Eat STL: Sugarwitch

| Producer

Illustration by Jordan Rossi

In many ways, food is more than just sustenance. It inspires conversations, holds cultural importance, and tells the chef’s story. Student Life Producer Emily Talkow presents Eat STL, a series that profiles chefs in the St. Louis community. In this episode, Talkow visits Sugarwitch in St. Louis, MO to explore everything from ice cream sandwiches to sustainability. 

You can listen to episodes of Eat St. Louis on Spotify or Apple Music.

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.

SOPHIE MENDELSON (0:00-0:35) I started letting myself follow my nose a little bit more and holding onto the plan a little bit less. And that was very freeing. This idea that there, there did not need to be a linear trajectory from where I was with my passions and the classes I had taken and the things I had invested time in studying that that did not need to be then, like the launch point for a straight line into some envisioned career. The detours were worthwhile and add so much information and so much perspective.

Music interlude

EMILY TALKOW (0:37-1:14): Hi! This is Emily Talkow and you’re listening to Eat St. Louis. You just heard a clip from Sophie Mendelson, Co-Owner of Sugarwitch: an ice cream sandwich eatery in St. Louis. According to their website, Sophie and her partner are a “couple of flavor-obsessed queer food system nerds” who believe that “nothing is more delicious than a frozen treat made with care and concern for people and planet.” I couldn’t agree more. I loved  my conversation with Sophie for the ways it shed light to both her path towards finding passion and meaning in her career in addition to the ways Sugarwitch reproduces a just and sustainable food system through ice cream sandwiches. So I was first curious, how did Sugarwitch start? 

Music interlude

SM (1:16-1:44): So we actually started the business in Columbia, Missouri in 2019 while my wife and I were both grad students, at Mizzou, and we naively thought we’d have a lot of free time in the summer which was not true, but then making ice cream was worth it anyway. So we got started with Sugarwitch there. We were selling at farmer’s markets and sharing kitchens, doing pop-ups and then when she got a full-time job in St. Louis, we moved here and brought the business with us.

ET (1:44-1:50): When I first encountered Sugarwitch, it was a pop-up in an airstream trailer  outside of Olio’s in Tower Grove

SM (1:50-2:10): We were still sharing kitchens and bringing coolers full of ice cream to those trailers where we had a few freezers plugged in and Kim, who owns the trailers, got us all set up there. So that was pretty idyllic, you know, selling ice cream out of an Airstream trailer in the middle of like this beautiful urban garden that they’ve created over there.

ET (2:10-2:30): Eventually, in order to grow as a business, Sugarwitch relocated to 7726 Virginia Ave, just over a 20 minute car ride from WashU’s campus. They moved production to this storefront in April of 2022 and then opened storefront in October of 2022. So besides the physical origins of Sugarwitch, I was also so curious where the name and theme came from. 

SM (2:30-2:44)  Sugarwitch was thrown out there as a name possibility by a friend of a friend who just thought, oh, this is a cute little name. Um, and we really loved it because of the pun potential.

ET (2:44-2:53): This is something I adore about Sugarwitch. If you look at their menu, everything is witch themed! There are flavors like Ursula, Elphaba, and Tonks.

SM (2:53-3:37) Coming up with new flavors is often sort of a spitballing back and forth. Somebody has an idea for some element of something they want to make, and then we will all sort of casually workshop it as we’re doing other tasks. If it is like really a new type of recipe, we’ll test it out and see like, does this work structurally? That’s, um, something that we have to pay attention to. The flavor combinations are often drawn from nostalgia. We have people with very different food backgrounds in our kitchen so that gives us a lot to draw from. Naming them– the number of times I’ve googled “witch names” is kind of ridiculous   

ET (3:37-3:46): Part of what I love about Sugarwitch is that whenever you look at their menu on their website or social media, they are always adding new fun flavors. This past fall, I got to try their limited time Paw Paw flavor. 

