Ice cream with a twist: Lebanese cheese-maker brings new flavours to old Banana Boat location

A new ice cream parlour is set to open soon at the former Banana Boat location at the corner of Osborne Street and Don Avenue, under new owners and a new name.

Beet ice cream will share space with carefully crafted vanilla at Chaeban Ice Cream

Joseph Chaeban is a second-generation cheese-maker and the owner of a new ice cream store at the corner of Osborne Street and Don Avenue. (Submitted by Joseph Chaeban )

You've had ice cream made with chocolate and strawberries, but have you tried it with rosewater and orchid flowers?

A new ice cream parlour is set to open soon at the old Banana Boat location at the corner of Osborne Street and Don Avenue under new owners and a new name.

It's a familiar idea with some unfamiliar flavours.

As a second-generation cheese-maker, Joseph Chaeban knows a lot about dairy — but he admits he had limited experience making ice cream before he decided to open the new store.

"But I know the science behind it," he said in an interview with CBC's Up to Speed. "When I did decide to start doing ice cream, I said we have to make it with a twist."

Chaeban Ice Cream is set to open in the old Banana Boat location on Osborne Street in mid-December. (Facebook/Kristi Nikkel)

Chaeban used his background in cheese to find ingredients and flavour combinations that might seem strange at first to a North American palate.

But he says any initial reservations melt away once people taste the final product.

"We wanted to do something with beets. People, when I say to them, 'You want to try our beet ice cream?' they look at me and they're like, 'No,'" he said.

Chaeban assures his customers they will not taste what they are expecting. First he roasts the beets in the oven, then he mixes them with sour cream to mellow the flavour and ricotta cheese to give it a satisfying texture. He then finishes it with orange zest and poppy seeds.

The flavours reflect Chaeban's heritage — his parents are Lebanese and his wife is Syrian.

Chaeban Ice Cream's beet and poppy seed ice cream may seem unusual, but it's not what people expect, Joseph Chaeban says. (Facebook/Kristi Nikkel)
Chaeban's banana Nutella ice cream is a little more traditional than some of the other flavours. (Facebook/Kristi Nikkel)
Fans of the mojito might want to try this flavour: mojito mint chocolate. (Facebook/Kristi Nikkel)
He'll offer an Arabic flavour, with ricotta cheese, blossom water, rosewater, pistachios and cashews, as well as orchid flowers, which he says bind the ingredients together and give the ice cream a good texture.

Chaeban said he spent the most time working on his simplest flavour — vanilla.

"I wanted it to be beyond expectation," he said.

He uses pure vanilla beans, cottage cheese and honey.

Chaeban, 35, was born in Germany and moved to Canada in 1988. He eventually settled in Hamilton, Ont., with his wife, Zainab Ali.

He moved to Winnipeg in 2015 after accepting a job at Santorini Dairies, but when Ali's family started coming to Canada as refugees about a year ago, he wanted to do something to help them find work.

At first he thought of starting a Lebanese restaurant, but his friend Darryl Stewart encouraged him to use his experience in dairy. Stewart also told Chaeban about the Banana Boat closing down.

"Then I got like fireworks in my head," Chaeban said. "It all jumped so fast and I go to Darryl, 'Be my partner,' and he said no in the beginning. And I asked him a few times. Finally he said, 'Ok, let's do it.'"

Stewart met Chaeban through the South Osborne Syrian Refugee Initiative, which helped to sponsor Ali's family.

"Eventually I gave in. Just seeing how hard he was working, I'm convinced this is going to be a success," Stewart said. 

"I came to understand how hard-working he was, how smart he was, and what a great sense of humour [he has]. And those are three key ingredients, I think, in being able to be an entrepreneur."

An entrepreneur himself, Stewart has experience starting several other businesses in Winnipeg, including Ibex Payroll and Inclusion System, which makes software for agencies working with people with intellectual disabilities. Stewart also owns the South Osborne Exchange building.

Ali and Stewart are co-owners of Chaeban Ice Cream.

The old Banana Boat building was demolished in 2016, and construction of the new building is nearing completion. Chaeban Ice Cream is expected to open in mid-December.