SHEBOYGAN—For creators, there are few things better than being able to do what you love and build a life around it. For LushICE owner Christina Hephner, she gets to live that exact dream.
What started as seeing a really cool drink while working for Vegas on Wheels in Milwaukee has blossomed into one of Sheboygan County's most unique businesses.
"We were working an event and this guy comes to my table with a glass of bourbon, and I was like 'What's in your glass?', and he said ice," she recalled. "I was like there's no way, I've never seen anything so clear. I was completely fascinated."
After learning more about "luxury ice," Hephner opened LushICE in February of 2020.
What is the "luxury ice experience?"
It all starts with the clarity of the ice. Hephner said it takes about two days for each cube to properly freeze and get that glass-like appearance.
"It's kind of like the freezing of a lakeshore," she explained. "If you've ever gone to the lake ice fishing or something, you've probably seen that once you get that top layer of snow off, you can see it's crystal clear down to a certain point.
"The clear process was all trial and error and probably took me about three months to figure out," she said. "It was just straight Googling, watching YouTube and pouring in blood, sweat and tears to figure that out."
From there, Hephner lets her creative juices flow. She plays with molds to make cubes, spheres and spears, adding in decorative elements and flavors.
Not only can you find fully edible floral spheres and custom creations, but Lush also specializes in pre-made drink cubes. Whether you're looking for a hand-crafted Old Fashioned or salted caramel frappe, just throw in the cube and add your liquid for the perfectly blended drink that only gets better as it waters down.
"I've always been a mixologist and bartender, and the worst thing in the world is when you have a packed house and people are coming in ordering Bloody Marys or margaritas, things like that," Hephner said. "So, I just kind of thought outside the box and said why not just make a cube with all the ingredients for the cocktail right in that? All you have to do is add your alcohol, soda or juice and you've got a complete craft cocktail down to the fresh fruit."
The business plan was originally to sell directly to wholesalers and focus on providing products for large events, specifically weddings, packing cubes with custom logos or other designs and creating signature cocktails.
"My only intention was to do weddings at first and working with hotels and major events," Hephner said. "I was just thinking 'What if we put flowers in there and peoples names and stuff?'"
However, with the pandemic putting a halt on major events, Hephner had to pivot her business model to focus on going more direct to consumers.
Building (ice) blocks of the business
"At that point, it wasn't just about the color of the crystal-clear ice anymore," she said. "Over summer, I decided to start doing drinks in the cafe to kind of show people how to use the cubes with their own eyes—that it's easy to do at home.
"Then, I was a little bit afraid of winter because who wants ice during winter? Everyone was calling and asking if we had hot drinks but no, we're an ice company," she continued. "Then I saw hot cocoa bombs, which are a cold type of thing that go into a drink where you pour something onto it to make it flavorful—which is exactly what my ice is."
Over the holiday season, Lush made and sold over 17,000 hot cocoa bombs alone.
It's that type of ingenuity that has gotten LushICE to where it is today and what makes Hephner love what she does.
"I love trying new things, and I feel like I just know what tastes good and things that go together from the mixologist standpoint of it," she explained. "There's literally not been one cube that I froze and tried and went 'Nope, this isn't going to work.'"
You'll have to go all the way out L.A. to find another business doing luxury ice to the degree of Lush. Hephner actually takes a lot of inspiration from the business, Disco Cubes, but most of their products come straight from her own creation.
"I use my creativity in every way possible. I'm always coming up with new stuff," she said. "It's all just up there in my head."
Part of that creativity is also figuring out ways to work with other local businesses to partner on products and also to cross-promote products. Just this month, Lush has partnered with GreenRX to produce CBD-infused cubes and businesses like City Bakery and Vreeke's Bar.
"They'll send people down here to get drink cubes and then go back to Vreeke's and have them put the alcohol in it," she explained.
Or, grab yourself a Lush coffee and head next door to City Bakery for a donut with a gift certificate.
What to get and how to get it
By far, LushICE's best-selling products are the Old Fashioned cubes and mimosa spheres. Hephner's favorite? The peach refresher.
One of the best parts is that you can stop by to pick up the cubes to store in your own home or Hephner can also just throw a cube in a drink or blender to create the perfect to-go refreshment from their cafe.
If you're not able to swing by the 1112 Michigan Avenue storefront in Sheboygan, LushICE does also ship with the help of dry ice. Learn more about shipping availability here.
And yes, you are even able to create your own concoctions for them to freeze by visiting luxurylushice.com or calling the store at 920-287-1504.