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.


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,


CSO – Chief Scooping Officer

Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream, Inc.


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,


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,


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)….

And while I’ve got you surfing around, let me point you to my new website.   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.

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.



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!


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,


Episode 7 February 17, 2004

Hello again from the land of the chocolate lolli.  It’s been five weeks since my last confession, check that, since my last entry into the diary.  The few weeks of Valentine’s Day prep followed by this last week of actual Valentine’s traffic have kept me straight out.   Even though I’m single, Valentine’s Day was very good to me this year.   The weather cooperated.   It even hit the low 40’s for V-day weekend, a veritable heat wave. (I can hear my brother Mike, who just moved to Florida, snickering right now).  I was much better prepared than for Christmas.  My arsenal was loaded with all kinds of chocolates and Valentine-themed candy (conversation hearts, red and white candy corn, that kind of thing).  Carl the baker delivered a treasure-trove of truffles (say that 9 times fast).  I salvaged all the Valentine stock I could find buried in my basement, supplemented by some strategic purchases from the local Christmas Tree Shop, and I was ready to make heroes out of boyfriends and girlfriends throughout Easthampton.  I even pre-packed boxes of chocolates.   Those came in handy, especially during the Friday after-work rush hour.  I was a little nervous about Valentine’s Day actually, since I had given Betty the day off.   She asked me for it just before I was about to ask her to cover the shop for me while I went to Key West for a buddy’s wedding, so I really couldn’t say no.  To cut a long story short, V-day (and the few days leading up) went very well.   I was slammed only once or twice.   Business was steady but generally a comfortable continuous flow.    Wait a tick, I shouldn’t have said ‘slammed’.   I was corrected that the hot new lingo is ‘in the weeds’.  I was only ‘in the weeds’ a couple times this past week.   Thanks to Leslie, the Innkeeper turned candle maker, for setting my slang straight.

Speaking of Key West, my long-weekend getaway to attend buddies Mark and Marissa’s elopement/wedding went off without a hitch.  First time leaving my baby alone.  Well, she wasn’t actually alone.   Betty covered for me, opened and closed the shop all weekend.   Looks like she’s a shoe-in for employee of the month again.  Seems the only one who missed me that weekend was Calli, Mom’s cat, who’s taken over my apartment since the folks migrated to Florida.   I gave Calli plenty of food before I left, but being on the plump side, she likely consumed it all before I even got to the airport.   When I returned from the weekend, she was so hungry she ate a Wasabi Pea out of my hand.

The new apartment is working out very well.   Gotta love the 28 step commute.   Although I’m thinking it’d be neat to install a ‘Wonka-vator’ to take me back and forth.   Then again, if I did that, I’d probably have to hire midgets to run it.

You didn’t think I’d go a whole installment without a midget reference did you?

I was talking with one of my young customers the other day, and I happened to mention that I live upstairs.   With eyes wide as Mom’s cat, he responded, “You mean you can get ice cream and candy whenever you want?  Wow, you have the greatest job in the world.”  Who was I to argue.

Someone came in the other day asking for a candy called ‘Squirrels’.  Can anyone help me with this?   The only squirrels I know are the ones my Dad traps in the backyard as part of his squirrel relocation program.   Add candy ‘squirrels’ to the growing list of candy candidates for the store.     Chocolate-covered licorice, Chocolate-covered Gummi-bears, chocolate cashews, multi-colored Jordan Almonds, caramel popcorn, there’s no end…

Some more firsts to add to my list this month…my first brochure – fun.  My first Mt. Tom ‘JimArt’ framed photographs on the wall – very fun.   My first quarterly 941 and meals tax payments – not fun.  My first accountant, Lawrence – not supposed to be fun.  Stay tuned for next month’s firsts… my first corporate by-laws, annual report, and K1 – fun?…Time will tell.   I’m guessing, not.

