From Epic to ice cream maker: Ellen Coatney creates vegan ice creams

After Ellen Coatney left her job at Epic, she went to pastry school that ultimately led her to launch her own ice cream company.
Pint Of Fifth Scoop
Photo by Taylor Quade
Fifth Scoop's frozen desserts are all plant-based, made with oat and coconut milks instead of cream.

After two and a half years working as a technical writer at Epic Systems Corp, Ellen Coatney, founder of Fifth Scoop Non-Dairy Ice Cream, left her job to follow her dream of going to pastry school.

While working as a writer, Coatney found solace in baking. “To me, writing is abstract and cerebral, I would come home and think, ‘I know I worked today but maybe ended up deleting half of what I wrote.’ It felt like a back and forth process,” she says. “Baking is the opposite — it was hands-on and active and at the end of it I could show what I had done.”

When she realized she didn’t love working at an office desk all day, Coatney left to complete the baking program at Madison College. “When I was thinking about making a career change, it was those evening hours that I really loved when I got to go home and be creative and be in the kitchen,” Coatney says.

When she completed the Madison College program, Coatney moved to Spring Green for a six-month internship at a farm-to-table restaurant. During that period Coatney lived in a house with an oven that wasn’t great for baking. “You would put in a frozen pizza and when it came out part would be frozen and part would be burned,” she says. But it may have been a serendipitous turn of events — “I wasn’t able to bake for fun, so I started to make ice cream,” Coatney says.

When the internship was over Coatney decided to take time off of work and backpack through France and Italy where she learned how to make gelato. “That really kick started my professional interest in ice cream,” she says.

Ellen Coatney

Photo by Taylor Quade

When Coatney returned to Madison she began working full-time as a pastry chef but she still loved making ice cream for friends. A friend with a dairy allergy asked if she could make dairy-free ice cream, so Coatney started to explore vegan ice cream and loved the creative process of working with new ingredients. “But it was through this research that I learned a lot about how beneficial a plant-based diet is, how much better it is for the environment, so I really got into it,” she says. “That led me into deciding to create the business and sell my ice cream professionally beyond my immediate circle.”

Coatney sold her ice cream for the first time through a holiday fundraiser last December with Pasture and Plenty and then began selling regularly through Christine’s Kitchens, a shared commercial kitchen space, in January. The name for her new vegan ice cream business, Fifth Scoop, came from a conversation with her friend who initially requested a dairy-free ice cream.

“We were talking about vegan ice cream and I was asking her what she likes, doesn’t like,” Coatney says. While her friend would get excited when she saw new brands at the store, she always ended up disappointed. “It’s not hard to get people who are vegan and non-dairy to buy one pint from you, what is hard is to get them to come back and buy a second pint,” Coatney says. “A pint of ice cream on average is about four scoops. To me, selling the first four scoops is not my goal, my goal is to sell the fifth scoop because that means somebody liked it enough to come back and buy a second pint.”

Fifth Scoop Ice Cream

Fifth Scoop’s Lemonmellow flavor features a lemon base with a lemon-almond ribbon and crisp marshmallow pieces. Photo by Taylor Quade

Instead of cream, Fifth Scoop uses a base of coconut and oat milks. Flavors rotate regularly, and current flavors include Buckeye, a chocolate base with a crumbly peanut butter swirl, and Lemonmellow, a lemon base with a lemon-almond ribbon and crisp marshmallow pieces. Coatney is excited to work with more fruity flavors this summer, including roasted banana and passion fruit, but she says there will always be a chocolate flavor in the rotation. “I’m a chocolate girl at heart,” she says.

Also in the works for this summer are ice cream sandwiches, ice cream cakes and custom orders. In addition to selling through Christine’s Kitchens, Coatney will be a vendor at some of the Monroe Street Farmers’ Markets on Sunday mornings, including on May 2 (check Fifth Scoop’s Instagram and website for updates.) “I’m excited for summer, I think I’ll be able to connect with more people,” she says.

Erica Krug is a Madison-based writer.
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