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 ( www.thinkpeople.com ) 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,