uncomfortable with Dream’s nearby location and similar-sounding name. One said the name choice was “very provocative,” and that Sarachan’s motivation for selecting it was “questionable.”

“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Councilman Gordon Wozniak, noting that Sarachan might consider locating the business “somewhere else,” at one of the other properties he owns on Telegraph.

Ken Sarachan, in plaid, said Rasputin's survival may depend on diversification. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Ken Sarachan, in plaid, said Rasputin’s survival may depend on diversification. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Councilman Kriss Worthington noted the apparent failure of city staff to notify neighbors about Sarachan’s plans. (A list posted on the city website as part of the application includes addresses for 180 notices, but a city staffer said Tuesday night that he could find no record that notification had been made.)

The council voted 8-1 to bring back the item for a public hearing later this year.

Mayor Tom Bates, the lone dissenting vote, said none of the appeal points struck him as valid, though he too took issue with Sarachan’s use of “Dream” as the brand name: “That’s like poking your finger in someone’s eye,” Bates said.

The mayor also noted, however, the importance of finding ways to continue to bring in customers for the survival of large local record shops, and added that Cream doesn’t “have anything to worry about” in terms of losing community support or revenue, even if Dream opens.

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, from the dais, shared her own advice with Cream owners: “I don’t think you should be afraid of competition. I think, if you have a product that you really are proud of and stand by, that your clients will be loyal to you.”

[Editor’s Note: City staff said Tuesday night that the zoning board had approved this permit on consent, without discussion. But a zoning board member said Wednesday that board members actually did discuss the item. See the comments below for additional information.]

The food lines of Berkeley: Nosh worth waiting for [07.09.12]
Top food stories from Berkeley in 2011 [12.30.11]
Where’s the best ice cream in Berkeley? You tell us [07.21.11]
Lush Gelato in, Ciao Bella out in Epicurious Garden [04.15.10]

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  • Mickey

    Don’t forget that Sarachan is the same fool who created the really ugly toilet bowl lot atHaste and Telegraph. This guy is a terrible citizen and neighbor. Boycott Rasputin, boycott all of his businessesd until he acts better.


  • guest

    The only person you’re fooling is yourself, Ken.

    Boycott Rasputin Records.
    Boycott Blondie’s Pizza.
    Boycott T-Shirt Orgy.
    Boycott Mad Monk.
    Boycott Rasputin’s Dream.
    Boycott the rat-infested lot.

  • californicated1

    Wasn’t Grigori Yefimovich lactose intolerant?

  • Amoeba seems to be doing well still … there are people who buy media … perhaps Sarachan should offer things that are currently NOT available on Telegraph rather than trying to compete with the already successful ones there.

  • guest

    That’s a merelytalkratic response, if ever I smelled one.

  • The_Sharkey

    Agreed. Sarachan diversifying makes sense. Sarachan copycatting successful neighboring businesses also makes a certain kind of sense, but it’s an example of why he’s managed to become a hated figure in local business.

  • michael

    Why doesn’t everyone who is commenting hateful things about Sarachan and his posture take a moment to realize Rasputin, like many beloved record stores across the country are losing money to online operations. It’s increasingly difficult to stay afloat and imagine the decision Sarachan had to come to after years of operation to sell ice cream out of Rasputin. It could not have been easy but the man is doing whatever is necessary to keep the store alive. Rasputin has history. This is about more than just frozen dessert.

  • guest

    selling ice cream – fine
    trying to copycat a neighbor – bullshit

  • michael

    Copycat? Last count there are at least seven ice cream and/or gelato shops within walking distance of each other. How many record stores are there?

  • Hildah

    The article is about opening another ice cream parlor. Why does this become a discussion about individuals?

  • guest

    Because individuals are involved. Shocking!

  • guest

    This Sarachan/Ameoba feud sounds familiar. Luke had hard feelings for his Dad, but it worked out in the end.

