Episode 6 January 5, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

Ice Cream shop shorts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your buddy,

Jim

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,

Jim

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 ( 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,

Jim

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.

Jim

Episode 10 May 25, 2004

Hello again.  It’s ice cream Jim, stopping in with another batch of the Ice Cream Diaries.   The pace has definitely picked up since my last visit.    As is usual in these paaats, we’ve gone right from winter into summer.   Luckily, I heeded my folks’ advice and started hiring and training those new scoopers back in April.   I’m happy to report they’ve seen some heavy scooping action these past few weekends.  Word of homemade ice cream seems to be traveling through the area, and business has been very good.   Even had my first lines the past few weekends.  It’s pretty cool to see the shop full of people, a scene I could only imagine just a few months ago when I was babbling incoherently to myself in an empty tin ceiling’ed room while watching the snow flying outside.   As much as New Englanders do like to eat their ice cream year-round, most still save their ice cream consumption for t-shirt weather.

It’s pouring outside right now, my dipping cabinet is all restocked from last night’s monthly defrost, the week’s candy order is in, you’ve got a fresh cup of coffee, so let’s get started…

Had the official ribbon cutting ceremony a few weeks ago.  Perfect warm and sunny day for it.   Great crowd.   An appearance by Mayor Mike.   No circusclown, and the scissors the Chamber people brought for the actual cutting were just the regular kind and not the Edward Scissorhand-like variety as I’d hoped, but aside from that, it went very well.  A lot of my new local business-owner acquaintances stopped by to wish me well and to grab a slice of the giant ice cream cake with the cool Mt. Tom’s logo (nice job on that Mom).    Having it on a Friday afternoon, although it was better for the local officials and chamber, made it tough for y’all to make it.   Was cool to have the folks here for it.  And I have to thank one of my biggest supporters, Christina, for sneaking out of work early and making the trip.   I really appreciate it.

A guy came in last week and asked if he could buy a bunch of ‘free scoop’ coupons (I call them ‘Scoop Coups’, sounded cool at the time) to give away at his booth during the annual Big Rig Show held here in Easthampton this time every year.   A big field gets filled with Big Rigs that kiddos get to climb all over.  I’m guessing there’s a lot of tired arms at the end of that day from kids making that ‘honk your horn’ gesture.   Anyway, I said ok to Mr. Bill the trucker, and off he went to Kinko’s with a sheet of Scoop Coups.  I came into the shop that following Sunday morning and was greeted at the front door by a large gang of hungry truck-climbers waving coupons.   I got 53 of those coupons in the first day.  Turns out he printed and handed out 250 of them, making him one of the most popular trucks at the show, monster tires be darned.   For me, it turned out to be a great marketing tool, another good intro to the town.

Good news, the pond in the backyard is now full of trout.   They stocked it up for the annual Junior Trout Fishing Derby held last weekend.   The banks were lined with mini-fisherman all morning.   Didn’t see too many buckets full of fish larger than bait, and I know my Dad is hoping they left a few in there for him, but it looked like a fun little event and got that Saturday off to a strong start here in the shop.    The next event on the pond is the model powerboat races.  Rumor has it that’s quite a spectacle, although not as quiet as the fishing-kids.

The Curves open house went very well, thanks for asking.  We scooped and shuttled 105 scoops of sugar-free ice cream up to the Curves gym 200 yards to the East.   The ladies loved the sugar-free, especially because it’s also low carb at 4 net carbs per scoop.   (not that I really understand the whole net carbcalculation thing)  That Atkins Diet, I’m all in with that.   (trying out the new lingo I learned from my 25 year old neighbors)

