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