The way it all began..

Hello and welcome to the home of the original ‘Ice Cream Diaries’.   What follows are 25 episodes that record for posterity (mostly mine) those first days and months, the ‘gestation period’ I like to call it, and early days of my start-up adventure – Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream, Inc.

Some of the stories are a little hokey and dated and others probably a bit dull, but I hope they still give you a sense of the excitement and fun that was had building the foundation of the ice cream and candy shop you see before you today.   I haven’t had time to add the pics that were deleted when I moved everything from it’s original hosting site.   Perhaps a project for a snowy day in February..

In any event, thanks for dropping in, and I hope you enjoy.

It’s been a great ride so far, and although it’s nice to be able to enjoy the fruits and satisfaction of Mt. Tom’s success today, those were exciting times, and I’m happy I was able to capture a bit of the energy of those days here.

You can also find entry number 26 through last week’s at the Ice Cream Diaries site.

Jim Ingram – owner, engineer turned ice cream maker & chief bottle washer.

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Episode 1 October 7, 2003

October 7, 2003

Hello from my new hometown of Easthampton, Massachusetts.  I thought it might be fun to try to capture and share with my buddies a little bit of my new life as engineer turned ice cream man.  I know writing about myself may seem a bit self-indulgent, and I guess it probably is, but I got beyond that by convincing myself it would be a good way to keep up my writing skills between batches of ice cream.  You may remember last year at about this time reading my Dingo Notes and Kiwi Notes.   Well, unfortunately I’m not now sitting in a cyber café, half-drunk on New Zealand house white, and living out of a big green backpack with its dorky detachable daypack.  Which also means I won’t be sharing stories of exotic tramping adventures on majestic glaciers in New Zealandor dodging venomous snakes (or crazy young British tourists) deep in the Australian bush.   Instead, as you probably already know, I am just about to start an adventure of a much different flavor.  I have just completely the purchase of an ice cream business!   I thought doing an email journal to capture the experience would be fun (and perhaps even functional) for a few reasons.   First, and most importantly, since my new business is in central Massachusetts, nearNorthampton, I am now about 8 exits west on the Mass Pike from most of y’all, and I thought this might be a way to help me keep in touch.   Of course, I hope this will be just one of many ways to do that.  Consider this an open invitation for you to come out and visit me anytime.   Let’s just say I didn’t get a second bedroom for my fish.

The second reason for ‘ice cream diaries’ is so I can record the trials and tribulations and exhilarations of starting my first business – like one of my travel journals I can pull off a dusty bookcase in thirty years and realize how naïve I really was back then.   And for you, I wanted to find a way to share the process, whether you simply enjoy reading about it (hopefully it’ll be at least more enjoyable than work emails and won’t get to sounding like a Christmas card letter) or you are a closet entrepreneur and are curious about what all goes into it.   You can learn about the experience, and I won’t even make you co-sign for my bank loan.

The final reason for IC Diaries is one of my romantic notions with this ice cream venture is that no matter where it takes me, to success and happiness or just another lesson to tell my little brother, it will provide fodder for future writing projects, perhaps that prize-winning screenplay, “Ice Cream Diaries”.  In any event, I hope you enjoy them, and if not, I won’t be at all offended if you send me an email saying “Stop spamming me with your endless ice cream drivel!”   And if this is the only installment you get from me, that probably means it turned out to be much more work than even Dad had warned me about!

Having now set the stage, let me bring you up to date.   If I haven’t seen you in a while, you’re first question probably is, how did you go from supply chain engineer (you probably never really knew what that meant anyway) to ice cream guy?    It’s hard to say exactly, but it all started somewhere along my seventeen months sabbatical (sounds better than unemployed).   In the midst of travel, writing, socializing, moving, and watching reruns of the Gilmore Girls, I decided my calling of engineering was not calling me anymore.   Not even late at night when it was drunk and horny.  So as things went, I finished my travel adventures (rather anticlimactically by going to the Blytheville, Alabama WalMart whereby completing my quest to see all 50 states), wrapped up my little coffee table book project, and next found myself being tossed out of my cool apartment in Charlestown with just 30 days to avoid having to live in an old couch under Storrow Drive.  To keep a dull story short, I decided rather than move to a new apartment and be faced with the likely outcome of having to move again when I got a job, I chose to go home again.   Yep, I’ve living in the folks’ basement for the past few months.  And as ‘unnatural’ as that sounds (credit to my Aunt Alma for that fitting adjective), it synchronicitly (I think I just made that word up) put me again under the same roof as one famous ice cream man, my Dad.  He has been in the ice cream business for 40 years.   So you see, ice cream truly is in my blood.

My Dad, ‘Dave’, created a couple different shops, the 2nd one he sold just a month before I was laid-off back in April of ‘02.  Anyway, so I’m knocking around the folks’ house in Mansfield, picking up old copies of the National Dipper, a magazine made by and for ice cream makers, and I come across an old box of MBA school notes.   In the box is a complete business plan that I wrote back in Entrepreneurial Studies class.   The business I chose, back in 1993 was ‘The Ice Creamery’, one of Dad’s shops.  Hey, you don’t have to hit me over the head three times to get my attention.  From there, I started peppering Dad with ice cream shop questions.   For the first time, he didn’t try to talk me out of it, like when I wanted to put a hot tub in my bedroom back in high school or when I threatened to quit college to become a rapper.  Dad still did his best to talk me out of it by painting a picture of long hours and Johnny Damon-like headaches that come with running your own business, but I could always tell he was secretly hoping he would someday get to relive the glory days of making ice cream.