I’ve been in full guerilla marketing mode this past month.   Doing everything I can but put my business card on urinals.   My marketing mantra is ‘just gotta get ‘em in here once’.  How’s that for ice cream making self-confidence?  Done some regular print ads, along with a couple more risky ones like the local Williston Summer Theater program as well as Smith College’s Theater bulletin.  The Smith one is cool because I’m paying in ‘trade’ by supplying candy bags (with the Mt. Tom’s gold address label of course) to sell in their concession stand during intermission.   All good stuff, but without a doubt the best advertising, besides word-of-mouth and that ‘Journey leads to ice cream shop’ article back in December, was my first TV appearance.   Yes, it’s true.   One of my customers, as luck would have it, is also a producer over at Channel 22 News in Springfield.   Way back in the winter, he’d mentioned the idea of doing a news story about homemade ice cream coming to Easthampton, but he just couldn’t drum up enough interest back at the studio.   Again, it’s all about t-shirt weather.  So when the warm weather arrived recently (and the dairy prices craziness), he decided to take matters into his own hands, literally.  He came over one Saturday with a digital hand-held and interviewed me on-camera and filmed me making a batch of ice cream.  It aired during the 5 o’clock news that following Monday.   It was a bit surreal to see myself on the small screen.  A bit like back in the early days of answering machines, when you heard your own voice for the first time.   That’s what I look like?  As strange as it was, it’s been great for new business.   Got a bunch of new customers out of it.   And again I resisted the temptation to say/use my favorite line about my old career not calling me anymore.

I’ve been offering free ice cream making lessons for the past couple months.  That has turned into a fun little routine (with the loud exception of one group of 9 year old Cub Scouts) and been a great way to bring new people into the shop.  Same with the kids birthday parties.   I’m up to a couple tours and a birthday party a week now.  Cub scouts, girl scouts, home-schoolers, I don’t discriminate.  Spreading ice cream making to the masses.  Or something like that.   One of my favorite lines came from a little girl in today’s Girl Scout tour while I was explaining that, in addition to making ice cream all day, I live just upstairs.  She quickly responded,  ‘can you adopt me?’    And the best part about the ice cream lessons now, cool ice cream factory tour hats.   Check out the new pics in the photo album on www.mttoms.com

Well, with the new summer shop hours of 11 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week, and 10 pm on the weekends, you’re probably thinking I had to say goodbye to any kind of social life.   That’s assuming you thought I actually had one before the ‘season’ started.  I’m happy to report that although my days are longer now, I am able to unwind with a cold one or two with my new and cool neighbors.  Seems now that the nights are warm, Chandler and Ross, and occasionally Rachel and Phoebe, (ok, the names have been changed to protect them from paparazzi) enjoy sitting in the back parking lot, drinking a couple Miller High Life’s and talking about life, relationships, the Sox, and the way things used to be when they were younger (than their current age of 25).   Good people.  Feels a bit like college again, guess those are the kind of neighbors that come with a low budget two bedroom apartment ‘downtown’.  We have a community gas grill, each of us brought out a plant or 2 for the back stoop/party area, and with the pond just beyond our cars, it’s turned into a (parking) lot o’ fun.  Except for the time when Chandler’s buddy ‘buster’ came over on his bmx.   His black t-shirt said  it all…‘Pissing off the World, One person at a time.’ Twenty-two and already burned through most of his brain and liver cells.  Funny and entertaining with a touch of sad.

Speaking of funny and entertaining, I know you’re probably sick of hearing about Root Beer Rudy, and I don’t want him to overstay his welcome here at the IC Diaries, but he just keeps making news.  It seems that R. B. Rudy had a little run-in with Betty a few weeks ago.  She caught him swiping a handful of pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin seed jar.   So the next time he came in, she confronted him about it, and he confessed to the crime.   She threatened to ban him from the shop (or course I would never let that happen, a few pumpkin seeds is such a small price to pay for a colorful character such as he is).   I hadn’t seen him since until I bumped into him on the street last week.   Sporting a new jet black hairstyle (to suit his goth-rock lifestyle) and an old skateboard, he explained the reason he hadn’t been coming around wasn’t because he was scared off by Betty’s iron scooping arm or that he was in root beer rehab orjuvey.  It was simply because, ‘I ain’t got no money man.’   I’m thinking about changing my ‘Jimmies Fund’ (contributing the Jimmies proceeds to my favorite charity, Big Brother Big Sister), to the ‘Rudy Fund’. Or maybe I’ll organize a ‘Relay for Rudy’ or sell ‘Root Beer Rudy for Mayor’ t-shirts…

A new Spanish restaurant., Mi Casa, just opened up a couple doors up the street from me.   Great news on many levels, the two most important being more after-dinner business, and second but not least, tasty burritos less that 100 yards from ice cream kitchen door to takeout window.  Excellante!   One of the owners is addicted to my chocolate milkshakes, perhaps a little bartering may be in order.

