State of the Union: ice cream makers rub elbows with Michelle Obama

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UCSC alumna Kendra Baker and former UCSC staffer Zachary Davis are guests tonight at the State of the Union address.
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Penny Ice Creamery co-owners Kendra Baker [far left] and Zach Davis [second from right] chat with Michelle Obama [far right] in Washington, DC.
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Kendra Baker stands with her State of the Union event pass.

Updated

The co-owners of the Penny Ice Creamery sat with First Lady Michelle Obama tonight during the State of the Union address – part of a whirlwind Washington, DC adventure for UCSC alumna Kendra Baker and former UCSC staffer Zachary Davis.

The visit was surreal, to say the least, especially when the ice cream impresarios were riding in a motorcade speeding through the city with sirens blaring all around them.

The adventurous ice cream makers, known for their envelope-pushing flavors, opened the Penny Ice Creamery in a former hair salon last summer with help from a quarter-million-dollar loan from the Small Business Administration. Their YouTube “thank you” video, directed at the Obama administration, went viral, and was brought to the attention of Vice President Joe Biden, who personally called them, thanked them for the kind words, and vowed to show up one day to eat an ice cream cone with them in person.

Baker, 31 (Crown '01), a former pastry chef, was a language studies major at UCSC. Davis worked for the UCSC film department as a digital media specialist. Their new and already popular creamery makes small batches of organic ice creams and sorbets out of sustainably and locally grown ingredients, combining new and sometimes surprising flavors. For example, the shop recently featured celery raisin, winter squash, and bitter caramel flavors.

The invitation to Washington was a complete surprise. "Zach was scooping ice cream, we had a line out the door, and I was in the back, cracking eggs, making ice cream," Baker said. When she first received the invitation to fly back east and sit with the First Lady, Baker thought someone was messing with them. "We thought it was a joke," she said. "We didn't get too excited about it until we determined that no one was playing a prank on us, and that it was real."

During a reception at the White House, Baker and Davis had a chance to chat informally with Michelle Obama. "She said she never hears the speech before the president actually gives it because she wants to have an honest reaction and experience it the way everyone experiences it at home," Baker said. "Her biggest worry was whether her dress was going to wrinkle."

When they were talking to her, they thanked her in person and presented her with a scooper with "Penny Ice Creamery" stamped on the side. They also brought a scooper for the Biden family. "We razzed her about the fact that Joe Biden told us that Barack Obama doesn't really like ice cream," Baker said. "Michelle Obama told us that wasn't true -- that he just prefers shaved ice because he's Hawaiian."

Baker and Davis also met President Obama. "I took a moment to look him in the eyes and really thank him for what he did for us," Baker said. "I took it all in. I didn't let the moment slip by."