  • Matthew Kelleher

    Why to continue to support this parasite that preys on Berkeley and it’s students and allows public health menaces filled with vermin to exist ? The support of Bates must be tied to funding; Wengraf’s logic is simplistic; maternally condescending; you’re better than that Susan. Sarachan’s predatory ways will significantly hurt “CREAM”; the name choice is just the first move. Part of the task of the ZAB is to foster a certain diversity of businesses that promote the long term health of the Avenue. The lack of documented notice is VERY suspicious; essentially depriving other members of the Telegraph business community input into the process. The Council should revoke the permit and send the issue back to the ZAB to begin anew with carefully documented notice and public input. We need to bring all the pressure available to deal with his vacant properties as well. Since he’s a public figure; a different set of rules about what can be said applies.

  • Dog Park

    His posture aside, I like any business that caters to a wide variety of people. If you don’t like Rasputin, go to Amoeba, or Goddess Forbid, for your music needs. The more businesses there are on Telegraph, the better.

  • Name

    How many ice cream and.or gelato shops within walking distance of each other have names that differ by a single letter?

  • Tizzielish

    It is hardly ‘pointless’ to open an ice cream business using such a similar sounding name. It sure looks like a very pointed, competitive choice to use such a similar sounding name. The name Dream ice cream across from Cream is not pointless.

    And what’s up with our city planning staff that they didn’t notice the name similarities or the failure to notify the appropriate neighboring businesses? what does the city staff do when they approve a permit? How could they issue a permit without the proper notices given?

  • Jordan

    Cream make a product the market loves. Cheap, air filled ice cream from Double Rainbow and cookie dough from The Family Cookie Company ( The cookie dough comes from a factory in Suisun run by the extended Shamieh family. As a matter of fact that same cookie dough factory makes the cookie for Its it, the SF ice cream sandwhich icon.

    And how is Its It connected to CREAM…..

    Jimmy Shamieh, has run the hugely successful, Its It brand of ice cream sandwhiches since the 1970s. Here he is pictured in the New York Time article below (….Hi Jimmy…

    So please give me us all a break, and stop painting the picture of this big band landowner taking on this small immigrant family struggling to make an honest living….The Shamiehs come from money.

    As a matter of fact, CREAM IS expanding and franchising to Palo Alto and Walnut Creak, having someone else pay for expansion is brilliant and collecting a franchise fee for selling Double RainBow Ice Cream & Cookie Dough from The Family Cookie Company is even more brilliant.

    Don’t be afraid of a little competition. Ken as every right to do with his business as he wishes, having been approved by the Berkeley’s Zoning Board months ago. Man up and deal, and CREAM’s product is as good as it is, you have nothing to fear. The fact is your product is popular for a reason – its a cheap treat that is made with crap ingredients, and hopefully, as folks do a little more digging on what they are actually eating, they will finally know the truth….

  • D

    Why should the Dream proposal be punished due to a city staff error? I applaud the mayor for voting to dismiss this appeal which seems aimed at stifling potential competition. I also didn’t see any valid points in their appeal presented here. The other city council members seem dangerously out of line.

    Should a case like this be used to address personal grievances, or to help provide a fair, competitive, and innovative business environment here in Berkeley? Even if you think Sarachan is acting “like a douche”, I believe it’s his right as long as he adheres to the law. For a city government to unfairly protect one business’s monopoly, and limit consumer choice would be even more suspect. Enhance competition and let the consumer’s decide; it will lead to a better Berkeley for everyone in the long run.

  • guest

    if creating a “sidewalk clogged with pedestrians” is really a problem, then Cream itself should be fined, or shut down. What kind of BS point is it that they are attempting to make?

  • Charles_Siegel

    The new record store across the street (at the old Cody’s site) will also include restaurants. It seems the business logic there is similar to the logic here: include successful food businesses to subsidize the marginal record business.

  • zzz

    I saw this man yelling at one of his cashiers “Of course we sell vegan pizza, you just take the fucking cheese off!, and they’re not going to kill you over some parmesan in the sauce”