Daniel Zimmerman, an LA-based digital marketer, took a year sabbatical and went on a 50 state search for the perfect artisanal ice cream!

In this quest, not only did he get to taste some spectacular ice cream, he also met some fantastic people along the way. Here he is today to talk about the lessons learned on this journey in pursuit of ice cream. Well, welcome, Daniel. So happy to have you here.

Daniel: Thank you for having me on.

Katty: So I know that you and my colleague Laura had spoken at length about your adventures recently, and I just found it fascinating and I wanted to continue our conversation. I think the audience will just find it really interesting to see the journey that you took, the decisions that you’ve made to take the sabbatical, and the lessons learned along the way. So I really appreciate you coming on and sharing that with us.

Daniel: Absolutely. If there’s anything that you know, I could share with others that would help them along their way in their own journey, I would be more than happy to do it.

Katty: Fabulous. Well, to give some context to the audience, you took a year sabbatical, and you went on the pursuit of tasting ice cream in all 50 states?

Daniel: That is correct, yes.

Katty: So what inspired you?

Daniel: I’ve always had a love for ice cream. But more specifically then that, it was more like the fear of potential regret. This is, you know, everyone talks about, oh, I want to travel in my 20s I want to explore the world, I want to do all these things. But really, the idea of just always being talk and not actually following through scared me more than not doing it. Which I’m not kind of a strange way to think of it. And really, it was just something that I thought I was at that point in my life where I had some money saved up, you know, I didn’t have any real responsibilities in terms of a mortgage, no kids. I still have my metabolism, so I can just eat loads of ice cream.

Katty: Lucky you!

Daniel: Yeah, so I had to do that while I was on the tail end of getting as much out of that metabolism as possible. Really it was just the perfect storm. And I just saw this golden opportunity and I was like, “yeah, you know, what I’m gonna follow through on this, you know, not just talk about it, but actually do it”. So that was kind of the onset initial inspiration.

Katty: How long have you had this idea that one day, I’m going to do this ice cream adventure?

Daniel: So it’s always one of those like vague ideas. I never really put like a true concrete plan of going a road trip to all 50 states. It was more along the lines of you know, I’ve always had a love of ice cream. You know, like I had been eating like every day since a child. July is National ice cream month. So starting college, I would do this thing where every single day during the month of July, I’d try to find a different flavor of ice cream. And then like to eat it and write you know, a tiny review on it. And then like, over the years, they just, the reviews got longer flavors got crazier. And like, eventually people like you know, like, here are some other crazy things that you should do. So they would start sending me links. Someone sent me an ice cream cleanse, which is like a juice cleanse things, but with ice cream. You just eat ice cream for three days straight, and it’s like a special vegan ice cream, but you like cleanse your body of toxins, and then you lose weight. So I did it and I lost three pounds in three days, and it was this crazy thing. And then like it just kind of kept snowballing where people would send the other ice cream challenges around the country. And so I just had this ongoing list of like, cool places around the country that you know, like I got to visit. And then from there, it just kind of snowballed into like well, you know, I have like at least two dozen states I need to visit now. So like why don’t I just knock out all 50 and I’m sure there’s like I supposed best ice cream in every single state. And sure enough, there’s all these different publications that have you know, from you know, Scoop Adventures to BuzzFeed, Thrillist to you know, I think PBS had one too, like the best ice cream every state. So I literally just compiled all those lists together and then giant excel sheet. And then that was kind of like my road map of all the places I need to hit up.

Katty:  I love it. So you took your experience with data!

Daniel: Definitely. I did some excel hotkeys there to compile lists.

Katty: That is funny. Well, it’s clearly very strategic in terms of how you attack this plan.

Daniel: Thank you. Yeah, like I said, it was something that, you know, there was a kernel that someone else sent into me, and then that somehow, you know, blossomed into something else entirely. So it’s not always, you know, to have the crystal clear vision is to be able to adapt along the way and let a small idea grow into something bigger.

Katty: Nice. Love it. Love it. Of course, I’m sure everybody asks you all the time, what’s your favorite flavor? What’s your favorite place that you went to.  