SM (3:46-4:32): Collaborated with Earth Dance Farm on their Paw Paw crop, PawPaws are just an awesome fruit native to this area, but also much of the sort of Eastern into Midwest, United States and they are just this like wild, funky, sort of tropical custardy tasting fruit that grows wild but is also cultivated. EarthDance has a PawPaw orchard and PawPaws are kind of unique in that they have a very short season and they turn very quickly. So they go from like, unripe and to perfectly ripe and wonderful to rotted and unusable within the span of like a few days. So once you harvest, you have to process them or use them.

ET (4:32-4:49): So this takes a lot of prep and organization. In my conversation Sophie, something that stood out to me was this steadfast dedication for Sugarwitch to engage with the local food system. Sophie’s academic background is in agriculture, and specifically small agriculture. In addition to sourcing PawPaw from EarthDance farms and working directly with farmers, 

SM (4:49-5:10): we also utilize a delivery service that aggregates produce from farms in sort of the, largely in Illinois some Missouri. We get our dairy from Rolling Lawns Farm. They’re an hour away in Illinois and they’re just fantastic so it’s like dairy that feels good, which is really important to us.

ET (5:10-5:15): With Sophie’s background in agriculture, she has a broad perspective of the produce they use in their products. 

SM (5:15-5:47) Having, having spent so much time working in ag. and in production using that to orient around how we source and building relationship with farmers and sort of having realistic expectations about seasonality and quantities and how much warning and pricing and sort of what it it means to be a responsible partner in transforming these beautiful produce into other foods I think has been really valuable.

ET (5:47-5:59): Sugarwitch maintains a commitment to supporting local farmers as best as they can. However, this comes with a cost. I was curious about the balance between this cost and supporting the environment from a sustainable and ethical standpoint. 

SM (5:59-6:57): We already make what we consider to be a relatively expensive product because we have chosen to source a subset of our ingredients really carefully. And so that subset right now is dairy, produce, and chocolate. So we get our chocolate from Cacao Barry, which to the best of our understanding based on the information available, does not utilize slave flavor to produce and harvest the chocolate. It is much more expensive and we use a lot of it. The produce in so much as possible, getting directly from farmers in this area. And so those have been the priority points and it means that things like sugar, flour– we are buying at staple prices with an eye toward the future of hoping to be able to sort of gradually expand that little like circle of what we’re able to like really know about our supply chain.


ET (6:57-7:16): As someone passionate about a local food system, this really touched me as a way to integrate business with social impact. That is one thing that draws me to the food industry: the way it can directly build a relationship with sustainability. However, one thing I’ve heard over and over about the food industry is the tendency to reach burnout. Sophie talked about the ways she avoids this. 

SM (7:16-8:12): For me it would be a lot simpler if we picked four flavors and just made them all the time. But, I think all of us would get bored and that would not be sustainable. We lose interest. The constant creativity is really, um, engaging and makes it exciting to come in and try new things. Which is not to say that I never get tired , or that anybody ever gets tired and wants a day off and needs a day off, and that’s great. Days off are also critical to avoiding burnout. And so we do PTO in sick time, which was something that, um, was kind of a scary leap from a how do we manage this from cash flow or just like this little food business we don’t know what we’re doing, but like many of the things that we have done, we decided to just implement it and figure it out and it has worked. So I think having that is really important and it means that like people when we are here, we’re in better shape and we’re better able to do the work.

ET (8:12- 8:19): With this, I wondered, what advice would Sophie give to someone searching for a career in which they maintain a passion through it all and avoid burnout. 

SM (8:19-8:53): I guess I can only advise sort of my past self, but that advice would be like, loosen the grip a little bit. Follow what really fills you up. And what keeps your brain turning. If things start to feel like you’re having to contort yourself into a shape that isn’t true, that’s often an indicator it’s not a path worth going down. For me it’s always, always, always about the people and finding the people to do the things with that many things can be meaningful and fulfilling.

Music interlude

ET (8:56-9:14): Thank you so much to Sophie Mendelson for taking the time to talk with me. Be sure to follow Sugarwitch on Instagram @sugarwitchic and check out their storefront!  Stay tuned for future episodes of Eat St. Louis. In the meantime, head to to check out our current issue and other recent stories. For Student Life Media, I’m Emily Talkow.

Music rights reserved for Kevin MacLeod

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