I did my first radio show gig last week.   I got to appear, (well I didn’t actually appear, it was radio), on a show called Donnie’s Used Cars on the local rock station WRNX.  As I was driving into the studio, I listened to the beginning of the show.   Donnie and his sidekick John bragged about getting ice cream.  When I got to the studio, I peered through the big window of the booth to see these 2 guys talking into their radio microphones.  When Donnie saw me, I held up the ice cream tubs.  The next line I hear from the radio speakers in the room is, ‘The ice cream is here!’.  I get the hand wave from Donnie and enter the sound booth.  I introduce myself to the guys and proceed to serve them up dishes of my homemade mint chocolate chip, cookie dough, and coffee (I’d been tipped off on their favorite flavors).   With a Jack Johnson tune playing in the background and over the airwaves, we chatted about my new business.  They feasted on my product.  They absolutely loved it.  Even better, after the song was over, they proceeded to tell the entire Pioneer Valley (well, at least everyone who was listening to WRNX at 4 pm on a Monday) how much they loved it.   After the next song break, Donnie and I chatted on the air.  I told him briefly how I make ice cream (as if I’d been doing it my whole life!), and we bantered about my new business at 34 Cottage Street, Easthampton.  I think it went well, although I can’t remember a word of what I said on the air.  I was just happy I didn’t use that ‘my calling wasn’t even calling when it was drunk and horny’ line while we were live.  Just after my spot was done and while I was serving up the rest of the studio staff, a singer named Matt Nathanson came into the studio and proceeded to do a live acoustic set on the air.   As I drove home after this cool new life experience, Donnie continued to tout my ice cream on the radio.  It was a bit surreal to hear him talking about this guy Jim and his great ice cream.   A few people who came in later that week talked about hearing me on the radio, so it definitely was good for business.   My first three minutes of multi-media ice cream fame.

I had my first secret inspection recently.   No, it wasn’t from the health inspector.   Good guess though.   A gentleman came into the shop one day and asked for a half dozen hazelnut truffles from the case.   As per usual, I loaded them up on the scale and punched in the price.   As I reached for a box , he reached for his badge.   Turns out, he was an inspector from the Massachusetts Division of Standards.   State House address on his business card and everything.  Seems they’ve been getting a lot of complaints about candy stores including the weight of the box in the total bill.  It’s called ‘tare’ as in ‘tear away’ and seems you can get in big trouble if you don’t do it.  Unless of course you’re Justin and Janet, then you get in big trouble if you do do it.

One of the root beer float kids came into the shop on Valentine’s Day.  Instead of his trusty and chubby sidekick, the ‘Stand by Me’ kid was with two young ladies.  The girls ordered up dishes of ice cream, then the three retreated to the more secluded table in front of the far window.  It seemed odd that Rudy the Root Beer Kid wasn’t indulging.  Was he on the wagon, I wondered.  Couldn’t be, this guy lived for his root beer floats.  After some subtle study of the situation, I realized that Rudy just didn’t have the money for his favorite teenage cocktail.  I seized my opportunity to do a good deed and poured/scooped up a float for our favorite customer.   I walked over to their table, sat his ‘usual’ in front of him, and said ‘this one’s on the house’.  It was as if I’d just given him a kidney.  He was as giddy as the schoolboy he pretended not to be.  I thought this tough looking kid with the slicked back hair was going to hug me.  He insisted he would pay me for it next time.  I told him, don’t even worry about it.  What I was thinking and wanted to say was, ‘if you only knew…’

In fact, an old friend of mine and new Ice Cream Diaries subscriber, Emily, was in the shop last weekend when Rudy came in.  It was funny to see her reaction when I said, ‘that’s the root beer float kid over there’.   It was like she’d just spotted a celebrity.    Perhaps she did.

I joined the Easthampton Chamber of Commerce this month.   It’s all about the network.  I attended my first Chamber event last Wednesday.  It was a retirement party for Marlene, a woman who’d been with the group for eighteen years.  It was really heartwarming to listen to friends and coworkers, even my electrical consultant – the town Mayor, showering her with praise and parting gifts.  It was great to be surrounded by Easthampton business owners and locals who are just plain excited about their town and how far its come, especially in the last couple years.   There’s just a ton of hometown pride here.   When I refer to someone as a ‘townie’ now, it’s a good thing.  I swear if this place were in black and white, it’d be Pleasantville.

