Sean Vahey moved from Atlanta to San Francisco to open the Four Seasons Hotel Restaurant on his birthday: September 11, 2001. The date was infamous: its impact on the hotel business disastrous. A series of restaurant jobs led Vahey to Tartare, where he met and became fast friends with pastry chef Jake Godby.
“A few years later Jake said, ‘I’m opening an ice cream shop and I need you to help me,’” says Vahey. In December of 2008, Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream opened its doors, serving a mind-boggling variety of exotic ice cream flavors ranging from “Candied Ginger” to “Kumquat Poppy Seed” to “Pink Grapefruit Tarragon.”
“When we first opened, we knew we had a great product and store, but we had no money for PR. That’s why we got so involved in social media,” says Vahey. Humphry Slocombe is now the toast of Twitter, is featured on 28 YouTube videos, and has been hailed by publications including The New York Times, Bon Appetit and VOGUE Japan.
Vahey cites the yin and yang nature of his and Godby’s personalities as a key to their success. “He’s quiet, I’m outspoken. He’s reserved, I’m forthcoming. But we both grew up watching the old British sitcom Are You Being Served?” That show’s lead characters, Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe, inspired the name for their now-famous ice cream store.
Their ice cream is served in a multitude of Bay Area restaurants, and they’ve begun construction on a second location (The Parlor by Humphry Slocombe) that will also serve pastries. Also in the works is The Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book, which the two are creating with The San Francisco Chronicle’s Paolo Lucchesi (due out in 2012).
Vahey and Godby are both gay and out (but partners in business only) and were recently honored when Equality California asked them to create an ice cream flavor to honor the first Harvey Milk Day. While the store rotates 12 different flavors daily, “Harvey Milk and Honey Graham Cracker” is now available every day.
For more information on Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, go here.