Chris White has had some vices in his life. There was money. And alcohol. And drugs. Together, the fast-life trifecta kept him working in the drug trade for a huge chunk of adulthood. He liked the pace, the rush. And he was good at it.
When his business partner was arrested and extradited to Australia, White, who had become addicted to the merchandise he was selling, saved himself by being deemed unfit to serve time and instead was shipped to rehab. In he went, and out again, running straight back into the arms of his friends: drugs and booze and cash. They really were his only friends by then, and soon he had hit his rock bottom. “If you’re an addict like me, you immerse yourself in the business and say, ‘I’m not an addict, I’m not like those people on the street on Main and Hastings, I’m not like the guy who’s jabbing needles in his arm, I don’t do that. That’s an addict,’” White says. He talks quick and with animation, as if his thoughts are flowing faster than his mouth can accommodate for. “There’s a little bit of a difference in your mind. But what’s the difference, really? You’re still doing damage, you’re still hurting your family, you’re still not doing anything for society. You’re still helping spread drugs around the world. And that eats you. So then I woke up to that spiritually, that I was dead inside and needed to change.” Back to rehab he went, this time for real, and he came out clean. After starting a successful apparel company that he soon sold, White needed his next vice.
He had always liked ice cream, but for years it had made him feel sick. Finding out he was lactose intolerant put him on the cheery-coloured path he walks today: purveyor of Nice Vice, Canada’s first 100 per cent dairy-free, vegan, all-natural creamery.
Though a creamery without the cream sounds like a funny concept, a few tastes of Nice Vice banana-fudge or coffee flavours will have you smacking your lips in agreement: this ice cream alternative is healthier and better for the environment than anything out of a grocery store freezer aisle, and it tastes pretty good, too. White’s “vice cream” became his saving grace.
He had grown up hearing wild stories from his father about the London “ice cream wars” of the ‘60s, which saw English and Italian ice cream truck drivers battling it out in intense and often violent turf fights. And so, White began operating his business out of a small, brightly-hued ice cream truck, slinging cones at Hawkers Market and other locations around the Lower Mainland (though the original goal, he says, was just to post up on the beach). Demand and interest were high enough over the summer that he decided to open up a brick-and-mortar in Yaletown in February of this year.
Made with a base of sweet potato milk and organic coconut milk, plus sometimes brown rice milk, Nice Vice is thick and creamy like ice cream, and has an authenticity you can taste. Real cocoa; actual strawberries. It can take some getting used to. “The odd time, a parent will come in and say, ‘I’m not trying that, it’s not real,’” he says. “But in fact the opposite is true: there’s nothing artificial about it.” White says he is not trying to be like ice cream, or even compete with it. He isn’t here to be the next Earnest—he’s catering to the seven million lactose intolerant Canadians who can’t eat it. “One girl teared up looking at all the flavours. She said, ‘You mean I get to pick any of those?’ That was a real eye-opener for me because I saw for the first time the emotional connection to something that simple,” White says. “I never thought about that. One woman came in. She was putting salt on her cone and had tears rolling down her face, and I’m like, horrified, ‘Is it that bad? What’s the problem?’ And she said, ‘No, I just want to thank you. I haven’t had an ice cream cone in 13 years.’ She travels to come here. That’s what’s cool. There is a bigger picture to those people.” All of the ice cream is made at the Yaletown “creamery,” which also has The Capilano Tea House all-natural root beer on tap for making a perfect vanilla float. And because he is working with crops, White’s flavours don’t taste the exact same every batch. But he considers that a selling point: a product so natural it is at the mercy of vegetables.
Bringing his journey full-circle, White now employs recovering addicts in his shop; he sees it as a great way for them to start reintegrating back into society. “It’s easy to serve someone who is coming in wanting an ice cream cone, because they’re usually flippin’ happy!” he says with his crooked smile. And certainly, those seeking ice cream are often after something more than the treat itself: they are chasing a memory, a cherished afternoon. “I think it’s got a lot to do with summer for us,” White says of our emotional attachment to ice cream. “It’s symbolized for me that way: it’s those long days of summer when you’re free.”
Update: Nice Vice closed in January 2017.
Taste more from our Dining section.