If a cocktail at a bar isn’t beautifully presented, that
tellsme all I need to know about the place.
To sit down and talk with Kyle Stewart-Franz is to spend some time skimming the surface of his broad range of interests. As a self-trained coder, he currently works as a security developer for a well-known Silicon Valley brand. At home, he dives deeply into experimental DIY projects. Last year he built voice-activated smart shades for his home and an animated E Ink picture frame, reminiscent of the newspapers from the Harry Potter universe. He dreams of opening a restaurant with a killer rooftop bar, but you’ll notice his eyes open the widest when he starts talking about cocktails.
“Drinking a cocktail is about being present and enjoying the moment,” Kyle explains. “If a cocktail at a bar isn’t beautifully presented, that tells me all I need to know about the place.” Kyle’s first venture, the Clear Ice Company, is a testament to his belief in the importance of pure ingredients and aesthetics in cocktails. In a small commercial space off Lincoln Avenue, he uses a simple slow-freezing process to turn distilled water into crystal-clear ice. Then, with a custom drill press and a selection of other tools, he can turn the ice into flawless spheres, shot glasses, or any number of shapes. It’s a small operation, but thanks to his inquisitive nature and knack for self-teaching, he’s quickly learned to scale his output, making large volumes of beautiful ice worthy of a first-rate cocktail.
Kyle was first exposed to clear ice at cocktail bars while living in Chicago, where he says it’s pretty common. After moving to Silicon Valley, he was disappointed to see that even at high-end bars, the trend hadn’t caught on here. He started making clear ice himself at home using a simple technique of freezing water in a cooler and ultimately decided he could turn his passion into a business serving the Bay Area.
Since then, he’s figured out everything about starting a business on his own—from finding commercial real estate to financing. He even built his own walk-in freezer, capable of storing ice at minus twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit. “I like learning, building, and drinking,” he explains, sipping a beer at Hapas Brewing, his neighbor next door to his Clear Ice Company retail space.
Now, with the help of two employees, he’s putting in long hours to keep the business growing. He balances a full-time job in tech with putting in another 40 hours or so per week at Clear Ice, where he oversees ice production and develops new products. Bright red strawberries and fresh sprigs of rosemary hang in the cold water of his freeze tank. Soon, he explains, they’ll be embedded deep inside a crystal-clear block of ice.
Currently, you can pick up some of the Clear Ice Company’s ice at their retail location. He takes orders for events, as well, with a wide range of customizations available. He’s also forging relationships with local bars and restaurants, with the hopes that the next cocktail you get downtown will be chilled by a nearly invisible piece of clear ice, so you can slow down and fully enjoy the moment with a beautiful drink.
As the company grows, there’s no doubt Kyle will keep learning and pushing himself outside of his comfort zone. “I actually hate the cold,” he says, a surprising sentiment from someone who spends hours each day in an industrial freezer. “I get in. I do the work. I get out.”
To Kyle, the beauty of his product at Clear Ice goes beyond its crystalline appearance and into the simplicity. Regular ice is cloudy because of its impurities and bubbles of oxygen or nitrogen introduced while the ice is forming. Clear ice, however, is pure water. “I’m a simple guy,” he says. “Most people would choose the loaf of bread that has just four or five ingredients. Why wouldn’t we do the same with ice?”
The Clear Ice Company
460 Lincoln Avenue, Suite 70
San Jose, CA 95126
Written by Brad Sanzenbacher
Photography by Daniel Garcia
This article originally appeared in Issue 11.0 “Discover”
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