I was driving by the ‘Big E’, our local supermarket, the other night and I saw Mike the owner (not to be confused with Mayor Mike, it’s a small town but not that small) pushing one of those pushcart street cleaners around his parking lot.   Eight months ago, such a scene would have been completely insignificant to me.   But I now have learned that sweeping a big parking lot at 10 pm on a Thursday night is just one of those things that comes with owning your own business.   I can’t say that mopping my floor at 10 pm last night was fun exactly, but there still is something cool about it.  Just part of the whole package of owning your own business.   Of course, ask me again in a few months.

Well, that’s the gist of this past month’s goings-on.    The next chapter, among the usual rantings, will include the grand opening festival for the new rail trail. I’ve rented a concession tent for the day, my first ‘mobile ice cream’ experiment.   Also, the town fireworks on June 26th  should be big.   I’m told 20,000 people go to them (fyi, the population of Easthampton is 16,000).   People are saying good things, and the weekends have been very busy in here, so life is good.   The new employees are working out very well so far.   Allison, Tricia, and Liz are all great scoopers and hard workers (Betty who?) and seem very good with customers.   Planning to add one more next week then see if that’s a big enough crew to take me through the season.

Until next time, let me leave you with a quote from that great last episode of Frasier…

“While it’s tempting to play it safe, the more we’re willing to risk, the more alive we feel.  In the end, what we regret most are the chances we never took.”

Thanks for listening, enjoy the long weekend,

Jim

Episode 11 July 6, 2004

Good Morning Campers, and welcome to the July edition of the Ice Cream Diaries.   I hope you’re all refreshed from a long weekend full of fireworks, burgers, and Aunt Ethel’s potato salad.   You’re probably not really in the mood to work just yet, so why not ease into it with a little ice cream chatter.  The last time we spoke, things were just starting to kick into high gear.  Well, the kicking is well underway and the screaming is just about to start.   Word is out on Mt. Tom’s, and business continues to improve by the week.  For those of you keeping score at home, the ice cream tub tally for June was xxx.   Not bad, considering technically it’s just my second month, if you don’t count the winter months where people would rather read about ice cream than eat it.  I’ve also noticed it’s easier to get people to come visit me now that it’s ice cream eating weather.  I’ve gotten cool surprise visits from many old family friends and friend friends.  I’ve noticed that although I’m in the shop at least 90% of the time the lights are on, surprise guests usually arrive during my little breaks to sneak away for a sandwich, a milk and banana errand, or a run (note 2: I now run with my cell phone, scary but true).   For all of you who I made wait (and may make wait in the future), sorry.  Make yourselves comfortable, order up a cone, and relax, I’ll be right back.

 

In the meantime, let me add some entries to the diary.   Had a few scary moments, or hours as it were, over the past few weeks.  I’ve quickly learned that the two biggest fears of an ice cream shop owner are (1) freezer failure, and (2) power failure.   I’ve now lived through both.  As I mentioned back in the kitchen construction days, I picked up most of my ice cream making equipment on the second-hand market from auctions and big scary restaurant supply warehouses.   The one unit I had to buy new was the blast freezer, better known to my repair guy as a ‘hardening cabinet’.   As you can now guess, that turned out to be the first machine to break.  Don’t know what shorted out that wire to the fan, but after a day of stressing over why it wouldn’t go below 8.4 degrees (supposed to go to 30 below, that’s where the ice cream freezing magic happens) and two visits from Bill, my ace refrigeration techie, I was back in business.  The good news is it’s the one piece that actually has a warrantee. 

