Two years ago, Luisa Santos was studying political economy at Georgetown University when she learned a surprising fact: Ice cream could be made from scratch using liquid nitrogen. Santos took to the internet to watch some videos of the process: fresh ingredients — cream, sugar, fruits, and flavorings — thrown together, churned in the subzero mixture, and then emerging as a silky-smooth treat.
She was hooked. By the next day, she'd rented a car, traveled three hours to Maryland, and convinced a company to rent her a tank of liquid nitrogen.
"It was a whole fiasco," Santos recalls. "[But] I made the ice cream at home, and it was amazing."
Santos had always dreamed of owning a business, and suddenly she saw the possibilities. She began offering her ice cream at farmers' markets, catering gigs, and even on campus, guerrilla-style. After a positive reception, the young entrepreneur decided to take her project further.
"I started to talk to people around me that I respect as mentors," she says. "I told them this crazy idea and got some awesome feedback and some not-so-awesome feedback like, 'You're going to Georgetown, and you're going to sell ice cream — are you crazy?'?"
The effervescent Santos — who was born in Colombia and raised in Miami — stormed ahead and opened shop. "I figured I was probably better off starting in Miami, where I grew up," she says. "It's exciting to be a part of this city."
Last spring, her dream became reality on Biscayne Boulevard with the opening of Lulu's Nitrogen Ice Cream. The shop was an immediate hit with shoppers, devouring their sugar fix made with local fruits and Florida dairy. (The store recently adopted a 2,000-pound cow from Dakin Dairy Farm in Myakka City and named her Lulu.)
But Santos takes more pride in how her little shop is playing a larger role in the community.
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"Rotary Clubs International meets here, and we work with YoungArts, the Miami Symphony, and the Miami Light Project," she says. "It's been really cool to have this product that I can use to draw attention to bigger things."
Santos also finds satisfaction in the young people she employs, many of them still in high school.
"I also like to consider myself an educator, sharing things I've only recently learned myself," she says. "I involve the team members in everything from payroll to inventory. Half of the team opened Roth IRAs. It's so cool to know that 17-year-olds are on the way to being financially independent."
She smiles and adds, "All that from an ice-cream shop, right?"