Daniel: Yes, yes. As far as favorite flavor goes, I get asked that a lot. And my answer is always the same where I say there’s no such thing. There are a time and a place for every flavor. So that’s like, my canned response. But you know, and everyone hates that answer because you know, you’re supposed to have a favorite. But if I think about it more, you know, cognitively I think food tastes and in general, and this very much applies to ice cream, that it’s not always just about objective criteria of you know, this is like the best amount of milk fat ratio, this is, you know, supposed to have so many parts per million of you know, like a Madagascar vanilla bean whatever. I think it’s very much a social experience where you know, eating with a friend, you know, you eat it at a time, like on a hot summer day, you’re eating it in all these other situations that can impact how you taste it. So, it is so subjective, I don’t think there is an objective criterion of what can constitute as like a single greatest flavor. Which is something that I kind of knew beforehand, but at the same time, you know, I was like, maybe I can be proven wrong, like maybe there is truly something that’s like, you know, transcendent will reach Nirvana or something. Maybe, but that wasn’t the case.

Katty: But it’s also one of those foods that it triggers memories. You know, if you remember your childhood. Yeah, this is just comfort food, if you will.

Daniel: Oh, 100 percent. You know what, I’ve been talking to other people about this, and I ask them about some of their most cherished times eat ice cream, they usually like recall, sometime when they eat with their grandparent, who’s no longer here. You know, they went up to like a farm by their place in some rural area, and they say it was the best ice cream they ever had. And then, you know, I’m where I was like, I’m kind of wondering like, is it truly that great? Or is it the memory of, you know, spending with a loved one that is also what’s impacting, you know, some of those rosy tinted memories they have.

Katty: It’d be interesting to see, if you, I don’t know, if you have plans of taking your ice cream adventure overseas, and have a  comparison, right?

Daniel: Oh, absolutely. Like, so I had those ideas like the second I finished the 50th state, or even beforehand, really, but like, similar to what I said beforehand. But the original goal was just to hit all 50. And I don’t know necessarily that I would do the same intense traveling at that kind of breakneck speed that I did beforehand. But, you know, I definitely have plans to try ice cream all over the world, because throughout this whole journey, like other people will reach out to me like, “hey, yeah, I stumbled across, you know, your social media or something like that from a picture of ice cream that you took. And I was like, we have good ice cream, or, you know, gelato or custard or whatever, in like all these other different countries.” So I have invitations from India, to Australia, to Japan to you know, England and beyond, to try all these different ice cream. So the list is always growing.

Katty: Wow, fantastic. Yeah, I’m originally from Iran. And we have some really good Persian ice cream here in LA. I don’t know if you’ve tried it or not. But I’ll send you a couple links of some places to go.

Daniel: Oh, my gosh, I mean, specifically, in Los Angeles, you know, Sapphire and Rose ice cream I love.

Katty: Yes. that’s the one.

Daniel: Yes. You know, I used to live a couple of blocks from that ice cream shop. So I’ve been there a handful of times.

Katty: Good, good, good. Good. Yeah. They make it certainly makes it very unique. For me, obviously, it reminds me of my childhood.  

Daniel: Absolutely. And, you know, there’s, I mean, I do like this the sharing of cultures too, you know, you can find it. It’s not just in Los Angeles, where is the only place you can Persian ice cream, but, you know, just this idea of a different take on it. And that’s something that I think should be celebrated also, as far as, like, pushing the boundaries and not just staying within the comfort zone of you know, your chocolate, vanilla strawberry.

Katty: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. For sure. And then again here, in LA, we have such a variety of Mexican ice creams, which are absolutely delicious.

Daniel: Absolutely. I was just gonna say like, it’s surprisingly, where you think, like, such a vibrant, you know, Latino population, Southern California. And then also, like, I’m thinking about, like, other Latino populations around the country, like Miami, Florida has, you know, a lot of good Cuban ice creams, and, you know, also like some inspiration from, like, Latin American like South America to like with some of their guava with this type of like, almost like a biscuit cookie. They’re called Maria cookies, but it’s kind of like a biscuit cookie. But it’s huge in those areas. And when it was brought to Miami, like it became the number one seller of, at this one ice cream shop in Miami. So, it’s crazy how that it’s literally, you know, like, exporting flavors to other areas and kind of expand the horizon. And then they perform really well, which is always, like, exciting to see.

Katty: Ice cream, is at the intersection of cultures and how it brings it all together.

Daniel: Absolutely, that that is a great way to phrase it. Just because in my personal experience, I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t like ice cream. I mean, I think even people that are lactose intolerant, they like the idea of ice cream, and they’re just maybe a little sad that it doesn’t agree with them, in their digestive tract.

