1 We Bought An Ice Cream Store | The Billfold

We Bought An Ice Cream Store

Last spring, my boyfriend and I moved to Cleveland from Los Angeles and decided to start a small ice cream business. I wrote a piece here describing how we were going to try to sell our ice cream at a food festival, and detailed the costs of being a vendor for two days. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write an update.

After our first event in May, we were booked six days a week, sometimes multiple times a day, at different food truck events, festivals and farmer’s markets. We made ice cream on the seventh day. We’ve been fortunate to receive an incredible amount of support from the Cleveland community, including a “best ice cream” award from a local magazine. Our business plan was to make more money than we spent, and we broke even on everything, including the purchase of secondhand commercial  ice cream making equipment for approximately $8,000, before summer ended.

In September of 2013, a local ice cream shop in a walkable neighborhood of Cleveland closed. We took a look at the place, and liked both the area and the 60-year ice-cream history of the building. But was it too soon to go from our first event in May to opening a brick-and-mortar just a few months later?

(Spoiler alert: The banks think it is.)

Loans from banks weren’t happening, and even real estate loans from the city were out since we were so new. While we think we could have gotten investors, we didn’t want to go that route yet. So far, we’ve done everything ourselves, and it’s hard to let go and be accountable to people who might not share the same vision. Either way, it seemed best to keep our finances under wraps for the time being, and so I held off on my update to the Billfold.

In November 2013, my then boyfriend and I got married at the courthouse. We used the money my parents had generously given to us as a wedding gift, along with our savings, for a down payment on the ice cream shop (35%). The mortgage on the property is to the former owners of the shop, who’ve agreed to act as the “bank” for us. As for why we chose to buy versus rent, our mortgage, taxes and insurance combined would be less than rent for similar places in the area. Additionally, renovations on any place we rented would be paid by us, which didn’t make sense for a place that might not be permanent. Finally, simply put, we loved the idea of a stand-alone building we could make our own.

As of January 2014, we are no longer just a mobile ice cream business—we have a store! My husband had previously built sets in L.A. and will be doing most of the renovations. That’ll help keep costs down, and we’re also looking into grants from the city for small business owners and exploring the idea of using Kickstarter. We’ll be funding the costs of the renovations out-of-pocket until then. We welcome any other advice from you guys as well.

As for the food festival, total costs were approximately $2,000, which includes things mentioned in the previous article, as well as supplies like cones and cups, ingredients, and rent per hour at the shared commercial kitchen we used. In the two days, we sold approximately $2,700 of ice cream. A $700 net profit over two days and excluding all the hours we worked probably isn’t something to write home about, but for our first event ever, we were thrilled.

Starting a small business is a lot of work, and financially, I think it’d be virtually impossible without support from family and friends. Without the money from my parents, we wouldn’t have enough saved for a down payment. We still live with my husband’s mom to save on rent, so that we can do things like fund renovation costs out-of-pocket, and I plan on, and hope, to keep my full-time job for a long time. Speaking of, I’m pretty sure we’d make more money, and get more sleep if we both just worked for someone else. But there’s a reason people choose to freelance and start their own business, and we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to do the same. You can find us at masonscreamery.com, and I’ll try not to wait too long to post my next update.



Helen Qin still loves ice cream, although she does not eat as much of it as she used to. Find her on twitter @masonscreamery.


21 Comments / Post A Comment

arecoleman (#5,984)

Please tell me that for Halloween you rename the place Mason Screamery.

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@arecoleman This is my favorite comment ever. My husband wanted to put candy razor blades in our ice cream for Halloween last year (it’s his favorite holiday), but thankfully we did not have a location at that time and nowhere to shill ice cream that day, so we didn’t. Also, I told him we weren’t ready for lawsuits. Mason Screamery is so much more appropriate.

franklina (#3,924)

Good luck! And as a former Clevelander, one suggestion: make sure many of your flavors go well with Malley’s hot fudge :).

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@franklina Yes! We actually use Malley’s chocolate for our chocolate ice creams. Try to stay local as much as possible. I was just introduced to Malley’s Billy Bob’s over Christmas, I normally hate chocolate with caramel & pecans, but dang, these were good.

Stina (#686)

Is that lovely lower picture a view of a cream puff with ice cream or a cream puff classic variety? Or some new confection?

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@Stina Thank you! It is indeed a cream puff with ice cream. We made them with vanilla ice cream with whiskey caramel swirl for an event last Saturday.

Stina (#686)

@Mason’s Creamery “a cream puff with ice cream. We made them with vanilla ice cream with whiskey caramel swirl”

I am 8 hours away and you are not yet open. *sad, puppy eyes* Mail order? Once you open?