From there, the search for the perfect location for my ice cream dreams was on.

In the next installment (should you decide to accept), I’ll tell you how I ended up in Easthampton, and give you a taste of the fun and mayhem it took to land my first ice cream gig…and why I am now the Uncle of my nephew’s dreams.  Hint: it has something to do with the fact that my new ice cream shop is also a candy store…

Have a great week, go Sox!

Your bud,

Jim

CSO – Chief Scooping Officer

Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream, Inc.

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Episode 2 October 15, 2003

Hello again.  Time for another exciting episode of that new reality email ‘Ice Cream Diaries’.   I’m just into week three of my small business adventure, and things are moving right along.  I’ve managed to survive my first crisis – running out of candy corn, two weeks before Halloween!   Someone’s head will roll for that one.  No wait, I’m the only head.   Well, that’s not entirely true.  I inherited one employee, Betty, who I’m sure will be a character in a story or two sometime down the road.   She’s nice, very friendly with customers, and knows the difference between ‘Air Heads’ and ‘Fun Dips’ candy.  What more do you need in your candy store staff.  But I jump ahead.  I’ve still got to catch you up.  At the risk of boring you to tears, let me try to bring you up-to-date on all the fun that led up to the actual purchase of Sunrise Sweeties.  So let’s get to it, shall we.

When we ended last time, I had just found the location.  Here’s how the groundwork for the purchase of the business played out.  The couple of months between finding the right location and actually becoming a business owner were definitely hectic.   Before I get to that, I had promised to tell you how I ended up in the quaint little hamlet of Easthampton.   As is usually the case, it’s all about the network.  I came out here to central MA a few months ago to visit an old Lucent buddy of mine, Leslie, at her B&B.   She owns a cool B&B with a full restaurant/bar in Worthington, MA.  (which is for sale by the way). Better than that, she has 2 great golden retrievers (which are not).   So we’re sitting in her backyard one night in late July, drinking red wine around a fire roaring in a big belly chimney, and we get to talking about the old glory days, life, careers, and pondering such questions as which would you rather be, a midget or a dwarf.  Somewhere during that conversation I mention that I’m in the market for an ice cream shop.   Upon which, she tells me about a baker supplier/friend who recently started an ice cream/candy shop but wanted out.   So the next day on my way home, I stopped in to meet Carl the owner/baker and overworked candy-maker.  Sorry about the rhyme, my bad.  He gives me a quick tour.  The place had me at hello.  I just knew it was ‘the one’.  It had that old-fashioned look that exactly matched what I’d imagined.  Hardwood floors, 20 foot high tin ceilings, big windows in the front, soda fountain barstools, the works.  This place was sweet.   (my first, and probably not the last candy store pun.  Get used to it.)  And the price was definitely right.  The only unknown was the location and the town.   I had my Dad meet me up there a few days later to get his professional opinion (I like to call it DD, Dad Diligence).   He liked it.   I went back again with my drinking buddy Mark (you may remember him as my burping Australia travel buddy) to, as he called it, ‘give that puppy a test drive’.   We spent a night on the town to help me determine if it would be a cool place to live.   And to get a feel for the local color and culture.   Everyone we talked with gushed about how much Easthampton, especially downtown, has revived over the past few years.   Sounded like ‘right place, right time’ to me.  And the other good news was the rent was about one decimal point to the left of the Boston area locations I’d scouted.   My gut told me if this ice cream business thing was going to happen, this was the spot.  I made an offer, and with one small counter, my career began its turn down a very different track.

Next began the business prep work.  Carl’s lawyer drafted a P&S, and I found a lawyer to review it.    The only real concern was the non-compete stuff.   Seems he didn’t want me taking business from his bakery (located next door by the way) before it closes at 3 pm every day.  And I needed to be sure he couldn’t sell ice cream or candy in his place.  So if ice cream and Sour Patch Kids are your idea of the perfect lunch, I’ve got you covered.   I never said I was buying a health food store!  Other prep work included creative tasks like choosing a name.  That turned out to be one of the toughest jobs.  For a while it was ‘Father and Sundaes’, then ‘Ingram’s Ice Cream’, then ‘Scoops n’ Sweets’, and even dorkier ones (if you can believe it).   After finally whittling it down to two, Ingram’s and Mt. Tom’s, I poled my expert consulting team of Amy (my marketing pro friend) and Elspeth (my wicked creative sister-in-law) to help me make the craftiest marketing decision.   Mt. Tom’s won.  It sounds less formal, has a good ring to it, offers great logo potential (by the way, I just got the final logo design back from the graphic artist, I included it in the photos if you follow the link below), and will hopefully be accepted by the locals.    Next on tap was getting a bank loan.  I could describe that in painful detail but I won’t bore you more than you already are.   Speaking of boring, it’s amazing how much insurance I have in my life now.  Before taking over the business, I had to get liability insurance (bet you don’t know anyone who’s got insurance for ‘spoilage’), worker’s comp (my insurance buddy corrected me that it’s not ‘workman’s comp’), term life insurance (to cover the bank loan in case I die before it gets paid), and health insurance.   Wow.   And just to round out the boring prep stuff, I also decided to go the corporation route.   I filed my ‘articles of organization’ paperwork and am now president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary of Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream, Inc.   Now I just gotta figure out all these new forms in my new life…1128, 2553, 941…    And I now even have an EIN to call my own.  Are you still awake?  Actually, the whole process of figuring out what I had to do was really interesting and, at times, challenging.    The funner part (sorry about the grammar Mom) has been brainstorming about what Mt. Tom’s will look and feel like.  The signature dish, flavors, candy, creative marketing, etc.   And how to ‘funk up’ the place without losing the cool old-fashioned nostalgic look and feel.   Stay tuned to see how that goes.   And by the way, I am always open to ideas…