Katty: Yeah. Or they have lactate pills to take so they can have ice cream.

Daniel: Yeah, they will suffer through it.

Katty: Yeah, there you go. So, I know that part of this journey that you’ve taken, because I know that you have an idea to write a book, it’s really about the people and the cultures that you came into contact with. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Daniel: Absolutely. So when I first started the journey, you know, I had a fixed budget set aside for all my room board, ice cream, travel expenses, what have you. And then while traveling, I found out about this platform called Couchsurfing, where literally, it’s an online community, you know, there’s an app for it, and then you can pretty much search within a city and see if someone might be willing to let you sleep on the couch for free. And it’s, it’s an amazing thing, and it’s not just about you know, getting a free place to stay. It’s you know, about pretty much exactly what we were talking about, as far as that exchange of cultures and ideas and, you know, stories and just sharing moments with other people. And it’s something that I didn’t think of at all at the onset. But similarly, you know, when you kind of keep an open mind, there was like a seed that was planted, and that bloomed into something incredible. And just the idea of when I started, you know, just Couchsurfing staying with all these people, I try to learn, you know, things from their perspective, and it was just to say, life change, it would be an understatement, you know? Oh, absolutely, you know, it as far as I think, one, you know, your empathy just goes through the roof, because you realize, you know, we’re all people, we kind of going outside your bubble comfort zone, you can take on new perspectives, you can learn, you can grow. There are so many different things that, you know, so many different by-products that come up from these types of travel stories and experiences. And so much so that, you know, like, there were there were times when you know, I would I try to talk about, like all the things that I learned along the way, sometimes there are, you know, I think there might be some more overarching things in terms of like hope of humanity, or, you know, like some other really big lofty ideals. And then sometimes, it’s just a really cool story of how he’d know like, someone that they– So one guy, he literally, Forrest Gump’d it and ran from Los Angeles to Miami, in like, 100 days, like, so that’s like, over a marathon a day, pretty much. And so he just has a really cool story. And, you know, so I stayed with him and, and I learned about all the crazy things he’s doing. And he’s just a really interesting character. So yeah. So that’s kind of, I’d say, some of their stories, and maybe how sometimes how they’ve changed my perspective on things is kind of what the book is trying to be about.

Katty: But how amazing, it’s almost serendipity here where you’re doing a 50 states pursuit, and then you meet someone who’s doing their own 50 state pursuit of something different. There you have that common denominator.

Daniel: Absolutely. It is interesting, too, when you just because I mean, within the 50 states, but just the city. So basically, when they’re doing their own 50 standard ventures like for which are the cities that are overlapping? What are the ones that you know, may have a specialty in one area, but may not as much in another? So it’s definitely interesting, and then we talked about, like, I don’t know, sometimes in Couchsurfing at least, how, if there’s a chance, “hey, we happened to have stayed and slept on the same couch pretty much, just by pure coincidence. And yeah. So, then there are those kinds of moments to that always just kind of fun or coincidences, I guess?

Katty: Yeah. So I know that you are very strategic, and you know, in your professional life, an account manager, and you look at data and all of that. Did you? Did you take that approach into deciding which whose couch you were going to be staying at?

Daniel: Yes, and less than yes. I mean, so I would say, it’s not as much data more about just research in general. So basically, everyone on Couchsurfing, they fill out a profile, they talk about themselves, they have to, you know, in terms of — you try to talk about some of your interests so that you might have like, common denominators things to talk about, what have you. So basically, I would say, I took some of the research approaches that I would do when I was an account manager with clients. And then, you know, tailor messages to like, outreach, like, “Hey, I noticed, you know, we both have the same favorite movie”, what have you. And then, you know, you kind of use that to bridge the gap when doing outreach. It is, in some ways, like sales a little bit. So you know, you can’t just have, you know, it’s not necessarily like an email blast, where you’re getting it all out, I’d say it’s closer to a one on one sales, where you really kind of want to tailor it to them to have the highest success rate. So there is some of that type of account management in as well.

Katty: Very relationship driven.

Daniel: Absolutely. And kind of through this, you know, as you get more experience you like you notice things that might be more effective and picking out as far as things that they’ve had interested in or places they’ve traveled to, or things that you can, like, how interesting that you get a higher response rate from then maybe someone might be slightly more generic.

