Imagine scooping up all of your courage and most of your resources to start a neighborhood ice cream shop – and then, within the short span of five years, having celebrity chefs knocking at your door and national media naming you the best ice cream shop in America.
That’s the incredible story of Jeff Sommers and Lara Hammel, the husband and wife team behind St. Paul, Minnesota-based Izzy’s Ice Cream. Jeff recently shared his story at PadillaCRT’s “cockTALE” gathering in Minneapolis – an inspiring tale of entrepreneurship, perseverance, and dogged pursuit of quality and customer service.
The pair realized their ice cream dream while living in Ann Arbor, Mich., and loving the community spirit surrounding their neighborhood ice cream shop. Jeff, an artist and teacher, and Lara, a lawyer, decided to ditch their day jobs to learn the art of ice-cream making. Their education included learning first-hand from Italian gelato makers and others. It wasn’t long before their vision for making hand-made, small-batch ice cream had solidified.
While their story has as many twists and turns as a Rocky Road sundae, let me tell you about a few. Jeff noticed that even though a rainbow of varieties tempts customers, most folks gravitate toward their old favorites – reluctant to try Izzy’s new flavor concoctions. To remedy this—and really give the customer something extra—they created the Izzy Scoop, a bite-size sample of an additional flavor to cap your cone. Not only did this crowning touch delight patrons, it brought them back again and again. The Izzy Scoop is now a brand trademark.
Along the same lines, after noticing customers’ disappointment when their favorite flavor was unavailable, Jeff created the first (and to my knowledge the only one of its kind) radio frequency identification (RFID) system that automatically informs customers via social media when their flavor arrives in the dipping case.
Izzy’s runs two factory/scoop shops: one in St. Paul and the recently opened facility in the Flour Mill District of Minneapolis, next door to PadillaCRT’s home base. In addition to the scoop shops, Izzy’s sells ice cream through restaurants and grocery stores.
They plan to start shipping ice cream regionally soon and to continue advancing their sustainability goals. Izzy’s uses local ingredients, follows zero-chemical-waste cleaning practices and relies on solar power for a third of their energy needs. And according to Jeff, there are other “top-secret” innovations in the works.
You’ll have to visit us so we can treat you to one of Izzy’s delicious flavors. What’ll it be: Summit Oatmeal Stout, Blackberry Crème Fraiche, Mango Django or our staff’s personal favorite: the swoon-worthy salted caramel?