I know I’m blaming the Valentine’s rush on my delay in catching up with my diary entries, but I should probably come clean on the real reason.   I just got cable.   It came with a free month of digital cable, with every channel known to man.   So instead of writing about the hundreds of solid chocolate heart ring boxes I made and sold last week, I’ve been glued to ‘Hooray for Chocolate’ week on the Food Network and watching the movie ‘Novocain’ for the tenth time.   The good news is I now know how to make chocolate scallops.  I just switched back to basic cable, so I’m finally able to bring you issue seven.   I do miss that new show, “The L Word’ on Showtime though, darn.

Speaking of Valentine’s rush (sick of this theme yet?), I had to bring some of my work home one night last week.  Yep, while I watched that movie ‘The American President’ for the sixth time that week, I wrapped and tied the 38 chocolate lollipops I’d made that day.   Work, work, work.   Another hazard of the new job, chocolate under my fingernails.   Hate when that happens.

Good news.  I have another favorite regular.  A ten year old boy named Thomas.   Or ‘Vanilla with extra hot fudge’ as I like to call him.  Nice kid.  Very polite.   Loves his hot fudge.  The first time he asked for extra, I gave him a good strong pour.   Before I could turn to him with his loaded sundae, he says ‘can I have a little more’.   When I finally handed him the heavy glass bowl, hot fudge was overflowing onto my hand.  Nothing less will do for the ‘extra hot fudge’ kid.  When I asked him what his name was, he said ‘Thomas’, and proceeded to ask for my name.   As he was leaving, he said confidently, ‘thank you Jim’. A born salesman.

Speaking of the greatest, some of my customers have told me that Mt. Tom’s Homemade is the best ice cream they’ve ever tasted.  You’re probably thinking, ‘wow, Jim’s starting to get a bit full of himself, as well as ice cream, these days’.   The reason I mention this is because the compliments really go to my Dad.  He invented my flavors and introduced me to all the best ingredients to use.  He’s somewhere in Florida right now, golfing or floating around a pool somewhere and working on his tan, so he can’t be here in not-quite-so-balmy New England right now to accept the praise.   Ice Cream kudos to Dad.

Well, I could continue to ramble on and on, especially since there’s nothing on my eight basic cable TV channels tonight, but I should probably let you get back to work.

As always, thanks for listening.

Hope to see you soon.

Your buddy,


Episode 8 March 17, 2004

Hello, Happy St. Paddy’s Day, and welcome to another edible episode of the ice cream diaries.   As I quickly learned (and am reminded right now as I sit in my empty shop in the middle of a good old Nor’Easter snowstorm), my new line of work is hugely dependent on the weather.   The past few weeks have been relatively mild, so I’m happy to report that business is up.  Fast forward to this week, snow and cold all over the Happy Pioneer Valley weather map.   I do try  to not stress about the weather.   I can control how much oil of peppermint I put into my Mint Chocolate Chip, but if it’s going to snow, it’s going to snow.   So with the storm today comes a little time to catch up on my diary…the frappe cup is always half full.   Actually, they call them milkshakes at this end of the Mass Pike.   When someone eventually asked me what was the difference between a frappe and a milkshake, I finally realized why I wasn’t selling many of either.   A-ha.

Speaking of weather, I was recently talking with my buddy Gami about how I hoped for  nice weather that coming weekend because I was working.  Her response was, ‘Wow, that’s different.  Usually when it’s nice out you don’t want to work.’   Hmm.