Katty: Got it. Love it. What has surprised you in this pursuit?

Daniel: I mean, aside from the people, um, I mean, that’s obviously a big one. I would say. I mean, I was surprised a lot. Just because, I mean, in terms of ice cream, like, I was definitely surprised at, like, some of the crazy flavors that people are coming up with around the country. You know, we talked a little bit about Saffire Rose Persian ice cream, you know, that’s not that common. So, I mean, that is, is something certainly more unusual and out there. But also, there’ll be other places like, you know, there’s this place, forget the town, but they were right on the border between New Hampshire and Vermont, and they have like a peanut butter curry ice cream, which is really crazy to think about, but also like, surprisingly delicious, like, it has a nice nutty base, like a little curry kick at the end. So, I mean, or, you know, like, in Portland, Oregon. There was a paring blue cheese ice cream, which is like, really strange to think about, but it ends up tasting like, you know, a pear cheesecake of sorts. And he’s like, “Oh, this is actually pretty good.”

Katty: Right. We have it like on a salad. Right?

Daniel: Right. Yeah, absolutely. I’ll take myself a side of pear ice cream, please. So like, you know, I was surprised in those regards. And then, like I was talking about, like, all the people surprised me and how much I learned there. And, and then I also was surprised at like, how, in some ways, I was able to travel fairly inexpensively, but the other time, there were other things I thought would be inexpensive to travel but ended up costing surprisingly, more than I had anticipated. So, so things just like booking, you know, the romanticized idea of booking a train across the country or something like that. Like, those are like, surprisingly, more expensive than like, renting a car, sometimes like, really? A train ticket is, you know, sometimes, like equal parts as far as like a plane just based on like, the number of stops you do. Or, you know, buses are always the cheapest, but there’s like all these other things to think about.

Katty: Okay, so in my mind, I guess I assumed, incorrectly. I assumed this was a driving trip, but not necessarily. It was a plane, trains, and automobiles trip for you?

Daniel: Absolutely. I mean, I think I took just about every form of transportation. I did take a ferry to an island. So that includes boats as well.

Katty: I guess if you wanted to make it to Alaska, you would’ve needed to somehow.

Daniel: That was a plane. So yeah, that one wasn’t as connected. But there was an island, just off the coast of the states in Washington. So then we went there and had to take a ferry to get there. But the idea of– I would often what I would do is, you know, I would go out on multiple legs, I would say, where I would do a loop of, you know, a handful of states and then maybe like, return to like Los Angeles for like, a week or two, just to like, kind of get my bearings a little bit. Gotta you know, train like that does drain you a little bit when you’re just on the road. Yeah, months on end. So even though it was a full year of traveling there, it was broken up into, like, small sets.

Katty: Yeah, living out of the suitcase, I would imagine after all those months.

Daniel: Yeah, yeah, you could do that for a while. But there is something nice about you know, having a home base of sorts, you know, a nice bed to crash on.

Katty: And did you continue on this adventure on your blog so that others can follow you?

Daniel: Absolutely. Well, so the blog is specifically dedicated just to the ice cream for you. But you know, like I said, I’m really just trying to currently still reach out to like, some people, I stayed with trying to like, put, you know, a fine point on some of the things we talked about, and then hopefully get that into a book, it is definitely not an easy task. I don’t know whether or not I overestimate or underestimate the difficulty of it. But it is, certainly I’m still trying to work through and you know, I do have the discipline and dedication to overcome it. I just don’t know exactly how long it will be.

Katty: Yeah. Got it. But in terms of how you document it along the way, were you just journaling every, every day?

Daniel: Not every day. But you know, definitely when something noteworthy happened, I, you know, always had, whenever I got internet access, I had an ongoing, just online document that just literally has, you know, dozens of scores probably of single typed, single-spaced typed pages, where them notes from interesting things that happened or what have you. And then I have like, actual journals filled with like ice cream notes based on the flavor and like texture, composition, all that kind of stuff.

Katty: And then you came back and started working with an ice cream shop, or was that concurrently? 

