Patrick Robinson
Justin Cline develops the recipes for Full Tilt’s products with flavors as unusual as Mango Chili.

Full Tilt Ice Cream: The inside scoop

Full Tilt Ice Cream opened in White Center during the summer of 2008 and immediately became a popular neighborhood hangout with its combination of handcrafted ice cream, vintage pinball machines and video games, local artwork, and live music. Two more stores have opened and a fourth location is planned.

Managing partner Justin Cline develops the recipes for Full Tilt’s products and makes them in a small, crowded back room at the White Center location. I met him there for a look behind the scenes.

The Concept

Cline and his wife, Ann Magyar, moved from Seattle to White Center in 2004. They missed their favorite pinball arcades and live-music venues, so when a 2007 survey mentioned their neighborhood’s desire for an ice-cream shop, they decided to open one that would double as an all-ages hangout.

In the spring of 2008, they rented a space on 16th Avenue and painted the walls lime green. They leased pinball machines (Dr. Who) and video games (Pac-Man), bought some mixers and freezers, and the rest is history.

The Back Room

Cline begins his work with jugs of milk, bags of cream and sugar, and an assortment of flavorings. For their dairy-free products, he substitutes coconut milk. Whenever possible, he uses organic ingredients. Certain flavorings, including hazelnuts, require simmering in the milk. Preliminary mixing of each three-gallon batch takes place in a large bucket. The contents are then poured into a hulking square steel machine officially known as a batch freezer. “We call it Bertha,” says Cline. “It weighs 950 pounds.”

Bertha adds air to the solution and uses an auger (or dasher) to mix it further while the temperature drops. After seven minutes, the contents—which now resemble soft-serve ice cream—are unloaded into a bucket and transferred to a blast freezer (or hardening cabinet) where they chill for eight hours. After removal, the mixture must sit an additional half-hour for tempering—a slight softening—before it can be placed in the dipping cabinet and served to the public.

Cline also makes paletas, or Mexican popsicles. He grew up in southern California, where he could buy them fresh from street vendors, but he could only find frozen versions in Seattle. White Center’s large Hispanic population inspired Cline to introduce his own line with flavors such as Mango Chili.

Paletas have the same ingredients as ice cream, but they are made without help from Bertha. Instead, the mixture goes straight from the bucket to a stainless-steel popsicle mold, then into a blast freezer. The final result is forty paletas, which are pulled out and wrapped in wax paper.

Cline introduced a line of soft drinks in 2009. Rat City Root Beer starts with root extracts, sugar, and yeast simmering on a stove in a large pot of water. The liquid then goes into a five-gallon soda keg to ferment for ten days, after which it is ready to serve. A similar process involving vanilla and herbs produces Vato Vanilla Cream.

The Future

Full Tilt introduces new flavors frequently, based on customer demand or whatever pops into Cline’s imagination. The two most popular are Salted Caramel and Ube (a purple sweet potato, pronounced ooh-bay). The strangest is Memphis King, inspired by Elvis Presley’s peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwiches.

Cline doesn’t plan to continue opening new stores. Instead, he hopes to increase wholesale business with restaurants and grocers. His philosophy brings to mind the microbreweries that started in the Pacific Northwest a generation ago. Full Tilt, in fact, serves local beers on tap.

Physical and Virtual Locations

Full Tilt in Columbia City: 5041 Rainier Avenue South, #105, (206) 226-2740.
Full Tilt in the University District: 4759 Brooklyn Avenue Northeast.
Full Tilt in White Center: 9629 16th Avenue Southwest, (206) 767-4811.
Full Tilt on Facebook: Cream/102229500577
Full Tilt on MySpace:
Full Tilt on Twitter:
Full Tilt website:

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