 

The second bit of hair-graying anxiety came this past week during a wicked thunderstorm.  A lightning bolt hit a transformer on our street, knocking out our entire business block.  Just two days before that, we had a brief power failure which only lasted a few minutes.   Foreshadowing of the real fun to follow.  That transformer, along with the other four that went out during the storm, took over four hours to fix.   The power went out at 4 pm, and my stress was not relieved until just after 8 pm.   During that powerless span, all I could do was close up shop, seal the freezers, give Betty the night off, and pray for power.  And pace the streets, which I did a lot.  In fact, at one point the bartender at the Brass Cat, the bar across the street, came out of his pub full of patrons drinking in the dark and said, ‘Hey, you wanna come in for a beer instead of pacing the streets endlessly?’  I can just imagine all his regulars sitting on their barstools, sipping Bud longnecks, wondering when that stressed out ice cream maker who was walking by the window every 15 minutes would have a complete meltdown.  The happy ending is that no ice cream was lost.  According to Dad the food bacteriologist, I have a good 6 – 8 hours before good ice cream goes bad.  As you know, I do have spoilage insurance, so aside from a pretty big deductible, it wasn’t about the money as much as the daunting thought of having to make 56 tubs of ice cream and a dozen ice cream cakes to restock three soupy freezers.    And I used to think thunderstorms were fun.

 

So now that I’ve got all the bad news out of the way, let’s move on to the good stuff that’s happened, and there has been plenty.    It’s pretty satisfying to see the place full of people on most nights, especially during the weekends.   The ice cream is getting rave reviews, which has spawned a lot of cost-effective word-of-mouth advertising around town.  I’ve got a bunch of new regular customers, even a few who stop in just about every night.  ‘Guests’ linger and socialize with their friends.   Regulars like Tom and Alma, who turned out to be the parents of my insurance agent (small town it is), seem to really enjoy coming in, trying one of my new flavors (with the help of Dad, the ice cream samurai), and greeting friends at the door (they seem to know everyone).   A few days ago, I started to get concerned because they’d missed a few nights.  The next time they were in, I told them I was worried about them and to be sure to call me if they weren’t going to be in for a while.  I gave them a Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream fridge magnet with my phone number.  They laughed and went back to their watermelon sherbets.

 

 It’s definitely more fun to go the bank on Monday mornings now.   In fact, after the rail trail grand opening festival, I had to take my deposit in a cash box instead of my usual little blue zipper bag.   That deposit was more than all 18 trips during the first six weeks I was in business.   Which brings me to the Rail trail event.   It was the official ribbon cutting for the new bike trail in town.   Ten years in the making, the trail is beautiful.   Smooth for rollerblading.   Runs behind the mills and through fields, forests, streams, and fishing holes.   In addition to the ribbon cutting for that, they had live music all afternoon and featured a ‘taste of Easthampton’ which included food booths from many of the town’s restaurants (and one ice cream shop).  I picked up a free portable freezer loaner from one of my dairy suppliers.   Just had to put a blanket over the ‘Bliss Ice Cream’ sign on it.  Beautiful warm day.   I had a line 20 deep for most of the eight hours of the festival.   Had to go back to the shop three times for more tubs of ice cream.   My friends Chris and Tom stopped by and saw me sweating it out (with my buddy Ken, you remember him from the tabletop expo.   The guy who works for beer).   They offered their assistance.  I stopped scooping just long enough to say, ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about it.’  I guess my expression told another story.   Next thing I knew, Chris grabbed a scoop and started digging into the cashew turtle.   I barked out a few requests for Tom, and he was off to the shop to pick up more ice cream and quarters.   By the time the dust settled, we’d scooped over 50 gallons of ice cream, and I was in the beginning stages of carpel tunnel.   And sporting one Popeye-looking forearm.   Ran out of ice cream at 6:50 pm, just 10 minutes before the end.  Not bad.   Thanks a lot to Ken, Chris, and Tom for jumping right in to help me make a big bang (and a few bucks) at the festival.   A few people later that week came into the shop and said, ‘I heard you scooped 21 tubs of ice cream that day’.   Seems they used my ‘success story’ at the committee’s review meeting the next day.   Here’s to hoping it becomes an annual event!