I’ve kicked up the schmoozing this month.   As I mentioned in the last issue, I joined the local chamber of commerce and have started to hob-knob with all the local business owners.   Last week I attended my first ‘business card exchange’, held at the Renaissance Grill, a local restaurant.  It was fun, and I did meet a lot of people, but I have to admit it felt a bit like a singles dance.   You walk around with one hand in your pocket (holding onto a stack of your business cards), and introduce yourself to whoever you can.   You exchange pleasantries along with the cards.  Then if there’s no love connection (translation: no potential business opportunity in the air), you say ‘it was nice to meet you’, and back away as you deposit their business card into the opposite pocket, being careful not to mix theirs with yours.   I did meet a cool graphic designer named Jay, and his wife Bonnie.   Funny guy, and completely shameless when it comes to self-promotion.  He told me a story about the time he left a business card on top of each of the urinals in a men’s room.   He later went back to that bathroom, and while he was sitting in one of the stalls, overheard two guys at the urinals saying to each other, ‘What kind of crazy guy would leave his business card on top of a urinal?   Upon which, the other guy responds, ‘Be careful, he’s probably in one of the stalls listening to us.’  After working the room a little more, I later walked by a big cake on the serving table.   It was about 2 ½ feet across and had in big letters ‘Welcome Easthampton Business Owners’ beautifully scripted across it.   Right above the ‘E’ in Easthampton I see one of Jay’s business cards planted right in the frosting.   Nicely done.

I’ve been trying to tweak the line-up card a bit.  I upscaled my tea line to Numi.  And I’ve been slowly bringing in new candy varieties.   I just added chocolate-covered gummy bears.   I can just imagine those gummy candy engineers sitting in a conference room saying, ‘These gummies aren’t sweet enough! What can we do?’   Why, dip them in chocolate of course.   They even have white chocolate-covered gummy bears.  Maybe I’ll draft them next month.   I also started my Easter candy stockpiling.  White speckled malted-milk balls, foil-covered chocolate eggs and daisies, turkey eggs, Cadbury eggs, and a bunch of big, fat butter cream designer eggs.  Later this week, I’ll start molding up chocolate bunnies and lollypops.   Speaking of pops, I just finished my first big order of chocolate lollypops.   Whipped up 200 shamrock, bunny, and rose lolli’s for a school’s fundraiser event.   One night this past week, while I was sleeping, I was attacked by an army of chocolate shamrocks on sticks.   Glad that order’s done, although I just got an order for 500 for a new ballet company in town.   I may be dreaming of killer chocolate ballet slippers (sounds like the name of a band) next week.  Oh good.

In addition to the schmoozing and tweaking (sorry to throw so many technical terms at you), I’ve been doing some fine tuning around the shop.   Created my first batches of homemade hot fudge.  I combed the internet for recipes, and with a little mixing and matching, came up with a confection concoction of my own.   To be honest, I think ‘Sally’s Finest Homemade’ is still pretty close to the recipe I came up with.  She runs a  B&B deep in the woods of Wisconsin, so I think I’m safe for now.  The first batch was a little thin, the second better, but I’m not quite there yet.  I’ve been doing some exit polls with customers, and I have to say, the homemade stuff is the clear front-runner over the ‘Wicked Good’ in the number 10 tins.  I haven’t worked the numbers yet, and butter costs just went up about 30% just last week, but I may just have to stay with the homemade.   It may be moot when the ice cream business starts heating up and I have no time for anything but ice cream making, but I just may have to make time for the homemade hot fudge.

Well, I’m sure you’d love to hear me wax on endlessly about chocolate toppings, but we need to move on if you’re ever going to get any work done today. I’m happy to report that with Spring just three days away, love is in the air.   Yes it may be true, that King of Cool, the slick and smooth talking, root beer float chugging Casanova, Rudy, has a girlfriend.   Rudy’s buddy, I call him ‘full pint’ because he likes to order up a pint of his favorite flavor, one spoon and no cover, came in the other day with a different buddy.    When I asked Full Pint where Rudy’s been hiding, that’s when he dropped the bomb.   Seems Rudy needs his (root)beer money to take his little woman to the movies or to play air hockey at the local bowling alley.   Fear not though, the young man who was with FP, was none other than Rudy’s younger brother, Tommy.   He’s definitely not quite as hip and happenin’ as our beloved Rudy, but I can see the potential there.

