What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? If the answer is vanilla, you may be more privileged than you think.

Nowadays, Baltimore is home to several Black-owned ice cream shops that serve a variety of tasty options. But African Americans’ relationship with the frozen dessert was once fraught across the country.

Stories have been passed down of Black people being denied vanilla ice cream — except for on the Fourth of July — during segregation. Maya Angelou mentioned it in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Audre Lorde wrote about her experience in “The Fourth of July.” A writer for The Guardian wrote of his own father’s memory of it happening.

Despite the fact that Edmund Albius, an enslaved Black man, improved the cultivation of the flavor, ice cream shops, and other kinds of eateries, became the scenes of protests.

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In 1959, Baltimore students from Morgan State, Coppin State, the Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College famously sat in at an Arundel Ice Cream Co. store location to protest discrimination.

Now, we have Black-owned ice cream parlors making their way in an industry that tried to ignore them. Check out these places around town to get your next cup or cone.

Cajou Creamery

411 N. Howard St.

Co-founder Dwight Campbell prepares the ice cream display at Cajou Creamery. (Ronica Edwards/The Baltimore Banner)

For co-founder Nicole Foster, the handcrafted cashew milk ice cream created and served at Cajou Creamery is a way to boost representation and preserve cultural staples.

“We are trying to bring the world to you on a spoon,” Foster said. “A lot of our customers are from all around the world, and we’ll be like, ‘Hey, tell us a flavor from your childhood’ … and we’ll create it.”

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She highlighted flavors such as horchata, whose original recipe is linked to 11th-century North Africans and was later copied by Spanish conquistadors; sweet potato pie, a Southern favorite; baklava; and blueberry cheesecake as classic options that represent the African diaspora.

With a rotation of other special flavors, Cajou has also scooped tastes such as cortadito (a creamy Cuban espresso), a Palestinian olive oil and Jamaican rum and raisin.

Flavors such as kulfi and horchata sit on display at Cajou Creamery. (Ronica Edwards/The Baltimore Banner)

Foster’s mission for the creamery, which opened in 2021, was born from frustrations with the lack of dairy-free and culturally familiar options for ice cream on the market. Because lactose intolerance most commonly affects people of color, Foster and her partner and co-founder Dwight Campbell use their backgrounds as raw vegan chefs to make dairy-free treats just as enjoyable.

“You can’t go into a ice cream shop and eat and enjoy it without feeling sick,” Foster said. “We’re giving people back that joy of ice cream, that nostalgia of ice cream, and we’re giving it to them in a healthy way. Our ice cream is different.”

According to Foster, there are plans to expand the business on college campuses and eventually to be in stores. And she is teaming with other Black-owned businesses: Cajou will feature a CBD-infused ice cream as part of a new collaboration.

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Sydney’s Ice Creams

3432 Belair Rd.

Ice cream and spoons on the counter at Sydney’s Ice Creams. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

At Sydney’s Ice Creams, there’s more to the frozen favorite than just plain vanilla. Owner Sydney Newton deals in familiar and classic flavors such as butter pecan and roasted strawberry, along with fun and culturally connected ones such as banana puddin’ and peaches ’n biscuits.

Sydney’s specializes in ice cream novelties, which means you can find macarons, ice cream pie slices and churro ice cream sandwiches, along with the usual cups, cones and milkshakes, if you’re a purist.

“Ice cream has always been interesting to me because you can customize it so many different ways and really be creative,” Newton said. “As a person with ADHD, my mind is most often consumed with so many ideas of different flavor combinations or mix-ins, so ice cream is literally therapy for my brain. It’s an obsession.”

The idea for Sydney’s started during the pandemic, when Newton made ice cream with her kids for fun, and it soon stretched to friends, family, a delivery service to people in the community and now to her shop, which opened this year.

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Owner Sydney Newton scoops ice cream. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Newton, whose Sydney’s plans to extend its hours this summer and introduce boozy shakes for adults, said she feels a responsibility and connection to the struggle of Black entrepreneurs and trailblazers. She points to Augustus Jackson, the first Black chef for the White House and “the father of ice cream,” as motivation.

