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Fentanyl users steal ice cream daily, store says. They even have a favorite flavor

A hand holds a cup of chocolate ice cream with sprinkles, and a black spoon sticks out.
A worker holds up a cup of Chocolate Gooey Brownie at Salt & Straw in San Francisco's Hayes Valley on Thursday. The store's manager says drug users have been stealing pints of ice cream from the shop. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

San Francisco fentanyl users have formed a habit of ransacking a “daringly delicious” ice cream shop in Hayes Valley, stealing five to 10 pints every day from the store’s freezer, according to a store manager. 

The Salt & Straw shop on Hayes Street is an Oregon-based ice cream brand that’s known for its eccentric seasonal flavors. But recently, it has found itself increasingly under siege by sugar fiends, store manager Brennan Curtis told The Standard.

Curtis said he encounters ice cream thieves every day, with some swiping five pints at a time, and many of whom are repeat offenders. He said he’s noticed that their favorite flavors are Chocolate Gooey Brownie, followed by Salted, Malted Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. The pints are priced at $12.95 each, which means the store could be losing around $120 worth of product a day due to the thefts. 

“It’s kind of habitual how frequently they steal pints,” Curtis said. “They come in, and they start harassing customers, go straight to the pint freezer and leave.”

An ice cream shop entrance with a red bench outside and a menu board displaying flavors.
The manager of Salt & Straw says fentanyl users steal five to 10 pints of ice cream daily from the Hayes Valley shop. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

In recent weeks, Curtis said he’s started keeping the pints in the backroom in order to clean the front freezer. Since then, there’s been a dramatic drop in incidents.

Still, he sometimes deals with people he assumes are homeless entering his business and harassing customers once they realize the fridge is empty, he said. Just last week, he recounted, a man entered the waffle-cone-scented store and sparked up a cigarette. 

“I've seen it progressively get worse and worse over the years,” Curtis said, referring to the current state of San Francisco’s streets. “I’m at my limit with the community. I’m just burnt out, I think.”

A sign on a freezer door reads "We have pints in the back! Ask a scooper for one :)" reflecting a casual, inviting tone.
A sign informs customers that pints are stored in the back of the Salt & Straw in Hayes Valley on Thursday. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

Ice cream, candy and other sugary items were recently revealed to be a favorite at the city’s illegal night markets, with vendors selling duffel bags gushing with sweet treats faster than dealers can shift fentanyl.

Studies have shown a strong correlation between opioid usage and sugar intake. Many drug users have told The Standard that sugar helps them combat withdrawals. The effects of fentanyl are notoriously shorter than other drugs, causing users to seek a more frequent high in order to avoid excruciating pain. 

Curtis, who said he has family members who’ve struggled with addiction, said he believes these cravings cause much of the theft from his shop. 

He said he often finds remnants of his empty ice cream cartons littered in alleyways across the Hayes Valley neighborhood. And when a thief enters his store, Curtis said, he usually has to console customers or even persuade the more loyal patrons not to chase them down.

A man holds money, and candy for sale in his hands.
A man sells candy at an illegal night market in San Francisco. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

But the crime woes are not unique to the San Francisco branch of Salt & Straw. In Portland, where the company was founded, co-owner Kim Malek threatened to move the business out of state due to safety concerns in 2022, the Oregonian reported.

Curtis said a previous manager took a more brazen approach to stopping the thieves, physically restraining them before they could leave the store. But especially as of late, Curtis said he’s run out of hope and he usually allows thieves to walk away without even calling the police. When asked for details about recent thefts at the shop on Thursday, the San Francisco Police Department told The Standard it would take 10 days to track down the incident data. 

“I try to ask them to stop,” Curtis said. “I tell them, ‘Why do you have to steal the pints?’”

David Sjostedt can be reached at