Meanwhile, Dad began the search for ice cream making equipment.  On the list (and in the budget) are a batch freezer (the contraption that makes the ice cream), a blast freezer (to ‘fast freeze’ the ice cream after you first make it), a walk-in refrigerator to store the ingredients, a chocolate cooker (I think you can figure out what that does), and a dipping cabinet to hold the ice cream.    With this treasure hunt, Dad was officially brought out of retirement.   He’s taken me to a few vendors to see the prospective equipment.   It’s been cool to see Dad put on his game face and talk ice cream tech lingo with the reps.  I sit next to him and pretended to understand everything by nodding at what I think are the appropriate times and try not to be too obvious as I take notes like ‘ask dad what overrun means’.   On the drive home, I pepper Dad with questions.    I also visited other ice cream shops, taking notes on layout, pricing, etc. and getting ideas for my new place.  I sat with a few owners to get their insights on ice cream.  Slowly, I work my way up the learning curve.

Speaking of learning curve, next week I go to my first ice cream conference.  How wacky is that.  Technically, a lot of what I’m doing is similar to my old career.  Supply Chain stuff – setting up inventory, ordering parts, creating processes.  But instead of talking integrated circuits, lasers, and wavelengths, I’m talking chocolate Gummi bears and raspberry cordials.   And I get ‘The Candy Chronicle’ from the Jelly Belly Candy Company instead of ‘Optical Components Monthly’ from the IEEE.  Today, I’m meeting with Tamara, a local chocolate maker (a chocolatier?) who, like any good salesperson, is bringing samples.  In this case, handmade chocolate covered cherries.  God, I hate those darn vendor meetings!    Anyway, aside from the occasional cash flow anxiety, I’m having a lot of fun with it so far.   Happy to have that first day in retail under my belt.  Starting to get the hang of scooping ice cream and running the cash register.   Construction on the new ice cream kitchen is underway.   After 3 long days with my carpenter Uncle Jim, which included three hours in Home Depot speaking of adventures, the back kitchen is just a few days away from being ready for the equipment.   Shouldn’t be long before the ice cream making can begin.   I’m starting to get to know the regular customers.   A kid (reminded me of that tough kid in ‘Stand by Me’) came in the other day and just sat at the counter.  It took him a few minutes to realize I wouldn’t automatically know he always gets a root beer float.   Like the regular at Joe’s Bar who has a scotch on-the-rocks sitting in front of him before he even gets his coat off.   I think I’m going to like this gig.

Next time I’ll tell you how the ice cream conference in Woodstock, Vt. went and share a few funny stories from my first month behind the counter.

In the meantime, I dropped a few photos into the website below so you can actually see what Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream looks like.

Hope you have (or had) a great weekend.

Go Pats!

Your buddy,

Jim

Episode 3 November 5, 2003

Hello again from the East of Hampton.   Time for another batch of ice cream banter.   Just had my one month anniversary, time flies when you work in a candy store.  I think I left you last time sitting with Rudy, the root beer kid.   Sure enough, he truly is a regular.  Comes in every couple of days.  Always sits at the first barstool.  He’s usually alone, but sometimes he’s with Bennie, the chubby jolly kid with the crew cut.   Bennie’s the mayor, always has the big grin,generally goes for the banana split without the pineapple topping, talks the whole time while Rudy just studies his float like it’s a math problem.   While Bennie and Rudy enjoy their cocktails, let me tell what’s been going on the past couple weeks.   First and foremost, construction on the new ice cream kitchen is nearly completed.  The wall between the front and back rooms has been moved, the tile floor is in, and the non-porous whiteboard is up.   The 3-phase electrical power is installed (that one hurt the wallet a little, need it for the batch freezer, my gift to the old building).  Dad’s located most of the equipment I need.  In fact, the first piece, a walk-in refrigerator, was delivered and assembled today!  The best news there is he was able to score a used batch freezer, saving me a pile of money, (I just saved a bunch of money on my batch freezer.  Sorry Geiko.)  so I am still on-budget (knocking on the hardwood floor right now).   Now we just have to figure out how to get this 600 pound gorilla from one defunct ice cream shop in CT to my place in Easthampton.

Once we get the equipment in place and run the final electrical and water hookups (and one other small detail of getting board of health approval), the ice cream making fun can begin.  The other part of the ice cream making prep work is lining up all the suppliers.   This basically involves finding a good local dairy, a topping, bulk ingredient and cone supplier, and a paper products distributor for the paper bowls and such.  Dad’s been working the network pretty hard these past two weeks (see I told you it was all about the network), and things seem to be falling into place nicely here too.   I had a great opportunity to meet a bunch of suppliers last week.   Yep, I went to my first ice cream conference.   Very cool.   It was held at the Woodstock Inn in Vermont, a beautiful little resort town in the woods.  I remember sleeping through countless conferences during my engineering days at Lucent, but my first NEICRA conference was a completely different experience (NEICRA – New England Ice Cream Restaurant Association of course).  Good people.  Attendees were mostly Mom and Pop (and son) shop owner types, ranging in ages from 20’s to 70’s.  There was a small trade-show floor to peruse between seminars.   Sessions included topics like effective website designs, hiring great employees, good scooping techniques, and marketing ideas for logos, signage, advertising, etc.

