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5 Food Thoughts: The tasty rise of Salt Lake’s Normal Ice Cream

‘They’ll come in a blizzard’: Chatting with Normal’s founder, Alexa Norlin

SALT LAKE CITY — At this point, the name Normal Ice Cream feels ironic.

It’s hard to find anything run-of-the-mill about the local ice cream truck: It remains stationary (set up inside Trolley Square); it draws huge crowds every weekend — even in the winter — without ever spending money on advertising; and it has flavors like Apple Cider Sorbet, Earl Grey and Kix Cereal Milk.

When you take a bite of Normal, though, those flavors don’t taste as extreme as their names imply. So yeah — abnormal.

“We’re so used to these fake, pungent flavors,” said Alexa Norlin, Normal’s founder. “And I think when you use natural flavors, it’s a little bit harder to get it to be that intense. But I like that about it.”

Norlin sat down with the Deseret News before the truck started a recent evening shift and told us about the past, present and future of one of Salt Lake’s most popular ice cream spots.

1. Why ice cream

A composed cone from Normal Ice Cream.
A composed cone from Normal Ice Cream.
Brent Courtney Photography

Though ice cream now consumes her life, Norlin started her culinary career as a pastry chef. She worked for a few years at HSL Restaurant downtown — a position she said gave her immense creative freedom — before launching Normal Ice Cream in July 2017.

“I do miss plated desserts, but I like focusing on one item and just trying to do it the best I can,” she said. “I’ve been an ice cream fan my whole life. And I think soft serve is ice cream in its natural state. Whenever you spin ice cream and it comes out of the machine, it’s always that texture.”

And hey, Utahns love sugar.

“There’s a large population (here) that doesn’t have a lot of guilty pleasures like the rest of the world,” Norlin added with a laugh. “I just love how much people love ice cream. They’ll come in a blizzard.”

2. How many flavors she’s created

Norlin estimates she’s made around 80 different ice cream flavors over the past two years. Normal first gained a rep for its “composed cones” — elaborate concoctions that include everything from cotton candy to Rice Krispies bars to cake bits. She’s simplified the menu in recent months, focusing more on a small variety of flavors and dips, regularly switching out those flavors to gauge what customers really love. The simplified menu helps Normal serve more customers in a given evening.

“In the beginning, I think I wanted to go all the way weird, and had to pull myself back a little bit,” Norlin explained. “I want to get back to that place; I think I just had to create a name for the brand first.”

3. What’s her favorite flavor?

Beyond her default flavor, vanilla (which she says Normal will always serve), Norlin loves an ice cream bar made of Earl Grey ice cream, a passionfruit dip and Fruity Pebbles — “That’s going to be a forever flavor,” she said.

4. When Normal’s brick-and-mortar store will open

That’ll be sometime this summer. Norlin has had a storefront, off 900 South and 200 East, for some time now, but it’s taken longer to launch than she expected. In the meantime, the 900 South location has been a helpful place for storing food — “We usually order about 50 to 60 gallons of milk a week,” she said — and prepping specialty items (hand-dipped chaco tacos, ice cream sandwiches, etc.). Normal also does wholesale orders for a handful of local restaurants, including Mazza, Lake Effect and Caputo’s Market & Deli. In the coming months, Norlin also hopes to begin selling her products at Harmons Grocery.

Fans of the Trolley Square location needn’t worry, though: Normal’s truck is there to stay. After the 900 South location opens, Norlin likes the idea of either the storefront or the truck focusing on Normal's more unusual ice cream offerings.

“I want to make them different enough that you could essentially go to both places in one day. I’m not trying to compete with myself,” she explained.

5. Where Normal Ice Cream is heading

The short answer is: a lot of places. For Norlin, though, she hopes her ice cream’s future has less to do with her, at least publicly.

“I understand I’m the face of Normal, but I don’t want to be,” she admitted. “I want the product to speak for itself. We live in a world where people like everybody’s stories, and they want to hear why it’s important to the owner or to the creator. But at the same time, I want it to go beyond that. I don’t want it to just be about me. I don’t want people to think that it is, because it never was. I was never alone.”

Alexa Norlin, owner of Normal Ice Cream, poses for a photo by the Normal Ice Cream truck in Trolley Square in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.
Alexa Norlin, owner of Normal Ice Cream, poses for a photo by the Normal Ice Cream truck in Trolley Square in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News