The ice cream cart is gold. Standing around it, giddy strangers pop glitter-covered cherries into each other’s mouths, order flavors with names like Spoil Me Daddy and Yes Mistress, and take part in a peep show-inspired photo booth experience called Creamery Confessionals. At the center of it all is self-proclaimed “Head Creamstress” Valerie Stunning, a former stripper turned ice cream entrepreneur who is usually outfitted in crystals, leopard print, a crown, or a captain’s hat, and cheering people on as they get in front of the camera and take long, slow licks of charcoal bourbon cherry ice cream.
Launched in May, Paradise City Creamery is the opposite of a whimsical ice cream truck twinkling its way through the suburbs. It is loud, provocative, decadent, and arguably better for the 18-and-over set. The mobile ice cream company features products made from vegan cashew, coconut, or soy cream bases, and can be experienced at various events around Vegas.
The creamery creates small-batches of rotating flavors such as Mint Money Magic (fresh mint with dark chocolate shavings) and Cam-Girl Next Door (cinnamon maple with candied cayenne pecans). There are also cherries dipped in edible glitter, cones accessorized with cotton candy, and — unlike at Dairy Queen — an accompanying website with a cheeky message about content that is “for adult ice cream viewing only.”
There are two versions of the story of how Stunning ended up in Las Vegas creating plant-based ice cream. There’s the short version: She was craving ice cream and couldn’t find anything that was dairy-free, vegan, and sold in a place she actually wanted to hang out in.
“I have all these intolerances, these allergies, so I can never enjoy dessert,” Stunning says. “I’ve always been an ice cream fanatic, so I started to make it myself.”
The first few batches tasted like gritty, frozen mousse. Stunning flushed them down the toilet. After months of testing in the kitchen, flushing many more batches down the toilet and hearing from friends that it just didn’t taste like ice cream or it was missing something, she finally got the ratios of coconut, cashew, and soy cream right.
From there, Paradise City Creamery was born.
“After getting invited to endless house parties only for my ice cream, I was like, it’s time to start charging for this,” Stunning says.
Now here’s the long version. Stunning says that this one little ice cream cart is the culmination of all of the major influences on her life — stripping, burlesque dance, costume design, community organizing, travel, and a lifelong love of vintage erotica — embodied in one little gold ice cream cart.
Born and raised in New York and New Jersey, Stunning did a semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York before she “got bored and wanted to make some real money.” She began stripping and performing burlesque, using her skills from fashion school to design costumes covered in Swarovski crystals. Eventually, she fell in love with a tattoo artist, and they began traveling together, living on the road. She performed. He decorated skin. It was exhilarating, but then exhausting.
“We were like, where do a showgirl and a tattoo artist go to settle down and live?” Stunning says. “Duh. Vegas.”
Before creating Paradise City Creamery, Stunning worked in Las Vegas strip clubs, where she found the community she lacked during the nomadic period of her life.
“Sex work can be isolating,” she says. “The people in your life who love and support you but aren’t sex workers don’t understand why you’re burnt out or why you do the work. It’s hard to explain that, and it’s a conversation you eventually stop wanting to have. When I got to Vegas, that started to really settle in.”
Stunning began to write about it online, sharing advice with those new to the industry and ruminating about the invisibility of sex workers in a hypersexualized city. She also got involved with local groups such as the Sex Worker Alliance of Nevada, an organization devoted to organizing for sex workers’ rights which was born out of the Las Vegas Sex Worker Collective.
“People want to be seen,” she says. “From the community work that I’ve done and as a queer woman who has identified as a sex worker, the places I tend to vibe with the most are those where I see a little bit of myself reflected back at me. And so I want to do that with Paradise City Creamery. I want to invite people to be curious and to learn, to celebrate themselves, to feel indulgent and not judged. And I also want people to feel fucking seen.”
Stunning translated this desire into her ice cream business, where she hires sex workers and members of the LGBTQ community to help out in the kitchen. She hopes to eventually partner with organizations like SWOP Behind Bars to employ formerly incarcerated sex workers.
At one of her recent pop-ups, curious people leaned over the glass on her ice cream cart to see gold glittering cherries, ice cream in pops of bright green and hot pink, and Stunning, inviting them to the show. The spectacle of a Paradise City Creamery event comes straight from strip clubs and burlesque stages — and to Stunning, so does running a business.
“Stripping is first and foremost a sales job,” she says. “It’s a hard sales job that you do in seven-inch plastic shoes while performing naked acrobatics. It’s very similar to being a new business, showing up in a space that you have no connection to and saying, you’re going to come over and taste this.”
Initially, Stunning was told that Paradise City Creamery’s sex worker-inspired flavor names were too risque, that the imagery of dripping cones and eager tongues was too much.
“I think it’s really interesting how fashion designers can be provocative and luxurious but my ice cream can’t be both,” she says. “Which is why I’m going to go harder.”
Her defiance paid off. Starting in January 2020, Paradise City Creamery will have a residency every third Friday at Artifice in the Downtown Las Vegas Arts District. Other pop-up events and festivals, including the Sum of Us Festival in May are also in the works. A brick and mortar location is “on the goals map,” but for now Stunning is happy with the spontaneity of being mobile. It is, after all, a skill she retained from her past as a traveling burlesque dancer and stripper.
Seeing reminders of that world in her present day life always makes Stunning smile — though to be fair, she is one of those people who is always smiling. Since opening Paradise City Creamery, she has experienced an outpouring of love from the sex worker community. Some people have offered their time for free in the kitchen, others have contacted her online from strip clubs in other states and expressed a desire to show up and support her.
“I even had a girl bring her sugar daddy once,” Stunning remembers. “It was such a glorious moment. I was like, I have just reached a new level in my life.”
Naturally, he bought all the ice cream in the cart.