Talks were given by professional consultants, not unlike the typical tech seminar, but it just felt different.   I’m not sure if it had something to do with the fact that I paid for the conference myself, or that the examples used and questions asked during the talks related to ice cream, but it was actually interesting, and I didn’t nod off once.  During breaks, I walked around the tradeshow floor and checked out hot fudge suppliers and schmoozed with ice cream cone vendors and dairy owners.   My Dad knows a lot of these people and had already touched base with a number of  them by phone, told them his son would be at the conference.   I felt a little like a rock star.   People were looking for me.   I had just gotten there and was sitting at a table for the first session when these two guys walked by.  I overheard one saying to the other, I gotta find this Jim Ingram.   To their surprise, I looked up and said ‘Hi, I’m Jim Ingram’.   Quite a few people I met knew Dave, my Dad, the original ice cream man and unconfirmed inventor of Rocky Road.   The conference gave me a chance to chat with other shop owners, to quiz them and get ideas on subjects that are important to me now like, is the Zerol #16 the best scoop?   And do you still use 2-Fold pure Vanilla in your blends?

During a break I called back to my shop to see how Betty was doing.   In the middle of the call, I got a flashback of Dad looking for a payphone during some family outing when I was a kid.   And at that moment I realized the transition to taking on Dad-like ice cream shop owner traits was underway.  If I start wearing blue pants every day, I’ll know the metamorphosis is complete.  The conference was well worth it.  I learned a ton and made some good contacts for my own little ice cream network, like my cool new friend Janet who manages an ice cream shop in Sharon, Massachusetts.

One thing I’ve noticed a lot over the past couple months is how many people who have ‘appeared’ in my life to help figure things out.   If you know me, you know I have a penchant for reading those self-improvement type books.  My last read was ‘Excuse me, Your Life is Waiting’, by Lynn Grabhorn.  Her thesis is that it’s not positive thinking that works, it’s positive ‘feeling’.  You create an image in your mind of the ideal experience, life, mate, whatever it is you desire, then attach to it all the feelings you think you’ll get when you have that in your life.  And while you’re at it, stop thinking about what you don’t want (just got a Red Sox playoffs flashback).    This creates positive vibrational energy (according to her thesis) which in turn draws positive things into your life.   Like attracts like.   Back in June, I created a sexy and fun image of owning and operating a successful ice cream business, and voila, things started happening.  With a bit of luck and scoop equity, hopefully the success part with come next Summer.   To recap, simply create an image in your mind of the life and success you want, stop thinking about what you don’t want, start taking action, and just let the universe fill in the gaps.   Just a little ice cream food for thought.  This concludes the philosophizing segment of our show.

Anyway, back to lighter notes, let me now share some random thoughts and experiences from the past couple weeks.   In no particular order, here are some recent entertaining moments (at least they were entertaining to me)…   A little girl came into the shop and picked out a couple pennies from the ‘give a penny, take a penny’ cup on the counter.   Then she holds out her hand and asks me, ‘what can I get for this’.   She goes over to a jar and pulls out the two pieces of candy I told her she could afford, then adds two more.   She gives me four cents, having added two of her own to the ‘take a penny’ donation.   See, visualize what you want and the universe finds a way to help you…    The first guy I met at the conference was the franchising manager from Ben and Jerry’s.   I told him my place was in Easthampton, NY…

Two kids came into the shop and sat down at the barstools.   They didn’t say anything.  They weren’t even looking up at the menu board as if they were trying to decide on a flavor.   I figured they were more regulars and again I didn’t know what their ‘usual’ was.   I finally approached them and asked, ‘what’ll it be today?’.   They said, ‘that’s ok, we don’t want anything.  We’re just playing hide and seek’.   I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out for using my shop as a hiding place…

I had just served a man and his two boys a few ice cream cones, and he was paying for it.   I must have hit a wrong key somewhere on the cash register because when I hit subtotal, it read $285.48.   When my Dad came over to help me try to figure out what I’d done wrong, the customer says to him, ‘Wow, you’ve raised quite the entrepreneur, 285 bucks for 3 ice creams.’ …  As you might guess, business isn’t booming quite yet.  I haven’t advertised or even changed the name on the window (it still says Sunrise Sweeties, which as one of my friends pointed out, seems to suggest a product of a more amorous nature).

So at the end of the day when I’m closing up shop, while I shut the big wooden front door and turn the key, I like to exclaim, ‘They won’t be shutting down the Bailey Savings and Loan today!’  Ok, so I’m easily entertained.   But we’ll just see if you mysteriously get a hankerin’ for an ice cream cone in the middle of watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” this holiday season…  Anyway, looks like I’ve reached my two page limit (I realize the last episode was a bit long, don’t want to get an angry email from your boss), so I’ll say so long for now.

Next time I’ll tell you about the wine tasting gala this weekend (it’s at the gallery next door, they’re going to announce me as the new business on the block), let you know how much closer I am to making my own ice cream, let you in on my starting lineup of flavors, and tell you about my bold experiment of making a ‘beer float’.

Until then, remember, life’s short, eat ice cream.

