A Eugene treat that’s fun to eat: Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Ice Cream
Story by Kasandra Easley
Photos by Chris Parker
Larry Kaplowitz’s brown eyes dance with delight as he reflects on his reputable career: making ice cream. With a toothy grin, he says, “It’s a simple, clean experience.”
His passion for simplicity, health, and delicious tastes are wrapped into familiar pints of cold, creamy ice cream — a success he shares with Luna Marcus, his longtime partner in both business and affection.
Larry, an approachable man with an illuminating smile, and Luna, an elegant woman with long dark brown curls, began making Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss with the intention of creating a healthier alternative to the typical creamladen dessert loaded with processed sugar and saturated fat. Made with fair trade ingredients, Luna and Larry’s blissful confection is a certified organic treat that is soy, gluten, and dairy free.
The couple has always shared an interest in both natural foods and cooking for each other. After their meals, they occasionally ate sweet, frozen treats, but choices for these health-conscious consumers were limited. “[We] weren’t eating dairy for lots of reasons — health reasons, ethical reasons,” Larry says. “It felt like all the non-dairy ice creams on the market were terrible and made us feel ill.” He says that headaches and congestion were common side effects he encountered after savoring just one bowl of conventional ice cream.
One day while shopping at Goodwill, Larry stumbled upon an ice cream maker priced at just a $1.50. As he brought it home, he thought, ‘Surely we can make something out of this that will be good and we can eat without making us feel sick.’
A substitute for milk and cream, Luna and Larry’s ice cream uses a base of coconut milk and agave syrup; a plant extract known as a wholesome alternative to artificial sweeteners. Miriam Mazure- Mitchell, a nutritionist and allergist in Eugene, says there are definite benefits to using coconut.
“Coconut contains good fat. It’s monounsaturated fat, similar to olive.” Monounsaturated fats contain one double-bond in the fatty acid chain and are believed to lower total cholesterol levels. Mazure-Mitchell also says that coconut contains medium chain triglycerides, which “nourish intestinal cells” and are easy to digest.
Using ingredients from their cupboards, Luna and Larry began concocting recipes. “We started out making it in our kitchen, hand-packing it into pints and having tasting parties at our house,” Larry says. Inviting over everyone they knew, their quaint old home in Eugene’s eccentric Whiteaker district become routinely crowded with people eager to try the newest flavor.
At the tasting parties, neighbors who owned local shops approached Luna and Larry about selling their delectable treat. The couple then expanded their business to a friend’s trailer and they soon began making tubs to be scooped out at Sweet Life Patisserie and Red Barn Natural Grocery. Sweet Life, a dessert shop featuring specialized treats baked daily, and Red Barn Natural Grocery, a grocery store dedicated to selling whole, natural foods, proved to be the first steps for the couple in marketing their new brand of bliss under the company’s new name, Bliss Unlimited, LLC.
After a few weeks of selling homemade tubs to Red Barn, the store’s owner suggested making pints, which would allow customers to enjoy the dessert from their freezers at home. Luna and Larry then got to work, designing a package and collaborating with a Department of Agriculture inspector to get necessary business permits. The hand-packed pints became a common find on store shelves throughout Eugene.
“We had a little trailer, and we were in there about ten hours a day initially. It was very slow — the machine we had would only make about seven pints per batch. It was about a half an hour to make seven pints,” Larry recalls.
Making such small batches, Luna and Larry were able to make eccentric flavors like Wild Lavender Blueberry. “There were over forty flavors,” Luna says, thinking back on the period when each batch was an opportunity to be creative.
As a healthy ice cream alternative with many rare flavors, Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss grew an expansive following in various stores in the Eugene area. With the increasing popularity, the operations became too large for the simple trailer. Scaling up again, the couple left the trailer and rented a large warehouse in the Whiteaker neighborhood that could fit bigger, more efficient equipment.
Yet after only a year and a half, the demand had increased threefold and Luna and Larry desperately needed to find an even larger production facility.
After much thought, the duo decided to move their production site out to Lochmead Farms in Junction City, Oregon. Lochmead Farms, an independent supplier of milk and ice cream to many stores throughout the Pacific Northwest, also shares facilities with non-dairy companies. Luna and Larry were impressed with the venue’s amenities that surpassed the previous factory.
“The quality [of the product] actually increased when we started making it there,” Larry says. “The whole trick with ice cream and getting a creamy texture is the faster you can freeze it, the creamier it will be.”
The move to Lochmead has paid off, and the company stills grows at an incredible rate. Last year, roughly one million pints of Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss were produced. This year, the company hopes to double that quantity in a forty-three week production schedule.
Throughout the company’s growth, communication has been an important value, according to Jaya Lakshmi, the first employee and current director of marketing and events. Kiley Gwynn, who has worked for Bliss Unlimited since last March, says, “I don’t think of it as work … it’s something bigger than a job.”
While Gwynn’s current favorite is Naked Almond Fudge and Lakshmi has found a new appreciation for the timeless Vanilla Island, pints also come in eight other flavors: Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cappuccino, Naked Coconut, Pineapple Coconut, Mint Galactica, Cherry Amaretto, and Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge. Ice cream bars come in Naked Coconut and Dark Chocolate flavors. Across the nation, stores continue to add the innovative twists on classic flavors to their shelves.
It’s an appealing treat for allergists like Mazure- Mitchell who recommends since it’s gluten and dairyfree. “I love Coconut Bliss,” she says. She points out that this product is particularly helpful to people who are lactose intolerant.
Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss appeals to a wide demographic of people, making it a popular treat that has sprouted up in local and nation-wide natural food stores. In the United States there’s a soft spot for ice cream right next to apple pie and baseball. And as winter gives way to spring, with the sun making its appearance and the temperature slowly beginning to rise, the thought of this cool creamy ice cream alternative proves to be enticing and outshines every expectation.