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‘Creativity Isn’t Copying’ — London Ice Cream Pioneer Hits Out at Unilever

Chin Chin Labs’ owners have accused the consumer goods giant of trying to “rip off” their ideas

Ice cream at Chin Chin Labs, a restaurant in Camden, London Chin Chin Labs/Official

The co-founder of a trailblazing London ice cream parlour Chin Chin Labs has blasted global consumer goods giant Unilever, owner of Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum, Carte d’Or and Wall’s, which he’s accused of making repeated attempts at “copying” his ideas.

In an Instagram story yesterday, Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur, who launched the “nitro-parlour” with wife Nyisha Weber, posted a close-up photo of a sheet of paper covered in handwriting, along with the caption “There’s nothing more satisfying than telling the group from Unilever who came down for ‘inspiration’ to get out of our shop. If you need ideas babes we can offer consultancy. Creativity isn’t copying.”

Chin Chin Labs posted an Instagram story on the Unilever incident yesterday, showing a sheet of handwritten notes
Chin Chin Labs/Instagram

In an email to Eater, Akbari-Kalhur described how he was downstairs in the kitchen of Chin Chin’s Soho Dessert Club when he was alerted to a group of people with clipboards “noting down everything on the menu, trying all of our flavours and filming absolutely everything”.

One of the guys was analysing the ice cream and said, “We need to find out what is in the ice cream base, they keep bringing them up from downstairs”. He then asked a member of staff if they could see the kitchen downstairs!!?! The senior lady in the group made comments like, “tonka bean, that’s a good flavour idea.”

A regular customer noticed that the group’s equipment bore the Unilever logo, and when confronted by Weber they admitted that they worked for the company, and had come to Chin Chin for ‘inspiration’. According to Akbari-Kalhur:

She responded by saying “We are a small company that work very hard to create and carve a niche for ourselves, and it isn’t right that you come here and rip off our ideas, and so we’d like you all to leave” They left with a knowing [sic] that they were in the wrong.

This wasn’t a first for Chin Chin: In January, a group who told Akbari-Kalhur — when confronted — that they were from Ben & Jerry’s came to Soho on what seemed to be a similar mission. Images shared with Eater taken that day show a group taking detailed notes in workbooks pre-printed with Chin Chin’s details and what appears to be the Ben & Jerry’s signature cloudy sky pattern.

A photo taken at Chin Chin Labs’ Soho parlour in January 2018 shows a group filling in what appear to be pre-printed Ben & Jerry’s branded workbooks with information about the ice cream
Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur

Founded in 2010, Chin Chin Labs’ Camden Lock parlour quickly became famous for flash-freezing its custard bases with liquid nitrogen and experimenting with leftfield toppings like truffle crumble and grilled white chocolate. In 2017 Akbari-Kalhur and Weber opened their Soho premises, with an expanded menu of even more attention-grabbing creations, like a “Sticky Toffee Warmie” sundae. They also have a presence at Street Feast, the street food collective. Chin Chin was dubbed “the future of ice cream” by the Observer — but according to Akbari-Kalhur, not all the attention they received benefits them.

I think the real problem with the ice cream market is that the big players brazenly come around and don’t just get inspiration but blatantly copy. It forces us to have to be creative and be ever-changing which is positive but the truth is we rarely see the financial rewards of our creations.

Unilever did not immediately respond to a request for comment.