Have a great weekend,

Jim

Episode 4 November 10, 2003

Hello again.  It’s me again with another gut-growing episode of the Ice Cream Diaries.   Before I close up shop for the Thanksgiving holiday I thought I’d add an entry to the old captain’s log.   We’re dangerously close to getting the new ice cream factory up and running.   Now I just have to find some midgets to work in it.  No wait, that’s a chocolate factory.   But I digress already.   Kitchen hardware now includes a walk-in refrigerator (a ‘walk-in box’ as they call it in the biz.), a chocolate cooker (midgets were optional), a blast freezer, a stainless steel work table, a triple compartment sink, and a batch freezer.   Dad and I had a lot of fun picking up that last item.   Somehow, we were able to roll this 400 pound orangutan onto the back of Dad’s pickup truck, drive it back, and move it into place.   Jim the plumber and his crew spent a day this week hooking everything up (new venting pipe included), and Dan the electrician later ran the power to the new gadgets.  A fresh coat of paint for the new wall and a few other minor adjustments are all that’s left on the punch list, and the kitchen will be ready for that awesomely great guy, the health inspector (some gratuitous brown-nosing just in case I accidentally leave a copy of ICD-4 lying around). We also moved in the new soda fountain.  Right next to the cool, old, all stainless fountain.  Form next to function.    Sherod the sign artist and 60’s throwback is lined up to paint the logo on the front window (after I scrape off the ‘Sunrise Sweeties’ sign, pass the Goo Gone).   Brent, my ace graphic designer, is putting the finishing touches on a fun and funky new business card as well as a t-shirt version of the logo (t-shirts…part of the planned ‘uniform’, not to mention the shameless Christmas gift of choice this year).

Well, that pretty well sums up the major start-up activities of the past few weeks.  It’s exciting to see it starting to come together.

Truffles and trivia…

The wine tasting at the gallery next door to the shop turned out to be both a great time and an awesome marketing opportunity.   There were over 200 people there.   As luck would have it, the woman who owns the gallery is also my landlord.  She gave a quick thank-you speech then introduced me to the crowd.   I had to stand on a milk crate in the middle of the room and give a little pitch for my new business.  So in one 2 minute speech I was transformed from one average Joe who went to a wine tasting alone to the coolest new ice cream guy in town.   It was a who’s-who of the local area in attendance, including the mayor (the real one not the root beer float kid), so it really was a great opportunity to work on the word-of-mouth for Mt. Tom’s.

It’s amazing how many cold calls you get from salespeople.  Super-pages, Yellow Pages, local newspapers, printers, you name it.   As soon as there’s a faint scent of a new business, they’re on you like hot fudge on a sundae.   One recent sales seagull was the Coke rep.  I had to do some fancy footwork to explain the big Coke display fridge I’m using to sell Hank’s Soda and store my lunch meat.   I’m pretty sure he wants it back.

During the final days of my ‘sabbatical’, I put together a little story to sum up my layoff and career redirection experience.  Soon after I moved here, I submitted it to the local newspaper, the Hampshire Daily Gazette.   Believe it or not, they published it last weekend in their ‘guest column’ section!   Snuck in a nice little plug for the new business at the end.  Working on parlaying it into some form of a regular guest column by that ‘ice cream writer guy’.  You can check out the on-line version (if you haven’t seen it yet)….     http://www.gazettenet.com/story.cfm?id_no=11150136

And while I’ve got you surfing around, let me point you to my new website.   www.mttoms.com   Humble beginning, much more work still to do on it, but I wanted to get something out there.   And to make sure the URL was mine before I ordered new business cards, etc.  I also have a slick new email address to go with it.  jim@mttoms.com

More Random Rants:

I was watching Jay Leno the other night.  He had Britney Spears as a guest.  Jay asked her, “With all your riches, what’s your favorite indulgence?”   Her answer… ice cream.  So now you know the real reason I went into this new career.

Got in my first big order of bulk candy the other day.  456 pounds.  Over 100 pounds of Jelly Bellys (that’s gourmet jelly beans in case you’re not up on your candy brands).   So I’m all restocked with giant gummy snakes, fruit runts, and pina colada jelly beans.   Note to self…never unpack candy order when you’re hungry.  Also learned a new term in the process.  ‘Pre-book’.   A lot of the candy I tried to order was out of stock (or pre-booked for someone else). Seems you need to ‘pre-book’ to be assured of getting what you need around holiday times.   Now I just have to apply this new knowledge to make sure I‘pre-book’ for Valentine’s Day.

Betty won employee-of-the-month again.

I actually did try to make a beer float one night.  Threw a scoop of vanilla into a glass of Sam Adams.   Believe it or not, it wasn’t that bad.   There was one small technical issue of the sugar in the ice cream reacting to the yeast in the beer, which made it foam up like the volcano in Greg Brady’s science experiment.   A few minor adjustments, and I think this issue can be overcome.   I’ll keep you posted on my daring dessert experiments.  Hey, I never said I was trying to cure cancer.

Move over Flying Nun (sorry about the bad 70’s reference), I met a chocolatier nun the other day.   Sister Beverly from Mt. Marie in Holyoke.   Turns out she’s been making chocolate for years and is just about to hang up her molds.  She’s on her last ’70 pounds’ (I know that sounds like an infomercial for Dr. Phil’s weight loss program).  She makes her final batches next week.  And here’s the good part.  She invited me over to the convent for a tour of her chocolate kitchen.   She even offered to give me some instructions and share a few secret recipes, handed directly to her from God.   So I got that going for me.   Which is nice.   I just gotta remember to watch my language.

Did the Caddyshack line just then make up for the Flying Nun reference?   Didn’t think so.

Well, since I dragged this conversation down to bad TV shows, it’s probably time to call it a day.  The ‘hide-and-seek’ kids just came in for some candy anyway.   The ring-leader of this gang is a mini version of Eric Estrada.   Always gets exactly one dollar’s worth of candy, lays it out on the counter, stares at me while I ring it up, like he’s waiting for a grade, then takes the booty and leads his band back to their bikes.

Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.   Hope it’s wicked good.

Thanks for playing.

Enjoy,

Jim

Episode 5 November 20, 2003

It’s that time again, your favorite soda jerk here bringing you tidings of ice cream joy.  I’m happy to report that the ice cream making is officially underway.  I didn’t quite make that ambitious Thanksgiving target, but I still feel pretty good about hitting my ‘Homemade for the Holidays’ goal.  Before I tell you how the first batch turned out, let me start with what’s been going on the past few weeks as the transition from start-up mode to marketing mode begins.  The major milestone was getting the green light from the health inspector.   I took a trip to the town hall to officially apply for my health permit and a business permit, clearing the way for me to fire up the batch freezer.  While I was wandering around the town hall halls, I asked about ‘adopting’ a section of the new rail-trail in town.  A little trash pickup for one strategic sign on the new bike path, why not.

So with the health inspector’s nod, it was time to make ice cream.   Dad had been reconnecting with all his old suppliers for the ingredients (now he’s the supply chain guy!) and was able to pickup a pickup truck full of everything from pecans and pistachios to cookie dough chunks and peppermint flavoring.   A quick call to my new dairy supplier for the first cream mix delivery and the scene was set for my maiden voyage into ice cream making.  We spent two days in the new ice cream kitchen, and when the chocolate chip dust settled, we’d pumped out over 40 gallons of homemade ice cream heaven.  It was a blast.  Dad taught me all about how to run the batch freezer.   I learned what a dasher is (I thought it was a reindeer too), it’s actually the blade inside the blast freezer barrel that churns the mix while it transforms from cream to ice cream.   Since it was his first time using the machine (besides the test drive before I bought it), Dad had to get a feel for it before he could hand over the reins.  Seems you can actually overcook, so to speak, ice cream.  Leaving it in longer gives you a higher overrun (good thing you learned this term in an earlier episode), but takes away from the richness and creaminess of the finished product.   I must admit Dad did more of the work on these first batches, but by the time we got to the mocha chip, I was flying solo, which was pretty darn cool.  And even when he was tinkering with flavorings, he always had me try the batch.   Taste buds in training.  Ice cream right from the machine is the best.   Light and really creamy. (Note to self, don’t quit jogging.)  But you’ll just have to come out sometime and make a batch with me to find out for yourself.

After a good night’s sleep in the blast freezer, the first 15 flavors were loaded into the new see-thru dipping cabinet, and I was officially in business.   I painstakingly scraped the old ‘Sunrise Sweeties’ sign off the front window to make way for my slick new logo (3 feet across, looks sweet).   And with that, exactly two months and ten days from the closing date, Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream, Inc. was launched.

Yes, I did save the first dollar bill I earned from my own ice cream.   And although I really can’t take credit for how good the ice cream really is, credit goes to Dad, I must admit it felt good when my first customers gave it the thumb up (they’re other thumbs were holding the cones).   One customer said, ‘you’re going to do just fine.’  Music to my ears.  And my banker’s.

Now I need to get the word out.  It is winter after all, so I’m realistic about how quickly I can ramp it up, but I’m working on it.   I placed my first 2 x 2 ½ inch ‘display ad’ in the local paper for this coming weekend, and in the process of poking around the newspaper office, I stirred up some interest from a local reporter.   She comes on Monday to interview me for a ‘new business in town’ piece.   I’ll let you know how that goes.  The holiday has been actually been nice timing for me.  The shop is busier this week with holiday shoppers buying chocolates and stocking stuffer candy.   Once I have them inside, they walk by the new see-thru dipping cabinet full of colorful and creamy homemade ice cream, and it’s a pretty easy sell from there, winter be darned.

Moving along to the confectionary portion of our show, I wanted to tell you about a fun little field trip I took last week.  You remember the chocolatier nun.  Well, I took her up on her offer to teach me how to make chocolate.   I didn’t actually find God that morning I spent in the convent, but I did learn a ton about how to make handmade chocolates.   Sister Beverly was great.   She gave me a tour of her little candy store (a convent confection commissary?) then took me to her chocolate kitchen next to the rectory.  Sister B and a couple of her crew showed me how to make chocolate lollipops, cashew turtles, and a whole bunch of other fine chocolatey things.  I even learned how to temper chocolate.  They had a kick-ass (sorry, I probably shouldn’t swear in this paragraph), ah, really cool, tempering machine with a slick automated pump that continuously shoots out measured blasts of ‘tempered’ chocolate.  Sister B also shared with me the names of all of her favorite suppliers for everything from fancy boxes to molds to a’peels.    Ok, I didn’t know what a’peels were either.   They’re those chocolate wafers you melt and mold into fine chocolates.  I don’t know if I’ll actually make chocolate crucifixes like the sisters (except maybe for Rich’s Mom), but the visit definitely gave me the confidence to opt for the ‘make’ side of the make-or-buy decision for a few items in my chocolate display case.  I’m not sure if I have the temper to temper initially, and I still need to buy the truffles from Carl the baker (part of the sale agreement), but I’m going to give the chocolate making thing a try.   In fact, I already bought a set of molds (Christmas trees, snowmen, and a reindeer) and made my first fleet of chocolate reindeer action figures.  Now there’s something they don’t teach you in engineering school.

On to a few random rants…

I overheard a guy saying to his buddy as they were checking out the new logo on the window, ‘That logo would look great on a t-shirt.’   My thought exactly, and it just so happens there’s a silk-screen guy two doors down from me.   Who wants one?

