By Karen Billing
If their reviews on Instagram and Twitter are any indication, The Baked Bear is one sticky-fingered, childhood dream dessert come true. Sweet snapshots of a mound (or two) of their creamy ice cream sandwiched between freshly baked cookies, brownies, waffles or a combination of both have become almost obligatory.
“Get ready to be an addict,” read one post.
The Pacific Beach ice cream sandwich shop, dreamed up by Torrey Pines High School graduates Shane Stanger and Robby Robbins, has become one of San Diego’s favorite treats since opening in May last year.
The custom-built sandwich combinations are endless: Cookies come in white chocolate macadamia nut, peanut butter, red velvet, snicker doodle, funfetti cake or gluten-free chocolate chip and can be paired with scoops of ice cream in flavors such as chocolate, mint chocolate chip, strawberry cheesecake, coffee, butter pecan or mango strawberry sorbet.
There is Instagram evidence that a “double-decker” sandwich exists: five layers deep of chocolate chip cookie, strawberry ice cream, a brownie, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream rounded off with an M&M cookie.
After an “insanely slammed” summer at the beach, Robbins and Stanger are enjoying taking their act on the road. Their ice cream sandwiches are now a special feature at both the Carmel Valley Farmers Market at Canyon Crest Academy on Thursdays and the Solana Beach Farmers Market on Sundays.
Baked Bear founders Robbins and Stanger, both grew up in Del Mar and were 2005 graduates of Torrey Pines High School.
Since meeting in the sixth grade, they stayed friends through high school and college, where Robbins went to the University of Colorado at Boulder and Stanger went to UC Santa Barbara. They even studied abroad together.
Robbins has been around the restaurant business for most of his life as his father, Barry Robbins, owned the Chicago Brothers pizza chain in San Diego with his partner David Levy before they opened Milton’s Restaurant in Del Mar in 1995.
Robbins worked at Milton’s on and off for about six years and it was in the Milton’s bakery where he first toyed with Baked Bear cookie recipes.
Stanger doesn’t have a background in the food industry but graduated with a degree in business economics. He worked for the last four years in the entertainment field before he and Robbins started talking seriously about opening a business in December of 2012.
The pair found their location first, just around the corner from the beach on Mission Boulevard between Garnet and Felspar. At first they envisioned a sandwich shop that whipped up wraps and salads, but the location’s front window with a counter inspired them to think about what they could sell and pass through that open window.
Ice cream sandwiches at the beach seemed a no-brainer.
The Baked Bear does all of its cookie, waffle and brownie baking on site from scratch while its ice cream is from Crystal Creamery. Etienne Yim, the French pastry chef the duo brought on, comes up with all the Baked Bear’s baked goods recipes.
The shop also serves up its ice cream in a cup or cone and cookies by the half dozen or dozen. Sandwiches can be topped with extra sprinkles, waffle bits, almonds or chocolate chips or washed down with milk, chocolate milk or a root beer float.
“Everything happened pretty quickly,” Robbins said, noting they came up with their business plan two weeks before New Year’s, came up with their name on New Year’s Eve and had a soft opening in April. Their grand opening was May 4.
“It was a great response, with the grand opening we had a line out the door and around the corner, it was crazy,” Robbins said.
“We had no idea what to expect. Of course, we had been optimistic that we would be busy,” Stanger said, but noted that it was even bigger than they expected.
The busy summer season helped them refine and perfect their operations. Always freshly baked, cookies are never older than an hour.
“Every summer night we had lines all around the building,” Robbins said of their wild summer.
With summer moving into fall business has settled down some at the beach but they stay busy catering special events. This fall, they provided ice cream sandwich refreshment at both Canyon Crest and Torrey Pines’ homecomings.
“It was wild,” Robbins said. “It was cool to go back to Torrey Pines and there were about 200 kids lined up and no one was dancing.”
Stanger had the same scene at Canyon Crest’s homecoming, “They stood in line the whole night, two hours in line,” he marveled.
“We made 900 sandwiches in under three hours at Torrey Pines,” Robbins said. “Literally, my hand cramped up.”
The huge responses at the high schools made Robbins realize that they would love to put their second location in Carmel Valley. While they are still looking for a North County space, next year The Baked Bear will have a storefront at Petco Park. The Bear had a trial run the last three games of the Padres season last year that went so well they got a permanent spot.
The pair are having fun and enjoying their fast and sweet success.
“I don’t think we necessarily expected this but I don’t think we would’ve been happy if we hadn’t reached this point, we would’ve fought to get to this point,” Stanger said. “We just reached it sooner than we expected.”
The Baked Bear caters to parties and special events with 75 guests or more. They will also do pre-order batches for parties of any size. The Baked Bear is open Monday through Thursday, 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.; and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, call (858) 886-7433 or visit thebakedbear.com.