5 questions for Ruby Jewel creator Lisa Herlinger

Lisa (left) with her sister, Becky, outside their West End Scoops location on SW 12th in Portland.
What’s it like working with your sister and how do you compete in Portland’s crowded artisan ice cream space?

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Ruby Jewel is celebrating 10 years in business by moving into a new production facility. The brand also has plans for national expansion. The ice cream brand already has three “scoop shops” and is in several grocery stores along the West Coast.

We asked Ruby Jewel’s owner and creator Lisa Herlinger about how she got here and what’s next for the company, which she runs with her sister, Becky. 

1. Describe some of the challenges you encountered growing Ruby Jewel.

Ten years ago, when Ruby Jewel started selling ice cream sandwiches from a cart, we didn’t imagine that we’d be where we are today: opening Spin City, our new 10,000 square-foot production facility. I think the keys to successfully growing Ruby Jewel have been that, while we always look for opportunities, such as funding from New Market Tax Credits, we have made sure our growth is incremental and strategic. This has ensured that when we take an opportunity we are able to take it in a way that leads to success, as we define it. For us, an important part has always been, whether it’s opening a new Scoop Shop, increasing our grocery store presence, or being able to hire quality employees at all levels, to maintain our commitment to handcrafted ice cream and local partners that provide many of our ingredients.

2. How do you compete with a certain ice cream shop known for its long lines and status as a Portland media darling?

I wouldn’t say that any one business defines the Portland ice cream scene. There are no turf wars here! What’s wonderful is all the great attention on the Portland ice cream scene, which highlights all the innovative ways Portland companies are approaching ice cream and the different ways they got started. For example, we got our start in a very Portland way in 2004 by making and selling ice cream sandwiches at the Portland Farmers Market, where we still sell it today. We were the first locally sourced, all-natural ice cream brand in Portland. Since then, we have been growing at an “organic” pace that makes sense for us.

3. What is it like working with your sister?

Not everybody is fortunate enough to get along well enough with a sibling to go into business with her and see her on a daily basis. For me, it’s great to know someone is working as hard as you are and has true passion for working. Who else can you count on to empty a “quickly warming” freezer at 2:00 am with no guilt?

4. What does the future of ice cream hold?

I think the future of ice cream shops is much like what you see in a Ruby Jewel Scoop Shop—small- batch, fun flavors and housemade toppings and cones that highlight local

ingredients and collaborations with producers. With ice cream, there are so many possibilities for experimenting with flavors and ingredients, and we’ve found that customers are also interested in expanding their palates. Ice cream is a great way to interact with the local, sustainable economy and share that with consumers.

5. Do you support increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour?

I think it’s an awesome and necessary step for our society to guarantee that workers can have a living wage. One of the things that we will be able to do with our new facility is offer a living wage to more than 70 employees. I think it’s important to show the people who work for you that you not only value their contributions to your business, you also value them as people who live in and contribute to your community.