I read a good book over the summer, “What Should I Do with My Life?”, by Po Bronson.  He interviewed hundreds of people and asked them about how they got to where they were career-wise, if they were happy, and what events/choices steered them to their particular vocation.  One person was prompted to make a career change when someone asked him the question, ‘So what do you do for a living?’.   The inevitable cocktail party question.   When he didn’t like his own answer, he realized he needed to make a major change.   I went to a cocktail party this past weekend, and people were asking me a ton of questions about ice cream.   They seemed genuinely interested, and it was a lot of fun to talk about.   So far so good.

I’m moving into a new apartment at the end of the month.   Already.  Don’t worry , I’ll still have room for guests.  The interesting part is it’s actually in the same building as the shop.  Upstairs.   It has five windows overlooking the pond.   In a few weeks, my commute will be about 30 stairs, a walk past my snowed-in car, and into the shop.   I don’t think I’ll want this arrangement for more than a year, but it should be a good way to keep an eye on my new baby,Mt. Tom.   And I’ll only need one cordless phone.

Now that the business has officially set sail, I thought it would be a good time to thank a few people for their help and the positive impact they’ve had on getting the business started. First and foremost, my Dad (Dave) for all the hard work he’s done to find the great equipment deals, for helping me fill the shelves with ingredients, and for the first of many ice cream making lessons.  To Mom, for the intro lessons with QuickBooks, for scaling the walls to rewrite the menu boards, and for teaching me how to make the best frappe this side of the Connecticut River.   To Leslie, my longtime friend, for ‘setting me up’ with the old owner of Sunrise Sweeties.  People always ask how I ended up in Easthampton, and that fateful trip to visit her B&B is the story.   To Elspeth, for her invaluable creative input.   To Amy for lending me her marketing expertise during the early stages.   To Brent, my design guy, for creating an awesome new logo.    To Carol at Chutter’s Candy Store in Littleton, NH for sharing some of her candy shop secrets with a stranger.   To Sister Beverly at Mont Marie, for taking the time to show me the ropes, or molds as it were, and for giving me the confidence to make some of my own chocolates (if there’s any time left after ice cream making).   And finally, to all my family and buddies for being so supportive.   Like anything in life, it’s just not the same if you can’t share the experience with someone.   Thanks to y’all for letting me share.

I hope that Santa and 2004 bring you exactly what you’re hoping for, with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Happy Holidays!

Jim

Episode 6 January 5, 2004

Hello and Happy New Year to you.    Hope the holidays treated you well.  If they treated you too well, and you’re looking for some support for your New Year’s resolutions you’ve come to the wrong place.  I think it’s safe to say that stories of 14% butterfat ice cream, chocolate-covered cherries,  and penuche fudge won’t be very good influences on your new year’s health kick, but I feel pretty confident in saying that reading this won’t actually make you gain weight.   Speaking of weight, one of the favorite quotes I recently overheard in the shop was from a woman who nervously walked in, looked around, and said with a sigh, “just being in here makes me gain weight.”  Oh well, I’m in the business of making people happy, loosen your belt at the door.   Or as I like to say, ‘Life’s short.  Eat ice cream.’

It’s been a little while since my last entry, so let’s get right to it.    Despite the arrival of old man winter, things are going pretty well here in the valley ofEasthampton.   The dipping cabinets are fully stocked with 28 flavors of my own (ok, it’s still mostly Dad’s) ice cream, sugar-free ice cream, and frozen yogurt.   And I’ve got another freezer full of ice cream cakes and wicked good ice cream sandwiches made with homemade brownies just like Mom used to make (well actually, she did make them) and filled with Vanilla ice cream.   The cakes were fun.   Mom came out to give me a crash course in the art of cake-decorating.    She taught me how to create the toppings and lettering gels, how to frost the cakes, and finally how to decorate them.   All this after I first learned from Dad how to make a cake.   It’s a layer of vanilla ice cream, then a thin layer of broken-up Oreo cookies, and topped off with chocolate ice cream.   Needless to say, I plan to put the adjective ‘handmade’ in bold on my ice cream cake signage.    My cake creations don’t come close to Mom’s yet, but I keep telling myself she’s a professional, and I’ll find my game with practice.   They definitely take some time to make, but they’re a great moneymaker, even while the snow’s flying.

Speaking of winter holidays, the week before Christmas turned out to be tremendous for candy and chocolate sales.  I had customers in the shop nearly continuously during that whole week.   I sold out my entire chocolate cabinet, including about 20 pounds of truffles.   The holiday taught my one good lesson. Owning a small business is even more fun when you make money!  I could have sold more if I had it.   Next time I’ll have it.  I even sold about 100 of my own handmade chocolate reindeer lollipops.   I anticipated Valentine’s day to be big, but definitely underestimated the ‘stocking stuffer factor’ with Christmas.   In fact, the original owner of my shop (before Carl the baker) stopped in a few weeks ago, and she told me Easter was actually the biggest holiday for her.  So it looks like the holidays will be the wood for the fire through the long, cold New England winters.   The best part is the 3 big hitters (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter) all fall during the cold, slower ice cream months.   I know, I become quite the capitalist haven’t I.

With the arrival of my first batch of Mt. Tom’s t-shirts, I now have an official uniform for my crew and me.  So from here on in, it’s jeans and a white Mt.Tom’s t-shirt every day (don’t worry, I have more than one).  Business casual has taken on a whole new meaning.

