“What are you doing? Is this Black Friday?”
Both incredulous and bemused, the man joins his party already waiting in the burgeoning line of Afters, Fountain Valley’s new ice cream boutique. Stretching out the door and spanning the entire storefront of its neighboring Hallmark store, the line sees hopeful customers adding to its length even half an hour before the new ice cream shop on the block is set to close for the day.
Located on the corner of Brookhurst and Talbert, the upstart ice cream shop usurps the space that Lola’s Ice Cream & Deli formerly occupied. Tucked in the corner of the Fountain Valley Plaza Shopping Center, Afters’s decor and signage remains, by all appearances, a work in progress. A spare, unlit sign reading “ice cream” presents a challenge when locating Afters for the first time. A flimsy vinyl sign, designed in the minimal styling of an eye test chart, was the only indication, besides the protracted line, that I had arrived at my destination after circling the parking lot, and the block, twice.
Upon finding Afters, expect to wait in line for at least twenty to fifty minutes. The line dwarfs the store’s square footage, so a jacket is necessary while waiting outside to fulfill night-time ice cream cravings. The wait is exacerbated by the amiable nature of Afters’s workers who will ask you, in the midst of your curious confusion at the familiar-yet-not-quite array of flavors, “Do you want to try another flavor?” even after your first sample scoop. Oh, and about that milky bun.
The name of Afters’s signature offering does nothing to indicate that it is, in reality, ice cream stuffed in between two halves of a donut. A union steeped in sucrose, the milky bun is the latest in the trend of hybrid chic, flying in the face of those with conservative ideologies regarding the sanctity of dessert. After navigating through the small store’s cramped line (think Chipotle meets Disneyland), and negotiating payment with the Square-powered iPad (hipster alert!), any remaining skepticism concerning the amount of success that comes from uniting ice cream and donut melts away upon receiving the surprisingly warm invention. More so than with traditional ice cream, then, consumption of the milky bun is an endeavor against the clock. Despite this, the sponginess of the donut excels at soaking up the ice cream and the whole affair is relatively no muss.
Like any marriage, however, the milky bun is not without its problems. The sweetness of the glazed donut can overwhelm its dairy partner if you’re not paying attention to the ice cream, especially with more delicate flavors like jasmine milk tea. And be warned that, unlike their ice cream, Afters does not produce their donuts in-house. This means that long waits might be unfruitful (like the first two times I went) due to limited stock that will certainly run out earlier in the day than expected, considering the milky bun’s novelty is arguably Afters’s main draw. Currently offered with only the choice between glazed or unglazed plain donuts, the bun also stands to evolve in terms of donut variety.
Notable offerings on the ice cream side include milk and cereal, jasmine milk tea, cookie butter and cookie monster. Drawing inspiration from New York’s Momofuku, the milk and cereal flavor harks back to childhood habits of sipping the sugar-infused milk at the end of a bowl of cereal.
Definitely Afters’s go-to flavor for those who can’t decide, milk and cereal lives up to its name and is topped with corn flakes that co-founder Andy Nguyen says the shop prepares in-house.
A strong tea sensation is the foremost aspect jasmine milk tea’s flavor profile, tapering off to the more delicate notes of jasmine at the end of each bite. A peek into the ingredient crates, which also double as line dividers, reveals that the cookie butter flavor does indeed use Trader Joe’s Speculoos cookie butter. Finally, more than just cookies and cream with blue food coloring, cookie monster sees Oreos combined with Fudge Famous Amos.
The roll of brown paper upon which the flavors are scribed (although, come on, step your calligraphy game up) intimates that pushing flavor boundaries is the order of the day for Afters and that the ice cream offerings are impermanent.
“Our goal is to switch four flavors every month and to experiment and have fun. We don’t know what flavor’s gonna come out. As long as it’s something you can’t find anywhere else,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen and his partner Scott Nghiem are no strangers to this mentality revolving around hype and consistently pushing out new product. As co-founder of IMKING, an Orange County-based streetwear brand, Nguyen often sees hours-long lines during their warehouse sales. Thorocraft, Nghiem’s line of footwear that amalgamates disparate design elements such as woven uppers, wingtips, and duck boot-style toeboxes, is also marked by the frustration that comes with selecting your size only to be met with an “Add to cart” button that reads “Sold out.”
In fact, the credit for settling upon the donut for the milky bun goes to Nghiem. During the bun’s conceptual stages, the duo experimented with different variations of actual buns. Finally, it was Nghiem who brought in a jelly donut, excavated the jelly and substituted it with ice cream.
Drawing from its founders’ experience in the fashion industry (Nguyen was the one who referred to Afters as a boutique), Afters also comes complete with its own apparel. Hats, t-shirts, sweaters and beanies are displayed in a refrigerator and in the ingredient crates for customers to browse while waiting in line. When asked about why he decided to venture into ice cream from clothing, Nguyen’s response was simple.
“Everyone loves ice cream.”