Twin Cities ice cream favorite, Bebe Zito, opens at Woodbury Lakes.
Bebe Zito is bringing a bit of magic to Woodbury.
The ice cream and burger joint—the brainchild of Metro culinary legend Ben Spangler and Gabriella Grant-Spangler (Literally, the logo is an inked, Kewpie-esque version of Spangler.)—has been making waves in the Twin Cities ice cream scene since its first location opened in Minneapolis in 2020.
Ben, a second-generation chef and ice cream connoisseur, worked in Michelin-star restaurants and developed ice cream flavors for Milkjam Creamery and Rustica Cookies and Creamery before taking his talents into his own business alongside his then-fiancée and now-wife, interior architect and brand director Gabriella.
Four years and three Minneapolis locations later, the duo has decided to “[bring] the weird to the suburbs,” Ben says. The Woodbury Lakes location of Bebe Zito focuses on grab-and-go and offers a beer and wine menu with plentiful indoor seating and seasonal outdoor seating. The shop will peddle Bebe Zito’s inspired ice cream flavors alongside smash burgers, chicken sandwiches and baskets. Freezers will be stocked with pints, cakes and take ’n bake cookies—and anything else the pair dreams up. (An online ordering app is in the works.)
“We’re just trying to refigure the formula a little bit, and for us, that’s just really exciting,” Ben says. “We just want to figure out how to take the fun and the magic that we’ve created in the city and … bring it somewhere else.”
Bebe Zito is not your traditional ice cream shop—and that’s the whole point. “We’re kind of reigniting, what I think, is some current version of what McDonald’s birthday parties looked like as a kid,” Gabriella says. Apart from the literal opportunity for birthday parties (The Woodbury location will have a room available for group rentals.), the Bebe Zito look and menu is built on nostalgia and a child-like joy; it’s a melting pot of vintage diner culture and global flavors, created and marketed—via the creative genius of Gabriella—to appeal to a wide range of ages, backgrounds and interests.
“When we first started, our big thing was creating some kind of food experience where we’re using that chef-driven etiquette to create something that is approachable,” Gabriella says.
With a bright, eccentric brand and bold flavors, Bebe Zito seeks to be as appealing to kids and grandparents as it is to the outsiders of the world. “One of the biggest goals … is making people feel magic and making people feel a sense of wonder,” Ben says. “… Being different is what can be really special in life.”
The opening of the Woodbury Lakes location is the pair’s first step into engaging with the east Metro—a step they hope leads to more locations and even more story-inspired ice cream flavors.
“There are a lot easier ways to make money, but you do it because you love it. The pace at which this is going, the reception from the public—there’s so many aspects of this that we’re just really grateful for and really touched to have,” Gabriella says. “In some ways, you hope and dream for these big ideas, but this definitely exceeded expectations, too, and feels even more fulfilling than we were hoping for.”
Telling a Story Through Flavor
Brigadeiro, brûléed flan, guava, gochujang, Thai tea. This is just a peek at the global ingredients behind Bebe Zito’s fantastical ice cream offerings. Each flavor is built on a story, whether of the creators’ or customers’.
“It’s not just the same chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cookie dough that everyone has—which we have, but it all has a very intentional twist on it,” Ben says.
Gabriella’s Brazilian roots are a pillar of the Bebe Zito menu, with flavors inspired and uplifted by her mom’s baking (Brazilian Brigadeiro Chocolate and Dulcineia) and others with quintessential Brazilian flavors, like guava, that are not easily found in Minnesota (Romeu e Julieta). “We’ve had Brazilian families that have literally cried while eating our ice cream because they moved away and haven’t been able to taste things that remind them of home,” Gabriella says. “Those moments are really special.”
While the duo has enjoyed picking what flavors will appear at the Woodbury location, Gabriella says the community will drive the ice cream shop’s momentum. “We want the menu to reflect community,” she says. “That’s kind of what we’re all about, too, is being an ice cream shop that represents the flavors of the people that go to it.”
Q+A with Ben and Gabriella
Which Bebe Zito ice cream flavor do you most identify with and why?
Ben (B): I’m Dat Malt Dough. I like it because it’s cookie dough ice cream, so when you first hear it, you’re like, “Oh, everyone has that.” It sounds pretty simple. But the recipe for the cookie dough took like 20 recipes, and the reason that it has so much detail into it is because the dough is the perfect texture, and it’s really cloying. We took the chocolate chips out, so your teeth would pay more attention to the dough, and, instead, we do a chocolate ganache. So, you have this really sumptuous, salty sweet dough, and then you have this rich dark chocolate to balance it. The reason I like it is it’s outwardly simple and inwardly quite complex.
Gabriella (G): The Romeu e Julieta, which has very quickly become a shop favorite. Growing up, there were a lot of flavor profiles that I had experienced visiting Brazil and seeing family. Having fresh guava is just something that doesn’t exist here … so creating this really rich cream cheese base with guava ripple in it … it’s something that’s really familiar to a lot of Latin communities … And then we had to put that Midwestern American nostalgic twist on it and put a really fun Ritz cracker crumble on it to give it extra salt and crunch and umami … That’s the one
I crave after a long, hard day.
What’s an ingredient you can’t live without?
G: I would say passion fruit … Obviously, it’s a sweet ingredient, but it’s really good in savory, as well. It just gives stuff a really good punch. Oh, or MSG.
B: I specifically like this ingredient in ice cream because it’s really hard to master. It’s in all cooking: butter. But to get it into ice cream is actually very hard because usually it makes things greasy or gritty … when you can pull it off, I think it’s really delicious.
How do you spend a day off?
G: We just like to turn off the noise.
A lot of times we go to Minnehaha Dog Park [in Minneapolis] where it’s off leash with our dog and just turn the noise off for a while. After a while, your brain just gets really swollen from all of the work and all of the processing … That and a good home-cooked meal.
B: Yeah, cooking at home. Especially if I can turn my phone off and just be with the ingredients and make something really nice for Gabby.
G: And pick something up from Coastal Seafood.
B: That’s a perfect day.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
G: You need to take time off and leave, otherwise, how will you know what needs fixing? … And the problems that arise, they’re not problems—they’re just new challenges.
B: Don’t get in your own way—and having the wherewithal to know what that means and how to apply it.
Tell me about a moment you’ll never forget.
G: Easy. Getting married on the front steps [of Bebe Zito’s first location in Uptown], during COVID-19.
B: Everyone was masked up.
G: It was our first day off. We decided either we were going to wait for a time when it made sense to have a wedding or just do it now. Two days before we got married, we decided we were getting married.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
B: Building something special with your best friend.
G: Yeah. And doing something that means something to others.