 

As I started to mention, I’ve added a ‘Flavor of the Week’ to the 28 regulars.  So far, we’ve done Blueberry, Peach, Watermelon Sherbet, and Snickers.  On deck are Coconut, Swiss Chocolate Almond, Mango Sherbet, Strawberry Cheesecake, Rum Raisin, and Bubble Gum.  Any of those put you over the edge to come for a visit??

 

My scooping crew is working out well.   I added one more scooper, Kate, bringing the total to five.  Her initiation was fireworks night last Saturday.  The night when 20,000 people descended on little Eho to catch the best fireworks in the Valley.   Two summers-worth of scooping experience made her a quick study and by the time the big post-fireworks rush hit, she was a pro.  I’m hoping she’ll stay around after most of the others go off to college or back to high school.  Not sure if my 7 bucks an hour plus tips will make much of a dent in her $38K a year college bills, but it all helps I suppose.

 

Speaking of Eho, I heard an interesting story the other day about my new little hometown.   I can’t validate if it’s true, but I’m going to tell you anyway.   It seems that the little valley town of Easthampton, with the short but stout Mt. Tom just to the East may have been the inspiration for that classic holiday tale, ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’.   As you may or may not know, Dr. Seuss was from nearby Springfield, Massachusetts.  If you look down on Eho from atop Mt. Tom, especially at night, you will agree the idea is not inconceivable.  Just add a mean old green guy, change the name to Whoville and throw in kids with big heads and rhyming conversations.  Don’t know if it’s true, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter that much.   It’s just a fun story to tell now. Perhaps someday people will wonder if Rudy ever really existed…

 

Which brings me to, of course, our jet-black feathered friend, Root Beer Rudy.  Just as I thought this was going to be the month I ran out of material to be able to include him, much to my delight, there he was.   He wasn’t sitting with his lovely lady friends, or his Goth buddies, or even his old regular chum, ‘full pint’.  No, this time he was with his family.  Mom and Dad Rudy, along with brother Rudy Junior.   As his folks looked up at the menu board on the wall, I instinctively prepared a Root Beer float with IBC from the bottle and put it in front of Rudy, who’d already made himself comfortable at the counter.   You should have seen the look of disbelief on his parents’ faces.   Mom seemed a bit horrified by the mental math in her head of how often one had to go to an ice cream shop to be served their ‘usual’ without having to ask for it.   Dad appeared more amused than anything, and dare I say, a little proud of his young buck.   A bit later I looked over at R. B. Rudy as he enjoyed his cocktail.   He wore a smile of contentment for in that moment he was king of the family, and they all knew it.  

 

Well, that ought to do it for another installment.   As you might guess, things have gotten much busier all around.   A lot more to think about, more cones and cups to order and more often.   The cat doesn’t see as much of me these days, but I am still managing to sneak in a Miller High Life or two with my wacky neighbors, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, and Phoebe.  Which reminds me, I think it’s that time right now…

 

Until next time,

Jim

Episode 12 August 26, 2004

Hello again from Ice Cream Coney Island.  Hope you’re having a wicked good summa.   Can you believe it’s almost September.   And I thought summers went by fast when I wasn’t working seven days a week!   I had a conversation with Dad the other day and mentioned that the end of the summer was a good and bad thing; business will definitely slow down, but I’ll get my Mondays back and be able to have a life besides scooping.   Dad agreed Fall always came as a bit of a relief.   

 