Some Soda Fountain Shorts…

A rather distinguished gentleman came into the shop recently.  Grey tweed sport jacket, cell phone earpiece permanently lodged in his ear, leather briefcase,the works.  He sits at the bar and orders up an ice cream and coffee.   As often happens when a person sits at the fountain bar (as opposed to the table by the window), I’ll make friendly conversation about the weather or how this truly is the year for the Red Sox.   This guy seemed more interested in closing his next deal on his cell phone than debating whether Byung-Hyun Kim should be a starter or middle relief.   We eventually started chatting, and the conversation quickly evolved into politics.   Usually a topic I try to avoid, especially now that I’m living in a land laden with lefty liberals (what would a diaries installment be without at least one tongue twister).   In any event, this guy seemed to have a presence about him and spoke so intelligently about his life and his businesses that as the conversation rolled into politics I thought, ‘maybe this guy can teach me something’.   Upon which he proceeded to tell me everything that was wrong with the present administration.   I thought, ok, if I wanted that, I’d just call my brother Rick in California.  But I stayed with him, patiently waiting for something of substance, a juicy nugget that might redirect my own political views.   It was precisely at that moment when he confessed he thought assassination should be a legitimate part of the political process.   And that all the job market problems would be solved if the U.S. would only legalize hemp farming.   Oh well.   Guess it’s back to talk radio for me.

My sister-in-law Elspeth gave me a subscription to ‘Martha Stewart Living’.   The gift card arrived literally on the day she was convicted.   Thanks anywayEls.  From the big house to my house…

One of the people I met at the business card exchange party last week was Jim Foudy, the chief editor at the Hampshire Daily Gazette.    This is the regional newspaper that, a few months ago, ran the story about me and the new biz.  Jim also ran my ‘Yard Sale’ piece a month or two before that.  As I mentioned in an earlier episode, I had suggested to him the idea of being, in some shape or form, a guest columnist for the Gazette.   So I was psyched to finally meet him and be able to pitch the idea face-to-face.  His paper just started a new ‘Easthampton only’ weekly supplement called ‘The Summit’.   The good news is he said they’d love to print a story for me in this new publication.   Now I just need to write one.   If you’ll indulge me, I thought I’d start to sketch out a piece that’s just started to take shape in my ice cream cluttered mind.  Where else to do it but in my diary.   In lieu of actual footnotes, I am confessing in advance that my free and original thinking may have been just slightly triggered by my friend Jean ( ) and one Mr. Wayne Dyer, of PBS fundraiser sweeps fame…

I’m still waiting for a cool metaphor to pop into my head, but maybe I’ll just start with the punch line and go from there.   Happiness comes when you live true to your values.  And here’s the kicker.   Once you identify your own values and make a conscious decision to move your life toward those values, the ‘universe’ finds a way to help.  Ok, now let me backtrack.   Before I started this ice cream gig, I had a lot of time to ponder my lot in life.   As I drove mindlessly across the plains of Kansas or stared into a fire at my campsite in Telluride, Colorado, I began asking myself questions about what I really wanted in my life.   Was engineering satisfying to me?   What was missing in this career?   Was it the employer, my last boss, or the whole profession?   What leisure activities did I enjoy most?   Why did I always talk about writing but hardly ever actually do it?   Would I still enjoy photography if I moved it from hobby to livelihood status?  As I asked myself more questions, and the more campfire-side ‘Two Buck Chuck’ wine I consumed, the clearer it all became.   Don’t let me mislead you, I never got an image of making ice cream and candy in a cool, old-fashioned soda fountain parlor.   The picture that did start to form on the pages of my journal and in my head was essentially a caricature of my own true values.   Express creativity, take pictures, write, help people, create something, have a positive influence on kids, have more fun, meet new people, challenge yourself with business problems, try new things, live in a beautiful place, maintain a good balance…as the mileage on my car added up, so did my values list.  When I finally got back home, not only was I refreshed from the escape and excited about the many adventures I’d enjoyed, I was also newly equipped with a vision of what I wanted my life to be about.   They say that when you lift weights, the actual muscle growth takes place between workouts, while your body recovers and prepares itself for the next workout.  Not sure if that metaphor actually works right there, but I’ve been dying to use it.   Anyway, I didn’t necessarily know what my new life might look like, but I had a pretty good idea about what I wanted it to feel like.  The next step was to reset my compass in the direction of my new list of values.   Like Columbus, I didn’t know what I might find when I got there or even if I would ever get there at all, but I had faith.   And here’s the payoff pitch.  When you get clear on what you want, and you have the faith to take those first steps in that direction, things mysteriously start to happen.   It’s as if the universe is all ready and just waiting for you to come to your senses before it says, ‘Ok, he’s ready now, let’s jump in and help.’  People will start to appear.   You’ll suddenly notice articles and books offering guidance.  You’ll take trips that lead to synchronicity events like going out to central Massachusetts to meet an old friend who just happens to know a guy selling an ice cream shop.  Will your faith do battle with your doubt along the way?  Of course it will.  They’ll be plenty of times when you’ll have to turn back to those two kids, Faith and Complacency, in the back seat, and say, ‘Now you kids stop fighting or I’ll pull this car over right now!…’  Those are the times that will test you, but if you hang in there, they’ll just serve to strengthen your resolve.   The first giant step is to get clear on your own values.  It’s like cleaning the mud off your headlights, the road ahead will become clearer.  See, the metaphors are coming fast and furious now.  When you really start to feel those values, it’ll overflow out of you.  You’ll begin to attract the people who will guide you, seemingly effortlessly, in the direction you’re meant to travel.  A year ago when I was tramping through a rainforest in New Zealand, I couldn’t have guessed I’d be today sitting behind the counter of my own ice cream shop (albeit in the middle of a snowstorm).   What I was starting to figure out at that time, though, was that I wanted to do something more fulfilling, more fun, and more creativity-provoking.   I had no idea what form this new life might take.  I just let myself be open to all possibilities.  Even an old-fashioned homemade ice cream shop.

