Monday, September 19, 2011

The Ice Cream Diaries - Issue 1 October 7, 2003.

So it began.. It's hard to believe it's been eight years since I first set foot in the ice cream world. If I wasn't already feeling nostalgic, re-reading those first Ice Cream Diary installments has certainly done the trick. Here's the very first installment. I resisted the temptation to edit or contemporize it. I did correct a typo or two, but I wanted these old entries to stay true to the spirit of that moment, even if a few of those moments don't really make sense anymore. Fear not, I think they get more entertaining after the first couple. I may even sneak in a few more photos as I re-immerse myself in those 'good ole days'...

October 7, 2003

Hello from my new hometown of Easthampton, Massachusetts. I thought it might be fun to try to capture and share with my buddies a little bit of my new life as engineer turned ice cream man. Writing about myself may seem a bit self-indulgent, and I suppose it probably is, but I got beyond that by convincing myself it would be a good way to keep up my writing skills between batches of ice cream. You may remember last year at about this time reading my Dingo Notes and Kiwi Notes. Well, unfortunately I’m not now sitting in a cyber café, half-drunk on New Zealand house white, living out of a big green backpack with painfully dorky detachable day pack. Which also means I won’t be sharing stories of exotic tramping adventures atop majestic glaciers in New Zealand or dodging venomous snakes (or crazy young British tourists) deep in the Australian bush. Instead, as you probably already know, I am just about to start an adventure of a much different flavor. I have just completed the purchase of a candy store! I thought doing an email journal to capture the experience would be fun (and perhaps functional) for a few reasons. First, and most importantly, since my new business is in western Massachusetts, near the hip town of Northampton, I am now about eight exits west on the Mass Pike from most of y’all, and I thought this might be a way to help me keep in touch. Of course, I hope this will be just one of many ways to do that. Consider this an open invitation to come out for a visit anytime. Let’s just say I didn’t get a second bedroom for my fish.

The second reason for what I'm calling 'the ice cream diaries’ is to record the trials and tribulations and exhilarations of starting a business – a travel journal of sorts that I can pull off a dusty bookcase in thirty years to remind myself how naïve I really was back then. And for you, I wanted to find a way to share the experience, whether you simply enjoy reading as a distraction from an otherwise dull email box or you too are a closet entrepreneur and are hungry for a behind the scenes look. You might even learn something from my mistakes, er experience. I won’t even make you co-sign for my bank loan.

The final rationale for the IC Diaries is the romantic notion that no matter where this little ice cream adventure takes me, to success and eternal bliss or just another lesson to tell my little brother, it will most certainly provide fodder for future writing projects, perhaps even that prize-winning screenplay, “Ice Cream Diaries”. In any event, I hope you enjoy them, and if not, I won’t be at all offended if you send me an email saying “Stop spamming me with your endless ice cream drivel!” And if this is the only installment you get from me, that probably means it turned out to be much more work than even Dad had warned me about!

Having now set the stage, let me bring you up to date. If I haven’t seen you in a while, your first question probably is, how did you go from supply chain engineer (you probably never really knew what that meant anyway) to ice cream guy? It’s hard to say exactly, but it all started somewhere along my seventeen month sabbatical (that has a nicer ring than 'unemployment'). In the midst of travel, writing, socializing, moving, and watching reruns of the The Facts of Life, I finally realized my calling of engineering was not calling me anymore. Not even late at night when it was drunk and horny.

So as things went, I finished my travel adventures (rather anticlimactically at the Blytheville, Alabama WalMart where I quietly commemorated the completion of my quest to visit all fifty states), wrapped up my little coffee table book project, and next found myself being evicted from my cool apartment in Charlestown with just 30 days to figure out how to avoid living in an old couch under Storrow Drive. Rather than seeking writing fodder on the cold, hard streets of Boston, I decided that rather than move to a new apartment and be faced with another move when I got a job, I chose to go home again. Yep, I’ve been living in the folks’ basement for the past few months. And as 'unnatural’ as that sounds (credit to my Aunt Alma for that fitting adjective), it synchronicitly (I think I just made that word up) put me again under the same roof as one famous ice cream man, my Dad. He has been in the ice cream business for forty years. As it turns out, ice cream truly is in my blood.