“It also encourages me to be resilient, because, even though we have come far, there is still much work to do,” Newton said. “People like him faced a lot of adversity, so having my own brick and mortar as a Black woman is so important to me.”

Buns & Roses Chimney Cakes

803 Light St.

Buns & Roses Chimney Cakes in Federal Hill. (Chris Franzoni)

Deirdra Campbell, owner of Buns & Roses Chimney Cakes, is a Baltimore native and has lived in Atlanta, but it was during a trip to Paris that she came across the chimney cake. In Europe, the Hungarian pastries made with sweet yeast are usually filled with Nutella, chocolate or caramel. Though they were delicious, Campbell said, she felt they were missing something.

“We probably got a chimney cake almost every day while we were in Paris because they were just so good, especially when they come fresh out the oven,” Campbell said. “They’re so flaky and doughy, but they didn’t come with ice cream.”

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Now, Campbell’s version of the dessert comes in nine permanent flavors such as Biscoff cookie, key lime crunch and butter pecan. The cakes at her shop, which just celebrated its first anniversary, are filled with vanilla bean soft-serve ice cream, rolled in one of its house-made crumb toppings and finished with a flavored drizzle.

If you aren’t in the mood for one of those, Campbell’s menu features milkshakes, lattes and other specialty deserts such as banana pudding and caramel apple dumplings. This summer, Buns & Roses plans to introduce what Campbell calls a “break shake,” which she said essentially is a milkshake that you squeeze to crack the frozen chocolate shell inside the cup.

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Campbell has experienced restraints as a Black businesswoman but highlighted the importance of growing a network to sustain yourself.

“I feel like I want Black businesses to stand out not because they’re Black businesses but because it’s a great business model,” Campbell said.

“I think you have to put yourself out there. So many times, we open up a business and we sit in the corner. You gotta get out there and you gotta be in the community.”

Tia’s Italian Ice

851 W. 36th St.

Storefront of Tia’s Italian Ice in Hampden. (De'Andre Young/The Baltimore Banner)

Tia’s Italian Ice, in the center of The Avenue, is the only Black-owned scoop shop in Hampden.

The shop opened in 2022 by Tia Asamoah, who moved to Baltimore from Philadelphia, doesn’t serve only Philadelphia-style water ice. There is hard and soft-serve ice cream in a variety of flavors, from simple vanilla bean to sweet & salty caramel pretzel. It also has a wide range of toppings including marshmallow fluff and hot fudge, along with the option for gelati, combining the water ice with ice cream of your choosing.

The treats at Tia’s reinforce culture and belonging with water ice flavors such as The Gold Coast (strawberry banana, piña colada and sour apple) and Juneteenth (cherry, mango and sour apple). The eclectic menu also includes Jamaican beef patties, pizza pretzels and ice cream “spaghetti” — vanilla ice cream made to look like noodles with strawberry topping and sprinkles of white chocolate.

In an interview with The Banner last year, Asamoah said that before she opened her store she heard snide comments. “Another ice cream shop? You’ll be out of business in six months.” She said at the time that “sometimes we feel like we are not welcome here.”

Cousins Ashlyn Woods and Megan Sherman certainly felt welcome as they tried Tia’s for the first time on a recent visit. Sherman said the soft serve was recommended to her by an employee at another neighborhood ice cream shop.

“It was the perfect amount of sweetness, and it didn’t melt quickly like lots of other places,” Woods added.

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Sherman, who said Hampden is “historically racist,” wanted to show support for Tia’s after she heard from someone working in the area that the store was being given “a hard time, like to the point where they were going to move the ice cream shop. And so, I was like, ‘Oh no, I got to go down there.’”

Asamoah could not be reached for comment.

Despite her issues with the area, Sherman said the “cute and friendly” Tia’s is a draw for her to come back. “I can see why they hating, though. It’s a nice little establishment.”