I know it’s been a while since my last entry into the journal.   With the summer peak season, I’ve been occupied by things like making ice cream, ordering jimmies and sprinkles (I trust you know the difference), and mixing milkshakes rather than dabbling in the diary.   That and one crashed hard-drive put my writing hobby on hold while I tended to the biz and reconstructed my computer.  Having dispensed with the excuses, here I am, sitting with the laptop in my little ice cream kitchen to collect my ice cream thoughts from the past month.    A cool breeze is blowing across the pond and through the screen door, ‘Everybody is Kung Fu fighting’ on the XM radio 70’s station echoes off the tin ceiling, a couple sits with their sundaes and siblings at the counter, and here in the kitchen it’s just me, the freezers, and my reincarnated laptop.   At least until 7 pm when the nightly rush starts.  Things are generally slow and steady throughout the weekday afternoons, until everyone gets the idea for ice cream after supper.  The shop fills right up, and barring a downpour or a belligerent drunk guy from the Brass Cat across the street, it stays full until closing.  If I could only just find a way to get a more ‘normal distribution’, it would make staffing much less of a challenge.   There will probably always be a dinner lull (as I like to call it), which means I don’t really need 2 people working the counter all night, but I can’t really have the scoop crew come in for just 2 hours.   So on most days, the girls clean stuff, restock, and do little projects until the nightly rush starts.   Speaking of scoopers, my loyal team is shrinking fast.   Just when they were starting to gel.  Audrey, my first real hire, had her last day this past weekend.  She starts college next week.   She was only with me a few months, but I was actually a little sad to see her go.  Sending my first girl away to school.  She was always entertaining.   She quickly learned that being friendly and chatty with customers meant bigger tips.  She reinvented herself from shy and unassuming to hairdresser caliber chatterbox (Sorry to any hair care professionals out there.  I mean it in an endearing way.).  My favorite memory with Audrey was when she came back to the kitchen to tell me the guy sitting by the window was her history teacher and to not believe anything he says because he’s a pathological liar.   Having never seen a pathological liar in person, I just had to walk to the front to check it out.   He was a nice guy, said hello, and then proceeded to tell me what a ‘great worker’ Audrey was.  I told her what he said and laughed about it for a week.   I don’t think she got it though.  Compliments from pathological liars don’t count.

 

I’ve been having some fun digging deeper into Dad’s magic recipe book this summer.   The peach has been a huge hit, with everyone except Betty that is, who has proven herself to be the best peach peeler on the team, and as a result, usually gets the nod, and the knife.   Other big sellers have been Almond Joy (coconut with chocolate fudge and almonds), Deer Tracks (I reverse engineered Moose Tracks, with the help of one of Betty’s young groupies), and watermelon sherbet.  By the way, turns out that Moose Tracks is a protected name and to use it you have to buy your ingredients from a company in Maine and pay a ‘franchise fee’ to call it that.   Maggie Moo’s calls it Moo Tracks.  I opted to go with switching animals.   I’m still trying to locate some secret ingredients to make Strawberry Cheesecake and Rum Raisin, so I’m pinch hitting the Cotton Candy and Bubble Gum in the meantime.  The Deer Tracks was a big step for me, since it was the first creation of my own.  I plan to eventually venture further from Dad’s chocolate variegate stained green notebook, especially after I study up on that ice cream chemistry stuff.  I really should know what that citric acid does when I add it to a batch of black raspberry.   I hope I didn’t just scare you away from my black raspberry.

 

Speaking of scary, one of the big summer candy events was my quitting candy cigarettes.   They were big sellers, but never without controversy.   The occasional concerned mother would pull me aside and casually or confrontationally lecture me that candy cigarettes encourage smoking.   I’m still not completely convinced that’s true, but  I decided to lean to the side of caution, so now Mt. Tom’s is smokable candy-free.   No one’s complained about the bubble gum cigars or the liquor truffles yet, but we’ll see.   And since Bailey’s Irish Cream ice cream was such a huge hit, as was the Kahlua, the booze ice cream flavors may have to be put into the starting rotation.   Amaretto Almond and Midori Melon are still to go.   Out with the old vice and in with the new. 

 

