Rolling in Gelt (left) and Sufganiyot ice cream from Bad Walter's Bootleg Ice Cream.
Rolling in Gelt (left) and Sufganiyot ice cream from Bad Walter's Bootleg Ice Cream.

A pint-size dog inspires Bad Walter’s big-flavor ice cream

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Sydney Arkin spent her entire adult life thinking she wanted to work in advertising. But she started having misgivings about her chosen career. “It just wasn’t as fulfilling as I thought it would be,” she said.

Then at the start of the pandemic she was laid off.

While others were stocking up on toilet paper, she went out and bought 11 pints of ice cream, all at once. And then, worrying about possible shortages of her go-to comfort food, she reasoned, “I’d better learn how to make it myself.”

In a now common story, what began as a pandemic hobby is now a business: Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream.

Why ice cream? It’s the ultimate comfort food.

And why lactose-free ice cream? Because Arkin, 33, has a lot of Jewish friends who are lactose-intolerant. She did it for them.

Walter gets some last licks of Bad Walter's Bootleg Ice Cream, which comes in human and dog flavors.
Walter gets some last licks of Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream, which comes in human and dog flavors.

When she was growing up in Manhattan as a young competitive gymnast, her parents used to bribe her with not one but two ice cream scoops (she says she is both blessed and cursed with a metabolism that can handle it).

“Also, I grew up with a mother who has the worst diet you can imagine,” she said. “We were a household that would have Froot Loops for dinner. Ice cream was perfectly acceptable all the time.” (Froot Loops have a starring role in a couple of Bad Walter’s flavor combos.)

Arkin attended Ramah camps, but during the school year gymnastics won out over Hebrew school. Later, when she was involved in United Synagogue Youth, she felt like she had missed out. So she decided to learn Hebrew in high school and then have a bat mitzvah.

“I really loved it,” she said. “While I’m pretty agnostic, the culture and the traditions are very important to me.”

But back to the other culture that is important to her: ice cream. She began making it in her Oakland kitchen, and then when a friend’s wedding was canceled during the pandemic and six friends celebrated in a backyard, her ice cream got its public debut.

“You should sell this,” was the response from one of the guests, who was a longtime friend. That would be Marc Schechter, founder of Square Pie Guys pizza. When someone who is successful in the food industry tells you such a thing, it behooves you to pay attention.

Bad Walter’s was born — named after her “tiny terrorist” chihuahua, Walter.

Arkin started selling the ice cream out of her house, and it caught on quickly. She makes only one or two flavors at a time. Her trademark is unique flavor combinations that she develops from scratch, often giving them tongue-in-cheek names.

Sydney Arkin making a batch of Bad Walter's Bootleg Ice Cream.
Sydney Arkin making a batch of Bad Walter’s Bootleg Ice Cream.

Mick Jagger is a brown sugar custard with Oreos and salty caramel swirls; Stroll Through Provence is lemon ice cream with blackberry jam swirls and lavender cookie crumble; Breakfast in Bed is retro vanilla custard, cara cara orange custard (with a splash of prosecco) and caramelized corn flakes. Arkin’s most popular flavor to date is Slumber Party, which is Ritz cracker ice cream with thick chocolate fudge swirls, Nutter Butters and Reese’s Pieces.

“It tastes like being 12 years old,” she said. “I didn’t think anyone would be excited about it, but it really works.”

For Hanukkah, she made Rolling in Gelt (chocolate with chocolate-covered potato chips and olive oil) and Sufganiyot, using Donut Savant’s sufganiyot doughnut, jam and a glaze swirl. For Passover, Elijah’s Munchies combined sweet ice cream, matzah crack, macaroons, and wine and berry jam swirl.

Arkin’s advertising background means she has marketing savvy. Each Wednesday she posts the upcoming Bad Walter’s flavor on Instagram with a food-porny shot of an overloaded spoon against a colorful background. Customers put in their orders (the pints, which are $13.50, often sell out in minutes) and then pickup is on Saturdays at her workspace, the Korner Kitchen in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Convenient, it’s not, but the system works for those always on the hunt for the next delicious thing.

“People are more willing to do that here,” she said. “There are so many pop-ups that do this and sell out immediately. I think it might even be part of the fun to be in the know about something new.”

And for people who bring their dogs along when they pick up their orders, Bad Walter’s has a flavor for the pooches, too: peanut butter (served in a 1 oz. cup).

Arkin isn’t sure where she’ll go with Bad Walter’s, but at this point she isn’t thinking about retail or scoop shops. Perhaps an ice cream truck is more her style.

“My favorite part about making ice cream is that it’s fun,” Arkin concluded. “There’s a reason it’s a universal comfort food and that people turn to it equally on vacation and as a reward and after breakups. It just makes everything better.”

A version of this story first appeared on Berkeleyside.com and is republished with permission. 

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."