Episode 5 November 20, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to a few random rants…

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays!

Jim

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