Matthew Cross, MD, dreamed of opening a small artisanal ice cream shop in his hometown of San Antonio.
But opening up a full retail business in addition to being emergency room physician was simply too much.
He put his dream on the back burner and settled for making small batches using the one-quart ice cream maker his wife bought for their first wedding anniversary.
A conversation with a patient’s daughter 10 months ago changed everything. She told Cross her mom, who suffered a stroke, would only eat ice cream. He worried his patient wasn’t getting enough vitamins, nutrients or fiber. He saw a need — and a void.
Getting older adults to eat can be a challenge. They are more susceptible to drug-induced nutrition deficiencies. They can have Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dysphagia or mobility issues that make holding utensils, chewing and swallowing difficult. They can be distracted, refuse or reject food. They need help eating. As many as 85 percent of seniors living in nursing homes nationwide are malnourished and an estimated 30 to 50 percent are underweight, according to a study supported by The Commonwealth Fund.
“I saw a potential to improve even more peoples’ lives,” he says. “Taste is the last sense to go. “Everyone loves feeling like a kid again. Getting a little bit of ice cream on the palete was the driving force behind the whole company.”
The idea for Genesis Frozen Dessert was born.
“Genesis in the Bible essentially means beginning,” he says. “We wanted to create a new beginning or a rebirth of what people were experiencing, whether it be in rehab after surgery and they felt like they’re not themselves.”
Cross headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to learn about dairy manufacturing. Back home, he consulted dieticians and local chefs. Then he got to work. Cross tallied it up, and he made more than 300 test batches before he found a winning recipe.
“I have an 8-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old who are the toughest food critics,” he says. “They are picky. When they finally said, ‘I’ll have another,’ I knew I hit it.”
The frozen dessert — technically not ice cream because it only has 3 percent butter fat — contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 12 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber and prebiotics. All in a three-and-a-half ounce cup.
The frozen dessert is currently available in three flavors: a Madagascar-Indonesian blend vanilla, all-natural Guittard chocolate and mint chocolate chip. There's also a diabetic version with less than one gram of sugar. Cross says additional flavors are in the works, and he wants to expand his offerings to include dairy-free alternatives.
“The driving force was the patient or resident who wouldn’t eat anything,” he says. “I kept the vitamins at a 25 percent recommended value so it could be a treat for everyone, any time of day, any time of night.
“It’s not a medicine or a nutritional supplement that you force down. It’s a dessert that has a healthy component to it.”
Some of his clients, nursing homes and hospitals, have put Genesis in their break or recreational room. Others are using it as for Friday or Saturday ice cream socials. Cross says he initially concocted the product for medical institutions but has found a “big driving force” with consumers, so he’s trying to fill that order, too.
Cross works with a manufacturer in Atlanta. He can ship online orders via FedEx or UPS but is still working to find a national distributor. “Right now, I’m the local distributor,” Cross says. “Distribution is a made-up compartment in my car with insulation and dry ice.”
He distributes the dessert to all the nurses and residents on his shifts because he can’t go back empty handed anymore. One of those nurses was Amber Myers, who has worked with Cross for more than two years.
“He brought it over to my house after I had surgery” she says. “My surgeon promoted Ensure and Boost because of the protein content. To drink one of those or eat some of this was a no-brainer for me. This was one of the only things I could keep down. It really helped my healing process.”
Cross is happy that he can help heal people in a way that includes his love of ice cream. He works on Genesis during the day and takes extra night shifts at the hospital to fund this endeavor.
“I call my ER medicine my night job and ice cream my day job,” he says with a chuckle and a grin.