Natasha Kothari stares at the sign on the door, trying to will it to read "open" instead of "closed."
She's standing 10 feet from the storefront at 4535 West 119th Street, in Leawood, with her boyfriend, Glenn Dunne. She wants to get — needs to get — inside this building. It's full of ice cream. Ice cream by Christopher Elbow, whose second Glacé location is the latest tenant at the One Nineteen shopping center at the intersection of Roe and 119th Street.
"We've been stalking this place," Kothari says. She was here on the first Friday in August, before the sign had been installed out front, just in case it opened early.
Inside, Elbow is making sure that there are enough tasting spoons. His black T-shirt and jeans — his usual uniform — make him stand out from his staff, all clad in white.
He waves in Kothari and Dunne, and they eagerly push through the door. Elbow is behind the counter, comfortable, a little amused. The young couple look at the gleaming Sevel freezer that holds the ice cream. Hovering over the display case, Kothari first asks to sample rosemary caramel. Then she tries lemon verbena. There are plenty of freshly unpacked spoons. This could go on awhile.
She leans her head back slightly, eyes closed, savoring the flavor. When she opens them and looks up, her concentration shifts from the product to who is serving it.
"Are you Christopher Elbow?" she asks.
"Oh, my God, can I shake your hand?"
Ice-cream shop owners aren't supposed to fluster young women. But Elbow is not your average scoop jockey. He's a 37-year-old chocolate maker who, with two ice-cream stores and his confectionery flagship in the Crossroads, has spent the past five years making it safe to utter that dreaded foodie adjective, artisan, in this town. This summer, Glacé was named one of the 25 best ice creameries in the country by Food & Wine magazine. In February, his Chocolate Ale collaboration with Boulevard Brewing caused a mini market panic that saw the limited-release bottles selling on eBay for triple their retail price.
"We thought about how much we normally make," says Steven Pauwels, Boulevard's brewmaster. "We just forgot about Christopher's customers. And, my God, he's got a lot of customers."
Seven hours before Kothari becomes the first Leawood Glacé customer, Elbow waves to another visitor. He's carrying a mop handle outside to a rented Hertz van in the One Nineteen parking lot. Its rear compartment is packed with paper goods, furniture and equipment.
The building inspector has just left, after turning up minor issues — outlet covers that need to be fixed, a bathroom sign missing Braille. The inspector has promised to return later in the day and sign off on the opening if everything is corrected.
Until four months ago, this space was home to Mochi-Yo, a frozen-yogurt shop awash in bright pink and green and lousy with candy toppings — the opposite of Glacé's cool blue and stark-white interior.
"Think you'll have 300 people lined up, like Trader Joe's?" jokes Josh Hoddap, a food and beverage director with Dean & Deluca, which carries Elbow's ice cream and chocolate. An outpost of Trader Joe's opened at One Nineteen in July to a crowd of shoppers mad for frozen Indian entrées and inexpensive cheese.
"No," Elbow says with a laugh. "It won't be like Main Street, where the health inspector was waiting on the fridge to be hooked up."
Main Street is 4960 Main, Elbow's first Glacé location, which opened in May 2010. There, the pans were filled only minutes before the doors swung open to a waiting crowd.