December 2, 2022

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Welcome to the Food

Houston ice cream business sells out junk food flavors in seconds

Josh DeLeon makes about 400 pints of ice cream a week. His customer base is 4,000.

So when I asked him if Underground Creamery was ready to open its own store, he didn’t see any reason for it: “When you sell out in 20 seconds every time, why do something else?”

Word of mouth

DeLeon’s mom was a teacher in the Philippines. When she got a job offer from Houston ISD in 2000, she took a then 10-year-old DeLeon and the entire family over to the U.S.

“A lot of our family and friends here right now are also teachers,” he said. “They’re in the same batch.”

DeLeon later went to the University of Houston where he got a mechanical engineering degree, and a stint in competitive weightlifting. He started his Instagram Eats Gone Wild soon after finding his vice while powerlifting: Junk food. Eventually those cravings turned toward ice cream, and he began reviewing different varieties online.

“There’s a point where you have hundreds of pints, you kind of just want to make it yourself,” he said. “I kind of made my own dream flavors and shared it on Eats Gone Wild.”

At first, DeLeon made his ice cream at his apartment and would sell it to friends and family. Word got around, however, and “friends and family” became Insta groupies and ice cream enthusiasts.

Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, puts hand-written labels for the Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream he is making Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he's making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, puts hand-written labels for the Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream he is making Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he’s making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Yi-Chin Lee/Staff photographer

Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, shows the miso caramel he made for the Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he's making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, shows the miso caramel he made for the Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he’s making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Yi-Chin Lee/Staff photographer

Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, shows the miso caramel he made for the Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston.

“I had a Google doc where I would post my inventory of what I made. It would be blank throughout the week but I would update it. Once I updated it, people would hit me up on Instagram and whoever would message me first would get it.”

Texas Cottage Law is pretty clear about what kinds of foods you can make and sell — and ice cream is not on the list. But DeLeon had to start somewhere, so everything was kept on the “down low” for a while.

He didn’t realize how big his ice cream venture had gotten until he did a pop-up in Sugar Land. 

“When you’re in your Insta bubble, you don’t know how many people want to try your stuff,” he said. “There was a line wrapped around the building.”

Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, takes a photograph of a pint of Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream for the week’s menu Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he's making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, takes a photograph of a pint of Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream for the week’s menu Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he’s making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.Yi-Chin Lee/Staff photographer

But the second pop-up was when the health department came knocking.

“Anyone can file a complaint to the health department. I guess I pissed someone off when they did.”

Soon after, DeLeon incorporated and formed Underground Creamery. Now needing a place to properly make ice cream, he scored a shared kitchen space with Tatemó at the former Black Labrador off Montrose Boulevard.

Ice cream for some — not all

Underground has now teamed with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies on a shared space in the Heights. Customers who are quick enough to preorder a pint when DeLeon posts on social media can pick it up from a drive-thru window.

DeLeon says his junk food vice in college has translated into ice creams that are pretty relatable to his customers. One of his popular pints was a peanut butter ice cream with chocolate-covered potato chips and marshmallow fluff. He even reinvented a Little Debbie cream pie flavor.

Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, prepares a batch of banana ice cream at the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he's making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000.
Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, prepares a batch of banana ice cream at the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he’s making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000.
Yi-Chin Lee/Staff photographer

Packaged Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream from Underground Creamery are photographed Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. Owner Josh De Leon, 31, started making ice cream in 2018.Today, he's making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Packaged Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream from Underground Creamery are photographed Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. Owner Josh De Leon, 31, started making ice cream in 2018.Today, he’s making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Yi-Chin Lee/Staff photographer

Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, packages Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he's making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, packages Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he’s making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Yi-Chin Lee/Staff photographer

Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, prepares a batch of banana ice cream Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he's making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, prepares a batch of banana ice cream Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston. De Leon started making ice cream in 2018. Today, he’s making 400 pints for a customer base of 4,000 from the kitchen he shares with Pudgy’s Fine Cookies.
Yi-Chin Lee/Staff photographer

Underground Creamery owner Josh De Leon, 31, packages Miso Banana Brownie Caramel ice cream Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Houston.

DeLeon quit his job as a Southwest Airlines ramp agent in October, so Underground Creamery is his full-time gig. While he is looking forward to the company’s future, he’s also hesitant about the quality dropping if production increases.