Until next time, think Spring,


Episode 9 April 15, 2004

Hello and welcome to another diet-breaking episode of your favorite ice cream reality show, the Ice Cream Diaries.   I’m just now catching my breath from the big Easter holiday candy rush, and with the little slowdown due to this week of April showers, I have a few minutes to jot a few notes and anecdotes into the trusty journal.   Coming off my best sales day to date, Easter eve, or as we New Englanders call it, Easta eve.    And I didn’t even have to have my buddy Mark dress up in his pink Easter bunny outfit and stand outside the shop.  (I think he was disappointed though.)  My friend Michelle (the woman who used to own the candy store before she sold it to Carl, who sold it to me…did you follow that?) had told me Easter was always her biggest holiday, but I was skeptical.  Darned if she wasn’t right.   As I overheard a Mom telling her little girl, my shop was an ‘Easter Bunny drop-off’ point.   A place for Moms, Dads, boyfriends, and girlfriends alike to buy all the fixin’s for their Easter baskets and egg hunts.   Michelle had given me some great tips on what good stuff to sell (little bags of chocolate eggs and anything pastel colored, panorama eggs, lots of chocolate bunny things), so I was well stocked.   I spent every night and early morning cloning little chocolate bunnies in my kitchen laboratory, then had Betty busy bagging bunnies by day (getting my monthly tongue twister out of the way early).   My most popular confection, like those Valentine chocolate heart boxes back in February, was, are you ready for this one, chocolate-dipped marshmallow peeps.   As one of my customers exclaimed when I pitched them to her in the shop, they were a ‘stroke of genius’.   As it happened, I had ordered a case of marshmallow peeps from a supplier, price unseen, and when I eventually did the math against how much Peeps were selling for at the nearby Wal-Mart, I  realized I couldn’t charge enough to make any money.  So to solve this retail riddle, I put a few packs out anyway as ‘loss leaders’ then put my thinking cap on to figure out a way to squeeze a little margin out of them.  That’s when the dipping idea hit me.   They sold like hotcakes, or as I now like to say, they sold like chocolate-dipped peeps.