All this booze talk is making me thirsty.  I hope the neighbors are sitting out back in the party parking lot tonight.   Those late night cocktails with my wacky neighbors have continued to be a great little wind-down and my slice of social life during this, my busy season.   Most of the time in the back 40 with my well-under 40 year old friends is spent drinking the bargain beer of the week from Jim’s Package Store (usually Miller High Life for those keeping score at home) and making fun of each other.   That was at least until one of the boys, Joey, came back from a vacation in Hampton Beach.   Sporting a New Hampshire suntan, a black Scissorfight rock band t-shirt, and one trunk full o’ fireworks, the backyard has become our little esplanade, albeit a little more dangerous.    It seems that for Chandler, our fearless ride down the stairs on his mountain bike at midnight friend, on most nights becomes quickly bored with sparking up a sparkler and trying to light Joey’s leg hair on fire or shooting bottle rockets at squirrels (I knew Dad would enjoy that one), and eventually resorts to holding the firework until the last possible moment then throwing it in the air.   The only problem with this approach is that at detonation time, if it’s started its downward trajectory, that sucker could go anywhere.   So the milk crate by the hallway door has become the safest seat in the lot, since you can pull the door closed and have some form of protection from incoming.  There’s also a broken down car in the backyard that’s become somewhat of a fireworks barge forChandler and Joey.   In fact, that old Pontiac 6000 was involved in a monster truck event last weekend when one of Chandler’s buddies thought he could drive over it in his hillbilly Jeep with the big tires and tractor engine.   Note to self (and any guests), don’t park near the Pontiac.

 

Speaking of traumatic events, I actually took a day off this month to help the folks move out of their house.   The house I grew up in.   I can’t say I shouldn’t have been prepared for it, since the they’ve been bringing up history show-and-tells from my life all summer…the old trumpet, hockey trophies, my grade school pencil box, more old cards, letters, and scrapbooks.   And lest I forget, that time capsule I made and hid under the stairs when I was a dorky ten year old watching ‘Zoom’.   Ok, so I’m still a bit dorky.  As long as you’re not a pathological liar, I accept the criticism.  It was strange to see the house leave the ‘family’, as I’m sure most of you have experienced, but I’ve been trying to give it a positive spin in my mind.  The folks have some retirement funds to enjoy and a new home in a place that never gets snow or frost on the windshield.   As my folks drove away for the last time, neighbors tell me the squirrels lined the street, little fists in the air as they took back their neighborhood and its birdfeeders. Their arch-nemesis, and legendary squirrel bounty-hunter, Dad was finally gone.

 

A woman came into the shop the other day with a t-shirt that said, ‘If you can’t talk to the cat about catnip, who can you talk to?’   What does that mean anyway?   I’ve asked my cat, and she just looks at me with that ‘when are you going to feed me next’ look.

 

I was wondering the other day, as I was waiting for a batch of chocolate peanut butter cup to cook (or freeze as the case may be), do people really enjoy reading my ice cream ramblings or do they just skim through the monster truck stories and hype about cleaning your bathroom just to see what their pal Root Beer Rudy has been up to this month.   Come on, be honest.   It’s ok, he’s my favorite part of the diaries too.   Well then enough stalling, let’s see what good old Rudy’s been doing with his summer of love.   As is usually the case, I had no Rudy stories until just a few days ago.   I’d seen his parents in here a few times with Rudy junior, his younger brother with braces and crew cut, but Rudy was never in tow.  As it turns out, Rudy’s been under house arrest for the past month or so.  He’s grounded until school starts.   What could he have done to deserve such a harsh sentence, you wonder.   Before I let your mind wander too far down that troubled kid path, here it is.   His parents caught him smoking.   Twice.   Not sure what he got for a punishment on the first offense, but the second time got him grounded for the entire summer.  Ouch.   He was actually in here yesterday with the family.   Rudy was unusually subdued, understandably so I suppose.  I couldn’t help but feel somewhat responsible.  Was it my candy cigarettes that led him down that path?  Or was it my getting rid of the candy cigs that led him to try the real thing?   I can only wonder.   Well, at least I can wonder which way to tell the story in the IC Diaries screenplay.   The good news is Rudy got his Root Beer Float yesterday and will be released to the custody of Easthampton High School next week.   His time will be served when school starts, and he’ll be on probation until, well probably until he is old enough to move out.  If only I’d known a few weeks ago, I could have made up those ‘Free Rudy’ t-shirts to sell.  Opportunity missed, darn.

 

Well, that ought to do it for this installment.   I’m going to have to introduce a new character soon, I think Rudy needs some company here at the end of my journal so stay tuned…

 

Until next time, I’ll leave with a quote from this month’s selection…

“If I had my life to live over, I’d live over an ice cream shop.”

 

Take it easy,

Jim