New vanilla ice cream at Husky Deli also flavored with hope

By Judy Pickens
Special to West Seattle Blog

West Seattle and the east African nation of Uganda were first connected by books and are now also connected by vanilla and a premium ice cream just introduced by Husky Deli.

In 2017, Alina Guyon’s Libraries 4 All project took her to a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda, where she and her mother, Sheryl, built a small library and stocked it with books donated by West Seattle residents. The entrepreneurial pair has since visited the bustling library and brought back many thanks, especially from those using the books to learn English.

Sheryl also brought back a few kilos of premium vanilla beans and an intriguing question: Could vanilla raise area farmers out of abject poverty and help educate their children?

She has a trained eye for such potential. Sheryl was an entrepreneur from an early age and is working with Seattle’s All the Sky Foundation to aid under-represented populations, with a particular interest in gender equity.

“Jobs in Uganda are few and far between and we were on alert for a way we might help refugees support their families,” she said. “After reading that the climate In the Kampala area is perfect for growing vanilla, I had to learn more.”

Bakers and other vanilla users know that a worldwide shortage of the flavoring has caused the price to soar. Extract from beans grown in Madagascar (the world’s principal supplier) retail for as much as $8/oz. Because each bean is so precious, growers keep field locations a secret and employ armed guards to protect their crop.

Uganda’s tropical climate and fertile soil are perfect for growing the Vanilla planifolia orchid. Uganda farmers plant a species of short tree as scaffolding for their vanilla vines and pollinate the flowers by hand. As the beans mature, they pick each by hand just as it begins to turn brown.

Through a chain of connections, Sheryl was able to learn that a wholesaler typically buys a farmer’s entire crop, then cures the beans and sells the best ones on the whole-bean market and the rest to a processor to refine into extract. She became even more convinced that she could develop the product into a “social” business that benefits those who labor the most.

“The vanilla fields are very near the refugee camp, so refugees can get beans directly from the farmers and do the packaging and paperwork needed to export them here where I can get them to a premium market,” Sheryl explained. “The farmers and refugees will profit from bulk sales and retail profits will go back to a Ugandan non-profit to pay school fees for refugee children.”

This spring, Husky Deli owner Jack Miller agreed to give “Mukono Super Vanilla” ice cream its world premiere. (The name comes from the district where the most flavorful vanilla is grown.) He’s making just 15 half-gallons at a time using Sheryl’s extract and seeds from 15 beans. If West Seattleites like what they taste, Mukono Super Vanilla will continue in the ice-cream case as the market for these “super” beans widens.

14 Replies to "New vanilla ice cream at Husky Deli also flavored with hope"

  • Graciano May 18, 2019 (6:38 pm)

    I need to get some of that ice cream, sounds really good.
    Hopefully I can find a parking spot.

  • Tyler May 18, 2019 (8:59 pm)

    I thought that man was the owner the other day when I got a delicious breakfast sandwich!  The most polite and kind customer service experience I’ve had in a long time!  This is, IMO, a great locally owned business to support. I feel happy to spend money there. 

    • Sheryl May 18, 2019 (9:48 pm)

      You’re right- they’re the kindest family you’ll meet anywhere.  It’s the people that make it feel like you’re always welcome!

  • HS May 18, 2019 (9:06 pm)

    What a great story! I’ll be buying the ice cream this week.

  • Sheryl Guyon May 18, 2019 (9:55 pm)

    If Husky’s runs out of the Mukono Vanilla, ask to put your name on the wait list for the next batch.

  • Peel & Press May 19, 2019 (3:22 am)

    I have been so blessed to sell Husky Deli ice cream at my restaurant for the last 4 years.  Jack charge me a premium and I would be happy to buy this and support the cause!

    • Sheryl Guyon May 20, 2019 (10:12 am)

      You are so welcome- it’s great to do something that gives back to a refugee community and help in a meaningful way.  Thank you for your enthusiasm! There is a wait list for the next batch at Husky Deli.

  • wscommuter May 19, 2019 (11:38 am)

    This is a terrific story about local action with a global reach … from our neighborhood to a discrete community half-way around the world.   What a wonderful thing to accomplish.  In these dark times when so much seems negative, this is a great example of hope.  

  • JasonG May 19, 2019 (5:29 pm)

    Picked up my half-gallon of Mukono Super Vanilla and had a great chat with Heidi this afternoon.  Snuck a taste at home before putting it in the freezer for later — WOW.  Supporting something awesome never tasted so good. 

  • Keith May 19, 2019 (9:45 pm)

    What a great story.  I can’t wait to try the ice cream.

  • Grateful May 20, 2019 (9:23 am)

    I want some!  Please make a wait list if it has already run out!  And thanks to all who are making this happen, including Sheryl and Husky Deli!

    • Sheryl Guyon May 21, 2019 (6:11 pm)

      The new batch is back on the shelf today!

  • PJK May 21, 2019 (7:27 am)

     I will definitely be up to buy or put my name on the wait list!  Never need an excuse to go to Husky Deli but this is a great cause!!

  • Ryan H May 22, 2019 (2:06 pm)

    Timing was perfect because I just happened to stop by Tues evening and picked up a tub of Mukono Super Vanilla and didn’t even need to get on the wait list (I think there were three tubs in there when I picked up mine). It’s very good and also due to my own connections to Uganda, is pretty cool to have the ability to buy such a thing here in WS.

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