Maine native Lauren Guptill was only sure of two things when she opened her first ice cream shop in 2012: She wanted to do something different, and she wanted to do it herself.
“I knew I didn’t want to go work for someone else,” said Guptill, now the owner of Rococo Artisan Ice Cream, a bustling business based in Kennebunkport, Maine. “Whatever I did, I needed to create it.”
And create she did.
The ice cream shop draws its name from the boundary-pushing Rococo art movement of 18th-century France. A childhood in Berwick, Maine, coupled with a love for travel and food, inspired Guptill to bring exotic tastes back to her home in the Seacoast, blending a classic New England ice cream shop with unexpected flavor combinations and ingredients sourced from local farms and all around the world.
Now, Guptill’s creation is expanding. In addition to the home shop in Kennebunkport, Rococo has new scoop windows in Kittery and Ogunquit, and a new retail location is opening soon in Ogunquit. To accommodate the increased demand, they’re also opening a new production facility in Wells.
Despite the growth, Rococo maintains the atmosphere of a small-town ice cream shop. What sets it apart is that even the “standard” flavors come with a twist. The cones are piled with combinations such as Nutella Cranberry, Strawberry Basil, and Goat Cheese & Blackberry Chambord Swirl.
“I didn’t want anyone to be like, ‘Here’s this new girl with this ice cream shop and she’s making all of the same flavors we already have,’” Guptill said. “And at the same time I thought, ‘Well, if I make these creative flavors, I’m not competing with Ben & Jerry’s … or the other people who were ice cream shop business owners in town.’”
Guptill learned to make ice cream mostly on her own. For her, the business is all about trial and error.
“You don’t really know (about a flavor) until you try,” she said, “and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out until the batch is done.”
Being open to trying out new things has allowed Guptill to venture into unique flavor territories, blending spices, teas, vegetables, and even locally brewed Shipyard beers into her ice cream.
Rather than producing ice cream on a large scale, Rococo makes all of its frozen treats in small batches that allow plenty of room for experimentation and artisanal touches. Guptill and her staff are trying out new flavors all the time.
Another unique aspect of Rococo is its employee flavor contest. Every summer, Guptill allows each of her scoopers to create a new flavor and walks them through the process of making it, from sourcing the ingredients to making the batch and putting it out on the sales floor.
“Last season we made 35 completely new flavors, just between things I was curious about and the employee flavor contest,” Guptill said.
This summer, Rococo is expanding in several new directions, presenting Guptill with a challenging and exciting season ahead.
“It’s all things that I’ve wanted to do sort of fluidly over the last four years, and it all just seemed to happen at once,” she said.
One of Rococo’s new scoop windows is at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery; the other is at Brewster’s Market in Ogunquit. Guptill is also opening a new Rococo location in the Leavitt Theater building in downtown Ogunquit. To increase the supply of ice cream, the business has also purchased a production facility in Wells. Ice cream production will be transitioned from the original Kennebunkport shop to the larger Wells facility over the next few weeks.
The new facilities will mean more staff and new challenges for Guptill. She is passionate about being involved with every aspect of her business, and up to this point, she has handmade every batch of Rococo ice cream herself. Amid all the growth and changes, she is focused on staying true to her original vision and providing her customers with a welcoming experience.
“A big part of my decision to own an ice cream shop is that I love the idea of being in a storefront and being part of a community where I know my customers and I get to share an experience with them,” Guptill said. “When you have the opportunity to have a conversation with your customer base, they have an experience, and that’s what I want to be doing.”
For a full list of ice cream shops found around the seacoast, click here.