On Valentine’s Day in 2012, Susanna Gorodisher was about to give her husband a box of chocolates, when she made a choice that would change their lives.
She looked at her pre-diabetic husband, Ilya — whose weight kept rising despite exercise — and she turned around and hid the chocolates in a cupboard. Instead of chocolates, her gift that year was an “intervention.”
“She took me off sugar,” Ilya said in a Russian accent that hasn’t disappeared since he came to the U.S. as a teen. “My life became meaningless. I ate meat and salad. … I was craving the three things a man should not live without, which was ice cream, chocolate and beer.”
During his sugar fast, Ilya’s blood pressure went down, and he became healthier. But he wasn’t willing to swear off sweets forever.
“If you think I can live a life of kale, that’s not going to work,” Susanna remembers him saying.
Ilya didn’t like the flavor of sugar-free treats at local grocery stores, and the couple didn’t the appreciate unnatural ingredients in many sugar-free and low-sugar foods. So they decided to make their own no-sugar-added ice cream.
“He told me he couldn’t live his life without ice cream and chocolate,” Susanna said. “I said, ‘Go for it.’”
So Ilya — a full-time, MIT-trained industrial research scientist for more than 30 years — purchased an ice-cream maker on Ebay, and set to work in his free time.
“It was three months of abject failure,” he said. But each batch of ice cream taught him something, and by fall, the trial-and-error process had yielded a combination that worked.
On Election Day in November 2012, Ilya and Susanna hosted a party and served various flavors of their homemade ice cream. Their friends could hardly believe it didn’t have added sugar, and told the couple they should sell it.
“If the stars align and it’s easy,” Susanna said, then she’d do it.
Apparently, the stars did, and LUV Ice Cream was born.
“We found that there’s a huge demand for what we’re doing,” said Susanna, president of LUV. “We are a no-sugar-added, all-natural treat company.”
Now the company makes no-sugar-added and sugar-free ice creams, vegan “Nice Creams” (made with coconut milk), dark chocolates and hard candies.
At first the Gorodishers rented space by the hour in “incubator kitchens.” Within a few years they outgrew the space, and purchased the old Harry’s Rexall Drug building in downtown North St. Paul, in May 2015. By October 2015, they were able to use the space as a commercial kitchen.
At the beginning of June this year, the couple opened an all-natural treats cafe in the building, and celebrated a ribbon cutting and grand opening this week.
“We have people coming from all over the Twin Cities, because we’re the only sugar-free cafe,” Susanna said.
Located at 2587 Seventh Ave. E. in North St. Paul (not far off the Gateway Trail), the cafe is typically open limited hours Tuesday through Saturday, with additional pop-up hours listed on Facebook. In addition to their LUV chocolates, candies, “Nice Creams” and ice creams — with names like “Friend Zoned French Vanilla” and “LUV Potion No. 9” — the cafe serves Twin Cities-roasted coffee from Dogwood and UP Coffee Roasters.
LUV products are also sold in co-ops throughout the Twin Cities (including the River Market in Stillwater), and the company ships bags of its special dry mixes across the country. Recently a Belgian company signed an 18-month contract to sell the company’s hard candies under a private label in the European Union, Susanna said.
As the couple celebrates the grand opening of their cafe, they also have another reason to celebrate — their 30th wedding anniversary. And they don’t need sugar to make it sweet.
They say sugar isn’t even a temptation any longer — that box of chocolates from 2012 still sits untouched in their cupboard.