I’m actually sort of happy my last big candy holiday of the ‘off-season’ is over.  The big three (Christmas, V-day, and Easta) were all great for candy business, and I do think I got a bit wiser at preparing with each passing holiday.   Now that I’ve been through each of them once, I know what to expect.  But they were definitely a lot of work, especially making those chocolate bunnies and lollypops well into the ten o’clock news and were somewhat of a distraction from my ‘core business’ of ice cream.   I can now truly focus on cranking that up for my first real ice cream season.    Speaking of focusing on ice cream, last time Dad came up for a visit/ice cream making session, he left me with an old copy of a study book called, “Commercial Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts”.   It talks all about the science and chemistry of ice cream.   It was subtle, but I think he’s telling me you can never know too much about ice cream.   Good advice.  Especially now that I’ve started doing little shop tours for kiddos.   I did my first field trip a few weeks ago.   Gave a little ice cream making lesson/demo for a group of high schoolers.   It was fun, definitely more fun than some of my previous life presentations on scheduling and inventory strategies for phone equipment.    I’ve started working through Dad’s required reading, and I’ve already gained some useful ice cream knowledge.   I can’t wait to work the terms ‘propylene glycol alginate’ and ‘locust bean gum’ into my next kids’ birthday party ice cream lesson.

Speaking of chemistry, a salesperson came into the shop a few weeks ago from Garelick Farms to peddle his ice cream making supplies.   He bragged about their 15% butterfat mix and offered me a sample to try in my ice cream.  I told Dad about it a few days later, and he smirked confidently as he told me that he actually invented that mix.   His last job before starting his first ‘mom and pop ice cream shop’ was with West Lynn Creamery, where he created a 15% ice cream mix formula for them.   Well, West Lynn was later sold to Garelick Farms, formulas and all.   Pretty cool.   I’d only wished I’d known that fact when the sales guy was in the shop.   Would have been fun to respond to him by saying, ‘Yah, that’s my Dad’s formula’.  Instead I just asked how much Locust Bean Gum was in it.

With the warm weather just around the corner (pan camera to fingers crossed), it’s time to start staffing up for the season.   I’ve been collecting applications more or less since I started, and now it’s finally time to dust them off, sort thru them, and figure out who to recruit to scoop.    It’s not as easy as it sounds, since we’re talking about teenagers, most who’s job experience is lucky to include babysitting or delivering newspapers.   Most of the decisions will likely have to come down to gut feel.   Are they personable, friendly, presentable, intelligent (I know it’s not rocket science, but college-bound is a good thing)?   After pondering the pool of applications, five or six did rise to the top, and I’m happy to report my company size has now grown to four.  Enter Allison and Liz.  Looks like Betty’s day’s of running unopposed for Employee of the Month are just about over.   Their first round of training is completed, and they’re up for their first official shifts this coming balmy weekend.   Laura actually worked at Bart’s Homemade Ice Cream in Northampton last summer, so she’s got scooping and frapping experience already on her resume, which is nice.    With some help from Jane, my ice cream conference friend, I’ve put together my first employee handbook, with all the do’s and don’ts of working at Mt. Tom’s, along with the how to’s of making cones, sundaes, milkshakes, and the rest of the lineup.    Aside from the ice cream experience, Laura was a clear choice because of her response to my application question, ‘What do you think will be the best part of working at an ice cream shop?’    Her answer, ‘Seeing that look on a little kid’s face when they’re eating ice cream’.   I know that look, it’s pretty cool.

Since the last installment, I did my first trade show.    Dubbed the ‘Business Tabletop Expo’, it was held at a big function hall on Mt. Tom called the Log Cabin.   Along with a couple hundred other local business owners, I paid my seventy-five bucks for a 3×6 foot white tablecloth-covered table and a chance to offer a live three hour infomercial to 400 or so businesspeople and townsfolk.   My table was actually very simple.   A big Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream logo sign, a couple hundred brochures, and most importantly, free sample cups of my homemade ice cream.   Pistachio Nut, Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt (BR2C Fro-Yo as the cool kids like to call it), chocolate, and cookies n’ cream.   By the end of the night, I’d given away almost 300 samples. My ice cream was the talk of the floor.  It was awesome.  The Log Cabin people were nice enough to give me access to their walk-in freezer, so with the help of my trusty volunteer sidekick Ken, we kept 4 big tubs in the freezer and repacked and shuttled quart tubs to the table to scoop.   I’ve never considered myself to be much of a salesman, nor did I ever sell many lemonades from all those childhood roadside stands, but peddling great ice cream is a pretty easy sell, especially when it’s free.   Thanks again Ken for your help.   And for only allowing me to pay you in beers and a Mt. Tom’s t-shirt.