In the last issue, I mentioned it was time to kick into marketing mode.   Well, as luck would have it, I got a huge marketing boost last week.   It all started the Thursday before Christmas when I decided to run an ad in the area newspaper for that last pre-holiday weekend.   I knew the deadline for the weekend paper was 11 a.m. that day, so I first dashed into the Easthampton office of the Hampshire Gazette, the regional newspaper of choice.   Turned out, I did end up speeding to the main office in Northampton to make the deadline, but the Easthampton office stop turned out to be an excellent twist of fate.   While I was there,  I stirred up some interest from Nicole, the local reporter.    I set-up a time for her (and a news photographer) to come by the shop to hear my story.  So the following Monday, I sat Nicole down with a bowl of my Cashew Turtle ice cream and told her my tale.   From engineer to laid-off engineer, to vagabond, to ice cream-preneur.   I’ve included the link to the on-line version, although I must admit it doesn’t carry the same impact without the photos.   I couldn’t have asked for better ‘placement’.   They ran a color photo on the front page, and a half-page spread with four big color photos from the shop (including my patented gummi worm overhead shot) on the front of the business section.  Combine that great press with a stretch of mild weather between Christmas and New Years, and I’ve actually been doing pretty well in the ice cream department of my store.   Best of all, the article got people talking about their new hometown ice cream shop.  Many people who have been in these past few weeks have mentioned the article, wished me luck, and a few have become regulars, definitely a good sign.   I’m not knocking the root beer kids, they’re cool, but it’s the true ice cream lover who comes in for a pint once a week year-round that makes me happy.

Ice Cream shop shorts…

I had a question for my electrician neighbor the other day.    I was trying to decide whether to sign up for one of those locked-in rate programs with a power company, so I walked over to ask him if the rate I was being quoted was a good one.   He didn’t know the answer, but knew exactly who to call.   He asked his question to the person on the other end of the phone and didn’t say much else after that, except for a few ‘ok’s and ‘ah ha’s’.   At which point, his wife, who was standing next to us, says to me, ‘he’s talking to the Mayor’.    I laugh.    After my electrician friend hangs up, I ask who he was talking to.  He says, ‘that was the Mayor.’   It really was the mayor.   Gotta love small towns.   And my mailman is Don.   I tip him in truffles.

During the holiday rush, there were a few times when people had to wait for service.   It was my first taste of being ‘slammed’.   It was a bit stressful.   But still a lot more fun than today, 10 below wind chill and ice on the windows and only the heartiest of customers, and the across-the-street gas station attendant looking for a coffee, who wander in.

Living upstairs from the shop is cool.   Sometimes I don’t even wear a coat to work.  I know, I’m a wild man.  I set-up Wifi to my shop DSL internet, so I’m connected at home now too, technically for free.   I can’t wait to be on-line while I’m sitting by the pond in the backyard.  Whoops, there’s my dorky side rearing its nerdy head again.   Sorry you had to see that.

During one of the really busy days around the holidays, we got low on dollar bills for the cash register.   So when Betty, my best employee, punched in, I shot over to the bank to load up on ones.   To my surprise and frustration, the bank was closed.   But being the crafty problem-solver that I am, I found a way to get the singles I needed.   I stopped at the two convenience stores between the bank and the shop and bought a pack of gum at each.   I handed over a ten-spot and asked for change in singles.   At the second store, the woman behind the desk, a 22 year old with multi-color hair and more piercings than a porcupine attack victim, gave me a funny look as she was counting out 9 one dollar bills in change.   At which point, I timidly said to her, ‘it’s not what you think’.   She barely raises an eyebrow and  simply says, ‘have a good night’.   Oh well.   It was probably less embarrassing than the time a lady behind the cash register at the supermarket gave me a little wink when she rang up my usual order of 3 cans of whipped cream.  I only wish I had the life these people imagine! (oh boy, Luan, you may have to edit out this paragraph before you forward it)

I went to the Philadelphia Gourmet Candy Conference this past weekend.   I know, it’s not as hip and happenin’ as the tech gadget show in Vegas, but this is my life now, and I’m still pretty low on that learning curve when it comes to confections.  I got to check out all the latest and greatest in the world of chocolate.   It actually was a great chance to see all the major bulk candy, chocolate, and packaging vendors under one roof.  I got to meet some people (It’s all about the network)- make some confection connections, discover a few new bulk candy suppliers (ok, so it’s also all about the supply chain), and see what’s what in chocolate-tempering equipment.  I must admit, though, that it wasn’t as cool as the ice cream conference I attended back in October.   If you can believe it,  someone actually recognized me there!   From the article in the Gazette (and the badge I was wearing).   It was the owner of Richardson’s Candies in Greenfield.   I confided to him that Don, my mailman, likes his truffles better than mine (true story).    He enjoyed hearing that.

Hosted my first kid’s birthday party in the shop today.   Nine, nine year old girls.  As intimidating as that sounds, it actually was a lot of fun, and I think went pretty well.   I made a batch of ice cream (‘Cathy’s Heath Bar Crunch’) named after the birthday girl.   As a historical note, it was actually my first truly solo flight (no pressure there).  The girls played party games and got wired up on ½ a pound of candy and one healthy (ok, healthy is a relative term) sundae of their choosing.

So the folks have left on their annual winter migration to Florida.   I’m officially flying without a net for the next two months.   I think they prepared me well, grasshopper.   I should be ok.    Just in case, Dad promised to bring the cell phone to the pool.

Well, I think my time is up for this installment.   Continued thanks for lending me your ear.   Happy New Year to you and may 2004 be the year for you.

Your buddy,

Jim