Sugar Shock: Creative Frisson
Sugar Shock: Creative Frisson

Elise Schempp (right) and Caila Singleton

Months before the Frisson ice cream truck hit the streets of Nashville, owners Elise Schempp and Caila Singleton pored over possible names for their new venture.

“We were so frustrated,” Schempp says. “We spent weeks … ”

“No, months!” Singleton interjects. “Like, months, trying to come up with a name for this truck!”

“[Singleton] was like, ‘I’m just going to look up weird words that nobody says anymore,’ ” Schempp says.

“Frisson” popped up on the screen. “A brief moment of emotional excitement : shudder, thrill,” according to Merriam-Webster.

“You know when you listen to music and you get that feeling?” Schempp says, tingling her fingers down her arms, miming goosebumps. “That’s called frisson. We want people to get that feeling when they eat our ice cream.”

Mission accomplished. It’s the perfect name for a business run by the two founders who initially moved to Nashville hoping to make it in music (Schempp plays keys, and Singleton plays drums), but it’s also an on-point descriptor of how any ice cream lover will feel when first seeing Frisson’s offerings. Because these are not your basic soft-serve cones, bulbous globs of gummy “ice cream” lazily heaped onto a semi-stale cake cone.

Frisson’s creations are Instagram-worthy towers of all-natural, thick and creamy gelato, covered in a deluge of toppings — sprinkles, cookie crumbs, cotton candy, cookie dough, graham cracker, brownie chunks, pretzels, marshmallows, caramel drizzle, peanut butter cups. It’s not unusual to see customers fall into an indecisive, hypnotic trance when coming face to face with their options.

On one hot June afternoon in Elmington Park, a man, while eyeing the menu, appeared overwhelmed — “There’s a lot going on there,” he said to no one in particular as he studied the photos of cones hanging on the side of the truck. Peanut Butter Daze is a tower of vanilla or chocolate gelato (your choice) covered with chunks of Reese’s peanut butter cups and peanut butter and chocolate drizzles; the Salty de Leche is vanilla gelato base covered in crushed pretzels and topped with a caramel drizzle and a pinch of salt; the NashVegas, the most colorful and eye-catching option, is a vanilla cone loaded with rainbow sprinkles and blue and pink cotton candy bits, finished off with two puffs of cotton candy sticking out of the sides like tufts of Krusty the Clown’s hair. And! Yes, there’s more: For extra indulgence, you can get any cone filled with Nutella, peanut butter or marshmallow fluff, so the party doesn’t stop when the gelato is gone.

The overwhelmed man deliberated a bit longer before deciding on one of Frisson’s less intimidating options, a soda float. 

“Amateur,” I thought to myself, stuffing a wad of blue cotton candy into my mouth.

Sugar Shock: Creative Frisson

The NashVegas

But he’s not wrong. Frisson cones are a lot. They’re not for the meek. They’re not for the flawless lifestyle bloggers dressed in all-white sundresses who want to meander through the park on a sunny day while taking hundreds of selfies with a picture-perfect treat. A Frisson cone is a challenge, not a prop. When you order a cone on a hot summer day, you’re bravely signing up for a one-on-one battle with the sun. You must start slurping that cone the instant it hits your hand because that cold, decadent core of creamy gelato — with a higher butterfat content than average soft-serve ice cream — will start melting almost immediately. And that crust of toppings? That glorious layer of everything your heart could ever desire in a dessert? It’ll start to crumble, too, the heat and gravity pulling it into sugar-addled rivers that pool into a soup in the rim of the “The Buddy System®,” a thin, white plastic cone holder that (at least mostly) protects your hands from drips.

If that sounds too intimidating, Frisson will serve any cone as a less messy sundae in a bowl, and they have milkshakes, too. And not everything comes covered in candy — you can order a basic sundae with hot fudge, caramel, strawberry, pineapple or peanut butter (topped with whipped cream and a cherry), and there should be even a couple more options by the end of summer.

“I want to add an affogato, which is a shot of espresso over top of vanilla. I’m working on that now,” says Singleton. “I made one the other day — it was really, really good, so I’m excited about it.”

Coffee, marshmallows, cotton candy: Is there anything they won’t put on a cone? Well, potato chips have yet to work out — they just get soggy and grossly chewy when combined with the gelato — and while Singleton and Schempp are fans of current eye-catching, colorful dessert trends (unicorn cupcakes, rainbow bagels, activated charcoal ice cream cones), they do set limits.

“One of my friends is like, ‘You should put a unicorn horn on the Nash Vegas,’ ” says Schempp. “I was just like, ‘No, I will not.’ ”

In business since April, Frisson’s first few months haven’t been without their bumps. First, the team had to build a custom generator to get enough power to the soft-serve machine on the truck. And the machine itself can be quite finicky.

“Our [gelato] mix is all-natural. A lot of times the batches can vary just a little bit. Sometimes the machine is like, ‘Whoa, this is a little bit different.’ So the consistency will come out different. It’s only the chocolate side — we’re trying to work that out, and I think we finally figured it out.”

Then there was the time the chocolate side of the machine literally blew up.

Sugar Shock: Creative Frisson

Peanut Butter Daze

“We had our truck plugged in at a commissary to keep things running. The truck got really hot or the machine wasn’t cooling, so all that heat built up — when we were starting to take [the soft-serve machine] apart to drain it and clean it, it just blew up,” says Schempp. “I had my back turned and I just hear [Singleton] scream. I turned around, and she’s just covered head to toe.”

“ … in this hot, chocolate mix,” adds Singleton. “I took a hose bath.”

But the biggest hurdle, Singleton and Schempp say, has been a lack of permanent location. They want to eventually open a shop, but in the meantime they’re on the hunt for a regular parking spot, so their truck is easier to find. 

“The thing that we’re finding out is that we have a lot of repeat customers, but it’s hard for them to track us down, which I get, we’re a food truck,” says Schempp. “We’re trying to get a permanent parking spot. We’ll [still] go to events, but we are trying to find some place to make it easier for everybody to find us.” For now, the best way to indulge is to keep track of their weekly schedule announcements via Instagram and Facebook

And when you go, remember to ask for extra napkins before you wander too far from the truck — it can be a very, very messy drive home if you attempt to take on a cone without backup.

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