It troubles me to report some disturbing news I need to share with you.  It seems that Root Beer Rudy has had his first taste of heartbreak.   Yes, his float has lost its fizz.   Turns out his little lady friend was not a one-boy girl.   He found out she had two other boyfriends, albeit none as cool as he.   He told me the sordid tale one day, needless to say over an RBF cocktail (a Black Cow if you prefer soda fountain speak), and about how he dumped her when he discovered her wandering ways.  ‘I had to break it off clean, show her who was boss,’ he calmly explained.    He was carrying a huge roll of duct tape with him that day, not sure what that was for.  Aside from a bit of an angry edge, he seemed to be doing ok with it.   With the slicked back hair, goth look, and leather wallet with chrome chain attaching it to his belt loop, he still exuded a confidence that made me think the next little lady to be drawn to his teen beat magnetism couldn’t be far off.

The other troubling news of the month is dairy prices.  Holy cow.  Seems that butter and cream costs have more than doubled in just the past few weeks.  And you thought gas prices were going thru the roof.  I had to raise my ice cream prices a little bit to cover, but I’m still trying to keep the menu reasonable. Hopefully, those dairy farmers will work out their issues with government subsidies, etc. so prices will come down again.   Unfortunately, like the weather, not much I can do about that one either.  Just a little venting, thanks for indulging me there.  Let’s move on.

With the exception of that month of free digital cable, I haven’t been much of a TV watcher these days, but I must admit I did get hooked on The Apprentice. I’m really going to miss Troy, Omarosa, Heidi, and the rest of the pretty business boys and girls.   Maybe even more than Chandler, Joey, Pheobe, Monika, Ed, or Frasier.  In the spirit of The Apprentice, I’ll be working on a little segment in the Diaries to showcase my new crew, ‘The Scoopers’.  I hope to be reporting on how well they come up to scooping speed and who rises to the top of the Mt. Tom’s food chain, while sharing a few funny stories at their expense.   Hopefully, I won’t have to use the ‘you’re fired’ line anytime soon though.

Love this time of year for Boston sports.   A fresh new Red Sox season full of hope, a pretty good Bruins hockey team in the playoffs, and even a pretty average Celtics team in the post-season.   So many sporting events, so little time.   I know, a little off topic, but it popped into my head as I was sitting here with my diary and one gassy cat, so there you go.

As the official ice cream season approaches, the calendar of events is starting to fill up.  Next weekend, I’m providing 118 scoops of sugar-free ice cream for an open house at the Curves gym a few doors down from me.   May 16th I’m hosting an ice cream social for the Cottage Street Stations business group I belong to.  You might remember me mentioning those Friday morning meetings.   It should be a pretty big event, a three hour open house for all the supporters of the businesses on the street.  The Mayor and town officials, along with about 100 other business people will be invited.   Will let you know how that goes.

And last but definitely not least, I’ve scheduled an official ribbon cutting ceremony.   It’s going to be Friday, May 7th  at 3 pm.   Fat red ribbon, big tacky scissors, the Mayor, Chamber of Commerce officials, and anyone else I can drag off the street to look on and help give it a major event feel.  I’m planning to cut a giant ice cream cake and maybe even get a circus clown (been looking for a reason to hire a clown my whole life) to create a festive mood.   I’m also planning a little reception in the shop after hours (starting at 8 pm).   I wanted to take this opportunity to officially invite you to stop in for a toast and a taste.  May be logistically tough for you, but if it’s possible, I hope you can drop by.  I’m planning to send out a more formal invite, but wanted to let you know now just in case you think you might be able to make it.   I’m planning for the Friday ribbon cutting to be the kickoff for my ‘grand opening’ weekend.   Hopefully, the weather will bring sun and warm temps just like this coming weekend.

Game on, here we go…

Enjoy this fine warm weekend, and as always, thanks for listening and hope to see you soon.