When you think about food businesses, your first thought is likely restaurants and retail stores, but some companies have taken the foodie trend to a whole new level. From the weird (bacon-flavored envelopes) to the inspiring (a food truck that gives back to the community), here are nine unique food and beverage businesses you probably didn't even know existed.
Mix 'n' Match Creamery
If regular ice cream just isn't unique enough for you, Mix 'n' Match Creamery will likely hit the spot. Mix 'n' Match Creamery is an Oregon-based ice cream parlor that serves liquid nitrogen ice cream, and every order is custom, so you can have any flavor you want.
According to the company's website, the liquid nitrogen "freezes everything so fast that ice crystals don't form," making its ice cream extra smooth and creamy. Customers choose a base — premium milk, nonfat sugar-free milk, or vegan coconut milk — then from more than 30 different flavors like caramel, cheesecake, coffee, gingerbread, and mint. From there, customers can choose from dozens of different mix-ins like almonds, bacon, gummy bears, pineapple, sprinkles, cereal and chocolate chips. Mix 'n' Match makes the ice cream right there in front of you, with a blast of liquid nitrogen.
A dining in the dark experience
Opaque, a restaurant in California, promises to put a whole new spin on your dinner plans. How? By letting you dine in the dark. And yes, it's exactly what it sounds like—you eat your meal in a pitch black dining room. But don't worry, you do get to look at the menu first.
When you arrive at Opaque, you'll get to look through the menu in a lighted lounge and order your food. The restaurant's staff will then check your coats and bags and lead you to your seat in the dark. According to the restaurant's website, Opaque's wait staff is made up of blind and visually impaired individuals who have been specially trained to serve food in the dark.
Dining in the dark may seem like a strange concept, but according to Opaque's website, it's all about having a more in depth sensory experience with your food. And, the dining trend is all the rage in European cities like Berlin, Paris and Vienna. Opaque has multiple locations in California, with restaurants in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
A food truck franchise with a cause
The food truck trend is nothing new at this point — it's not uncommon in major cities to see long lines of eager customers waiting outside on their lunch breaks at the nearest taco truck, for example. But Drive Change, a hybrid profit/nonprofit organization, is taking food trucks to the next level by using them to give back to the community.
According to the organization's website, Drive Change is "a social enterprise [that is] building a fleet of trucks that serve delicious, inspired menus with a side of social justice." The organization hires, trains and mentors formerly incarcerated young adults, and the food trucks serve as a form of transitional employment with the ultimate goal of preparing these young people to go back to school or start full-time employment.
The organization currently operates only one food truck, located in New York and called Snowday. It serves Canadian-inspired, maple-syrup-themed foods using ingredients from local New York City and upstate New York farms. Drive Change plans to open more food trucks in the future, and each truck "employs and empowers 24 young people per year." All food truck sales go back into the organization's re-entry program to help more former inmates get on the right track.
The world's first pizza museum and pizzeria
Who doesn't love a good slice of pizza? Whether it's Chicago style or New York style, white or red, plain or covered in every topping imaginable, pizza is the one food that just about everyone can agree on.
Pizza Brain, located in Philadelphia, isn't just an artisan pizza restaurant with a delicious menu — though it is that: Their "Forbes Waggensense" pie, a red pie with fresh crushed tomato sauce, fresh basil, smoked pepperoni and mozzarella, fontina and grana padano cheeses, was recently named one of the 15 best pizzas in America by NYLON magazine. What makes the business unique is that it's also the world's first pizza museum and holds the Guinness World Record for the largest pizza-memorabilia collection. Basically, it's a must-visit for pizza fanatics everywhere.
And a bonus for those pizza lovers with dietary restrictions: Pizza Brain is vegan-friendly, too. [See Related Story: 13 Cool Vegan-Friendly Businesses That Inspire ]
A grow-your-own-mushroom kit
Back to the Roots has quite a unique backstory. It was started by two college students who were inspired by something they learned in a class: You can grow mushrooms using recycled coffee grounds. Co-founders Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez wrote of their experience, "After watching hours of how-to videos and turning our fraternity kitchen into a big science experiment, we eventually decided to give up our corporate job offers to instead become full-time mushroom farmers."
In an effort to get people more connected with their food, Back to the Roots created an easy, 10-day grow-your-own organic-mushroom kit. Their organic mushroom farm comes in a small box (the mushrooms grow right out of the box) and simply requires watering twice a day.
The company also sells a "garden in a can" product that makes growing organic herbs at home even easier, a self-sufficient water-garden aquarium (the fish feed the plants and the plants keep the water clean), and ready-to-eat organic cereals.
A professional cheese-sculptor
Do you love cheese? Bet you don't like it as much as Sarah "The Cheese Lady" Kaufmann, who makes her living as a traveling cheese sculptor.
She creates cheddar-cheese carvings for grocery stores, sporting events, festivals, photo shoots, and any other business or event that needs a giant hunk of cheese. Kaufmann has carved everything from a scene of the first moon landing to the Chicago skyline.
Though she makes most of her money carving cheese, Kaufmann also hosts seminars, where she informs audiences about the art and traditions of cheese making.
A mail-order wine-tasting service
Want a little wine to go with that cheese sculpture? If you still haven't found your favorite go-to bottle, Tasting Room can help.
Tasting Room is a wine club subscription, but unlike similar services that send you whichever bottles they want, this service allows you to taste various wines to find the ones you like before you buy, so that you only get shipments of wine you know you'll enjoy.
How does it work? When you sign up, you'll receive a tasting kit complete with six different wines in special mini bottles. Simply log in to your Tasting Room account and follow the instructions; the site will generate a "wine profile" for you that tells you more about the types of wine you like, such as where they come from and what foods pair well with them. After that, you'll receive shipments of wines you like (and if you get one you hate, just tell them and they'll replace it or give you a refund).
A business devoted to bacon
J&D's Foods makes a huge variety of edible products — mayonnaise, popcorn, croutons — and all of these products have one thing in common: They taste like bacon.
Founded in 2007, J&D's was started by two friends whose mutual love of bacon led them to the logical conclusion that everything in life should taste like this savory meat product.
They started by creating a bacon-flavored salt that could be added to nearly any food to lend it that distinct, cured-meat flavor. Since then, J&D's has expanded its offerings to include much weirder products, such as bacon-flavored lip balm and sunscreen and, of course, its highly popular Mmmvelopes (that's right: bacon-flavored envelopes) though they are currently out of production.
A 'sympathy food' delivery service
What do you give to those who have recently lost a loved one? You're probably thinking flowers. But although flowers are pretty, they're ultimately useless to mourners. This is why David Storke, a former funeral director from Virginia, founded MealGifts (formerly known as Sympathy Food).
Storke's company delivers family-style meals to grievers all over the United States. So, if you want to send a little comfort food to someone far away, there's no need to cook and ship your famous lasagna. Whether it's a full pot roast or some vegetable stir-fry, MealGifts delivers all the goodness of a home-cooked meal without requiring any of the home cooking.
Business News Daily contributor Elizabeth Palermo also contributed to this story.