they stand behind an ice cream display case
Brothers Adar (left) and Saadi Halil at San Francisco Hometown Creamery (Photo/Alix Wall)

There’s Jewish flavor in the ice cream and behind the counter

Growing up in Aptos, each of the four Halil siblings knew that becoming a doctor, lawyer or rabbi would make their mother the most proud. Not surprisingly, ice cream shop owner was not on that list.

But the two youngest have done it anyway, and Mom has come around. When they opened San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery in 2015, Vicki Halil could sometimes be seen in the back, chopping strawberries or doing whatever was needed, taking orders from her youngest son, Saadi.

Located at 1290 Ninth Ave. in the Inner Sunset, the shop has a distinctly Jewish flair. It might not be apparent now, but if you visit during Passover, you are bound to find haroset among its nine flavors, and at Hanukkah, you’ll find a sufganiyot flavor to represent the traditional Israeli jelly doughnuts.

The brothers grew up attending Aptos’ Temple Beth El. While their names are often mistaken as Sephardic, the origin is Arabic. Their father is of Egyptian descent but grew up in Mexico and converted to Judaism to marry their Ashkenazi mother. And their stepfather is Japanese, “so we have a very eclectic family,” said Saadi.

Adar, 31, attended University of San Francisco’s law school, but by the time he finished in 2014, he wasn’t sure he was all that interested in pursuing law. Meanwhile, he’d been working as a personal trainer at a gym on Ninth Avenue, and more than once he thought, “This block really needs an ice cream place.”

“I thought it would be great to build something from scratch, and have that kind of gratification,” Adar said. And he knew that his younger brother would make the ideal business partner.

“He’s the most creative and artistic person,” Adar said, pointing to the murals on the walls that Saadi painted. “Plus he was [already] making incredible ice cream” for family and friends.

Saadi, 27, points to two major influences when it comes to his culinary skills: his mother and his wanderlust. “Our mother is the quintessential Jewish mother, as well as an amazing chef,” he said. “All of my food experience came from starting to cook with her at a very young age.”

He also traveled a lot after college, teaching himself languages and playing music while working in foreign countries.

“Every time I eat or drink, I’m cognizant of the flavors I’m tasting and, if I like it, wondering if I can re-create it and thinking about what I would change about it,” he said.

They knew they wanted their shop to be on Ninth Avenue because it gets a lot of foot traffic, has a high concentration of businesses and leads right into Golden Gate Park. It’s a magnet and a thoroughfare for locals and tourists alike.

But storefronts there don’t become available very often; they looked all over the city before a Japanese noodle house on the block closed and they got their chance.

Saadi started researching the competition in 2015 and couldn’t find any ice cream shop in the city making its own base on-site.

“That’s not how I cook,” Saadi said. “You never start with a [premade] base. You always start from scratch and do everything yourself. [I thought] if we could be the first in the city to do that, we should pursue it.”

The California Department of Food and Agriculture certified Hometown Creamery to do its own in-store pasteurization, a necessary step in making an ice cream base. Saadi is able to make adjustments to the small-batch recipes from the outset, such as adding more eggs to get a richer base.

“Ice cream is a blank canvas,” he said. “It’s one food group that you can make taste like anything.”

The shop carries nine flavors at any given time, with a mix of traditional, like fresh mint chip (steeped with loads of fresh mint, not extract) and Madagascar vanilla, and less standard fare like baklava, where the base is infused with cinnamon and cloves, and then toasted pecans and pieces of phyllo dough are mixed in along with a honey-cardamom orange blossom syrup.

The sufganiyot and haroset flavors are done the same way. The sufganiyot, a cinnamon ice cream with a bit of olive oil, has become a Hanukkah hit. Doughnut pieces are used to flavor the base while it’s churning and then again later, along with a raspberry jam that’s swirled throughout. The haroset (Saadi calls his version “Ashkephardic”) is made with apples and walnuts, along with dried apricots, dates, dried cranberries and a bit of Manischewitz wine, ginger, cardamom and cloves. It was so popular last year that they ran out during Passover and had to make a second batch to last throughout the holiday.

When asked why ice cream, the brothers point to a map in the back of the store, where tourists from over 100 countries have put a pin to mark the place where they’re from.

“It’s universally loved,” said Adar. “It’s not like only women from 18 to 34 love it, everyone from 2 to 102 loves it.”

The Cookie Department, a company founded by Akiva Resnikoff, who grew up in Berkeley and was the subject of this column in August 2014, announced that its products are now kosher, certified by KOF-K. Known for its “fully functional” cookies, including one loaded with espresso, the company can be found throughout the country.

Sababa Hot Pita Bar, the popular Financial District falafel place owned by Israeli American chef Guy Eshel, opened its second location this week. It’s at 554 Commercial St. in San Francisco.

Emily Paster, author of the new book “The Joys of Jewish Preserving,” will be making a few local appearances in connection with her book (list below). The Chicago area-based blogger is also the founder of the Chicago food swap, and blogs at

July 11, 7 p.m., preserving class at Urban Adamah, Berkeley. $5 in advance, $10 at the door. Books for sale.

July 12, 6:30 p.m., at Omnivore Books, S.F.

July 13, 6:30 p.m., four-course dinner at Saul’s Deli, Berkeley. $48; includes book.

July 15, 10:30 a.m., Market to Table Demo with CUESA, Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, S.F. Free! Books for sale from Book Passage.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."