Daniel: Yeah, so that was –so I took the year-long journey around all 50 states. And then towards the end of that someone kind of planned the idea, like another seed of an idea in terms of, should you open up your own ice cream shop now that you’ve had all these good things? And I thought that was an interesting idea. Like, maybe I should probably, maybe I’ll do a little research into that. Be very thoughtful in terms of that approach. So really, what I want to do is like, learn, you know, how these the best places that I went to around the country, how do they do it? So I reached out to like, a handful or two of the best ice cream shops I visited, and asked if they would want to take on an apprentice. So there was an ice cream shop up in Maine. That was like, yeah, come on up to Maine like will make ice cream for a season. It’ll be awesome, and I can teach you all about that. So that’s what I did. Then after that, I road tripped back from Los Angeles to Maine to live there for like 6 to 8 months and then learned everything about ice cream making– from running the business, all that good stuff. So, and at the same time, they were benefiting for me in terms of digital marketing and account management and some of those other skills that I had, you know, more previous corporate life. So we were both benefiting from this apprenticeship.

Katty: And then are you thinking of foraying into entrepreneurship with your own ice cream business?

Daniel: That’s a great question, and the answer is no. I am so glad I did this, you know, like data mining apprenticeship to learn about it. And then realize that I don’t necessarily want to open up my own shop. I’m glad I did that, as opposed to having, you know, opening up my own shop and doing the very costly mistake or learning that the hard way. I still love ice cream, I can make some pretty good ice cream now. I have the skills to do it. But as far as you know, open up my own business. There’s like a handful reasons why I came to that conclusion, but I decided against opening up my own.

Katty: Well, you’ll get to do it for the love and the passion of it.

Daniel: Absolutely.

Katty: Good. Good. One final question. I want to kind of bring it back to where you are now in your career and really talk about the concept of discipline. I know, it’s something that you had mentioned earlier when we were talking about innovation and creativity, and you brought it back to how discipline is really where you have focused and that’s really the differentiator for you.

Daniel: Yeah, absolutely, I mean, discipline is so important in that, I mean, there are so many different aspects where the discipline comes involved. One in terms of, even when I was on my journey, like I as much as is a fantastic idea to talk about, you know, all the amazing experiences that I had traveling and eating ice cream, and, you know, doing whatever. I would be lying if I said there weren’t, you know, some tough times. There weren’t some times when I had doubts. But the same time, you know, I, when you kind of trust in the process a little bit. You know, even if you’re having a less than a great day, what have you to continue pushing forward and, you know, having that discipline resolved to kind of go through with what you set out to do. You know, just the idea of just traveling alone for, you know, extended periods of time. Like when I first started out, I didn’t, I mean, I wasn’t a great traveler, you know, I talked about traveling, I hadn’t really done much alone. So then the idea of being alone in a foreign place before I found Couchsurfing, and I had no idea what I was doing. And you know, there are times when you get lonely like is this whole thing going to work out? But you know, persevering through that, like keeping the discipline, and then again, life-changing experience. And then discipline in terms of, you know, career-focused, like, definitely seeing something through to the end, I’d say that, you know, inspiration is well and good. It can provide, you know, momentary energy, but discipline is where you always kind of need to fall back on. And just kind of knowing, forcing yourself even when, you know, it might be a little bit tough. Because then inspiration usually comes again after that, you know, it kind of ebbs and flows. It’s not always just, you know, the creative drive juices pushing everything forward. There is something that should be said, of trusting in the process and pushing through some of the tougher times too.

Katty: Yeah, absolutely. One of my favorite quotes, I actually have it up on my wall. It’s a Stephen Covey, quote, just says “making and keep commitments to yourself”. It is so true. That’s what the discipline comes into play is to not only make them because they sound great but actually keep them.

Daniel: And I love the part where it says to yourself, because you know, sure we don’t want to let others down, but you don’t want to let yourself down too. Yeah, that’s really I think, finding that internal motivation.

Katty: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Daniel, I can’t wait until you get an opportunity to sit down and write Cream of the Couch. I can’t wait to read. It sounds like a fascinating, fascinating journey. And thank you for taking us along.  

Katty: Thank you so much. That was Daniel Zimmerman sharing his story of the pursuit of the perfect ice cream. You can follow his blog, called TheKingofIceCream.com

or follow him on Instagram with @_kingoficecream and learn more about this unforgettable journey that he was on and everything that he learned along the way.

Thank you for tuning into this episode of the Artisan podcast. This podcast is brought to you by Artisan Creative, a staffing and recruitment firm specializing in creative marketing and digital talents. You can find us online at artisancreative.com or via social channels @artistancreative We look forward to connecting.