Otherwise I may have to drive 8 hours this summer to tell you what heartless ice cream bastards you are to your faces. And then eat some ice cream after I pay for it.

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@Stina Haha we welcome you with open arms! We would love to try and do shipping, with polar vortex #124987234 happening in the country, now seems to be a good time to try it. If you do drive 8 hours though, ice cream is on us.

Meaghano (#529)

This is so great! So I worked at Kickstarter for awhile and I think it would work well for you guys since there are such obvious baked-in rewards (ICE CREAM). And you have a space, so a high level reward could be letting someone rent it out for the night. Or letting a backer name/design their own flavor! I think what you’d want to be smart about is launching with a specific goal in mind — beyond just, “keeping the business going” — an event, a remodeling, a new line of flavors. That way there is the psychological motivation for everyone and also something to “finish” and achieve.

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@Meaghano Thanks for the advice! And wow way to work at some successful start-ups! Maybe just email me and tell me what start-up I should work for next instead of doing this whole ice cream thing. :)

I think for us, there’s just a general uncomfortableness with ASKING people for money, it just seems…I don’t know. Uncomfortable. But it would definitely be a specific goal – the renovations on the property, which we are trying to keep as low as possible by doing as much ourselves as we can, but you need permits, licenses, an architect to okay everything and who knows what else (we will find out soon I imagine). But then people with lots of money ask for money on Kickstarter all the time (you guys did a great piece on it) so we will probably get over our qualms. But yeah, internal conflicts.

Meaghano (#529)

@Mason’s Creamery haha, if you ever launch a web business for your ice cream company I will be employee #1!

Oh yes, I know how that is! I mean, don’t do it unless you are 100% comfortable and sold on the idea, because it can be a lot of work. It can be weird, but *if you do it in the right way* people will be excited to support you — and not see it as charity since they get sweet ice cream rewards and get to contribute to your success.

But yeah, if you feel weird about it then it’s def not worth it, since you have to be really public and put it out there a ton for it to succeed. :)

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@Meaghano Haha deal! On our prospectus, it will say, Meaghano is employee #1 and she has also worked at x,y,z and people will be impressed = crazy good valuation. Muahaha…

I think we’ve just seen people use Kickstarter for not evil, but less than good (Zach Braff, ahem, why do you need all this money), but “do it in the right way” actually makes a lot of sense. You get from it what you put into it, going back to the roots of what Kickstarter was created for sort of thing. Unless you are a famous actor, in which case you just get a whole lot.

Thanks, that actually helped a lot with my cognitive dissonance!!

madrassoup (#929)

The only thing wrong with this post is that it doesn’t come with ice cream.

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@madrassoup Aw thank you! More posts should come with ice cream, I agree. Or some sort of food.

DarlingMagpie (#1,695)

I LOVED your first post, glad it’s all coming together!

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@DarlingMagpie Thank you, I wrote it almost exactly a year ago with NO idea what to expect – just knew I loved reading the Billfold & wanted to share the financial side of what we were getting ourselves into (plus free publicity is never bad). Have always worked for someone else, so this side is just so interesting to me.

It’s been a whirlwind of a year, I don’t think I could have anticipated it all coming together like this in a million years, knock on wood that I’m not back in another year with a less than happy update! Yikes just made myself nervous haha.

Amanda T (#1,842)

This is so exciting! I remember reading the first part of your story and rooting for you and since then, wow, you’re actually doing it! That’s crazy and great! Wishing you many happy returns.

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@Amanda T Thank you!! Haha yeah, I think that is pretty much the summation of our business so far – “wow, we’re actually doing it.” Pretty much every single day, my husband and I will turn to each other and say “wow, we have a small ice cream business.” Which sounds ridiculous, but when you take a step back and look at it, it’s kind of crazy. As is telling friends we haven’t spoken to in awhile, “so what’ve you been up to?” & then “well, we started an ice cream business.”

Okay, that was a lot of quotes, so long story short, thank you!!

Tacykelly (#6,099)

I recently moved back to Cleveland from the opposite coast! I’m so excited to visit once you open.

Mason's Creamery (#5,983)

@Tacykelly Thank you!! Looking forward to meeting (and being open ahh)!!

mizzou652 (#7,591)

I just wanted to say thank you for your post. My wife and I just sold our house and just about everything we own to open a shop down in Florida. We love the beach and both dreamed of mover there one day. So now we are doing it. We have saved and saved and started to buy the equipment to start a ice cream shop and buying a 400sqft condo on the beach. Will post updates soon

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