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Breakout Brands 2017: Salt & Straw

Building a cult ice cream concept while putting employees first

Salt & Straw has built a cult following with handcrafted ice cream made from local and seasonal ingredients. Its culinary reputation is now closely followed by its progressive workplace policies.

The eight-unit chain, with locations in its hometown of Portland, Ore., and in Los Angeles, was founded by cousins Kim and Tyler Malek in 2011, as an ice cream cart. Kim, who worked on the corporate side at Starbucks, leads business efforts, while Tyler, the head ice cream maker, develops the brand’s signature flavors.

Competition in the ice cream segment is fierce, but Salt & Straw stands out with flavors like Freckled Woodblock Chocolate, made with hand-roasted chocolate beans, and Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, made with salt from the renowned Mark Bitterman. Flavors change monthly, which has had the added benefit of creating repeat customers.

Salt & Straw’s employees — including part-time workers— are eligible for health benefits and paid leave. The model has resulted in a very low turnover rate of 12 percent for in-store workers.

Today, the chain is in growth mode. It recently opened a soft-serve ice cream outlet called Wiz Bang Bar in Portland’s Pine Street Market, and it is expanding its core brand to San Francisco in the spring.

Salt & Straw also reaches customers who can’t visit its West Coast brick-and-mortar shops by shipping hand-packed pints, priced at $9, across the U.S. Workers hand-letter and sign the pints they pack to maintain the brand’s homespun feel.

Breakout Factors:

  • Translating the local, seasonal and artisanal trend into ice cream
  • Growing aggressively through brick-and-mortar locations and shipping pints across the country
  • Enacting progressive employee benefits like health insurance and paid leave, even for part-time workers

Contact Marcella Veneziale at [email protected].

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