My Dad, ‘Dave’, created a couple different shops, the second one he sold just a month before I was laid-off back in April of ‘02. So I’m knocking around the folks’ house in Mansfield, picking up old copies of the National Dipper, a magazine made by and for ice cream makers, and I come across an old box of MBA school notes. In the box is a complete business plan that I wrote back in Entrepreneurial Studies class. The business I chose was ‘The Ice Creamery’, one of Dad’s shops. You don’t have to hit me over the head three times to get my attention. From there, I started peppering Dad with ice cream shop questions. For the first time, he didn’t try to talk me out of something, like when I wanted to put a hot tub in my bedroom back in high school or when I threatened to quit college to become a rapper. Dad still did his best to talk me out of it by painting a picture of long hours and Johnny Damon-like headaches that come with running your own business, but I could always tell he was secretly hoping his illustrious ice cream career might just have one more chapter to be written.

From there, the search for the perfect location to bring my ice cream dream to life was on.

In the next installment (should you decide to stay with me), I’ll tell you how I ended up in Easthampton, give you a taste of the twist of fate it took to land my first ice cream gig, and tell you why I am have quickly become my nephew's favorite uncle. Hint: it has something to do with the fact that my new ice cream shop is also a candy store…

Have a great week, go Sox!

Your bud,
CSO – Chief Scooping Officer
Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream, Inc.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sunrise's Sunset - a brief follow-up.

As we all adjust to life after Sunrise, I find myself still in a bit of a nostalgic mood. The Gillette Restaurant Supply trucks and crew that spent a few days last week disassembling and hauling off most of the kitchen equipment from Carl's bakery basement are gone. My electrician is right now rewiring one of his walk-in freezers to my electrical panel.

All that remains upstairs of what was a homey little bakery cafe is a nearly empty room, a few retired coffee makers awaiting delivery to the land of misfit appliances, some display cases destined for Craigslist, and a fading Dear John letter in the window.

The cycle of life, small biz style.

Like the end of any relationship, we find ourselves longing for the good times we won't get to have again while we lick the wounds and desperately try to focus on how we've grown through the experience. We take solace in knowing the person we are no longer with is ultimately better off, and that we too will find that same place when the dust is all settled. Endings are never easy, but to coin a kitchy song, 'Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.'

Ok, it was just a bakery, perhaps I'm being a little melodramatic. I just know that if it were the end of my biz, mixed in with the relief at no longer having the 24/7 responsibility would be many of those same feelings one gets during a breakup. As I mentioned in the last blog post, we were all surprised at how abrupt an ending it was, but I have to give Carl credit for pulling off that band-aid fast. Rumor has it, he's already got a 'normal job', 8-4 five days a week, and is quite content to have such a better shot at a work/life balance.

And we all anxiously await the introduction of the next residents of the Sunrise space. I understand there is quite a lot of interest, and our landlord is not taking the decision lightly. I, for one, look forward to that new beginning.

In the spirit of beginnings, I've started re-reading my original Ice Cream Diaries from those exciting and scary first days in biz, when Mt. Tom's was just a kicking and screaming infant. One of my writing assignments for the Fall is to dust them off, clean up a bit, and republish those meanderings for all who care to relive the early days along with me these nearly eight years later.

Oh, and there's my little Sundae Experiment I need to get back to as well. Volunteers anyone? I have a few people on my list who will be hearing from me soon, but there are plenty more free sundaes to be had. Just drop me a line at or mention it to me next time you're in the shop.

So stay tuned, lots of fun writing assignments to keep you warm like a comfortable old dog hair-covered afghan during those chilly nights that lurk around the bend.