Visit the [N7] Kream Lab Nitrogen Ice Cream Lounge in Atlanta Today!
An HBCU alumna in Ellenwood, Georgia has found a way to make ice cream better than it already is. As owner of the successful [N7] Kream Lab Nitrogen Ice Cream Lounge, Kelli Bain has attracted customers from far and wide. She uses one special ingredient to help her sweet treats rise above all the competition: liquid nitrogen! Unbeknownst to many, the unusual choice cuts down on freezing times and unnecessary ingredients.
The Tuskegee University graduate’s passion for ice cream took root in Indianapolis, where she learned the tricks of the trade from her grandfather. Affectionately called “Papaw,” the educator and gourmet chef would host sprawling Sunday dinners complete with his signature homemade vanilla ice cream. It’s very likely none of those who enjoyed the Sunday treat knew just how long it took to prepare it. Bain often came over her Papaw’s house to get started on Saturdays because the dessert took 24 hours to freeze. “I would be so excited to see all the things that he put into the pitcher to make the ice cream base, even though it would take so long to freeze,” shared Bain. “Papaw would say ‘Kelli, this is a family recipe passed down from generations, so we have to make sure we get it right.’ We’d add the liquid to the metal insert, put the top on it, add it to the bucket with the ice, then begin the churning. Papaw would say ‘add the ice slowly around the can, then sprinkle the salt evenly over the top of the ice.’ I would reply ‘why,’ and he would say, ‘because that’s the only way to freeze the ice cream.’”
These treasured experiences with her grandfather would soon influence many important stages of Bain’s life. She was so inspired by the ice cream process that she pursued a degree in chemistry at Tuskegee University in Alabama. She considers that to be one of the best decisions she ever made. “While attending Tuskegee, I developed a genuine love for chemistry and all the opportunities that a career in the field could offer,” she said. “During my freshman year, I even discovered the real science behind my Papaw’s homemade ice cream and why we needed to add salt to the ice. I was finally able to answer the “why” to his delicious ice cream – it was chemistry!”
Bain excelled in her studies so much that she earned a full ride to attend graduate school for a Master of Science in Analytical Chemistry. She married a fellow Tuskegee graduate, and moved to Atlanta. Kelli and her husband have four children, and two graduated from HBCUs – one of which being Kameron Bain of Morehouse College. Kelli has had a successful career as a chemistry instructor/lecturer, quality assurance technician and battery materials chemist. However, her purpose has led her to something bigger. “Walking in your purpose and passion rarely lines up with business, at least in the beginning,” said Bain. “I believe that the creator put a gift and/or talent in each of us. That gift or talent should be nurtured and developed accordingly.”
After working with fellow Tuskegee alumnus, NASA scientist, and Super Soaker inventor Lonnie Johnson in 2014, Bain had an “ah ha” moment. She was struck by the idea that now as a chemist, she could put a special spin on her grandfather’s treasured recipe. “I decided that it was time to pass down the tradition of ice cream making, but I needed to make it interesting and fun,” she said. She decided to look further into the cryogenic freezing process, where materials could quickly be frozen to less than -285 fahrenheit. The process can be done using liquid nitrogen. Ultimately, Bain discovered how to cut down her ice cream freezing time from 24 hours to 60-90 seconds. “So, equipped with my grandfather’s homemade ice cream recipe, my children and husband as taste testers, a Dewar purchased on eBay and some nitrogen from Mr. Johnson, [N7] Kream Lab was born,” said Bain. “We took a family tradition and made it a family business.” She was ultimately able to make a healthier and more customizable product. It has no preservatives or emulsifiers and is made-to-order. Her ice cream also doesn’t need eggs, which are often included in ice cream just to hold it all together. Each premium base utilizes high-quality ingredients and can be made with dairy, lactose free, and plant-based options.
Bain and her family started small hosting chemistry demonstrations for local school districts, catered corporate events and sold at local festivals. By 2018, the family opened a small kiosk inside a nearby mall and saw much success. By 2021, the family was finally able to open their first brick and mortar location in the Atlanta suburb of Ellenwood, the community they called home for 18 years. Staying local meant the world to them. Today, one year after the grand opening, [N7] Kream Lab sells flavors like Bubbling’ Brown Sugar, Birthday Cake and Wild Berry Sorbet. “Kelli the Khemist” also includes cool food-grade syringes filled with chocolate or strawberry sauce to each cup!
Bain turned her childhood experiences making ice cream into a successful business, but neither that nor a career in chemistry is her biggest flex. “One of the proudest moments for my career by far is when I got a chance to open my first brick and mortar with my 88-year-old grandfather on Facetime,” she smiled. “Sometimes we don’t get the chance to honor our elders for their hard work, dedication nor the commitment to family while they are living. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the good times spent in my grandparent’s kitchen.”