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The most common question I am asked is; “What made you start an ice cream business?”.
For a while, it took me some time to come up with an answer. Now my cookie cutter response is; “I found demand for ice cream in the City of Harrisburg. As well, when I was young and during the summer, my family would churn ice cream at my Great Grandmother’s cottage”. My response is the classic reason of ‘why to start a business’; Personal history and/or affection to the product or service to be sold and Demand. I recall grape nut ice cream and my great uncle bringing his churns to make that oh so yummy and traditional flavour. My family would always meet over the Father’s Day weekend at my Great Grandmother’s cottage. 96 Degrees and sunny, my cousins and I would be filling our squirt guns and running around with our annoying high pitch screams. But all that screaming and running would immediately end once the ice cream was ready. (That and once my Great Grandfather’s amazing pit barbecued chicken was finished). Ice cream at the cottage was a wonderful thing. I have fond memories of those times, thus is the first reason of why I started an Ice Cream business. The second reason of why I started Urban Churn was Demand. When I graduated, I came out as a marketing major with a focus on graphic design & general art. During my senior year of college, I started offering WordPress and graphic design services. During that time, I was exposed to Harrisburg through my cousin and from bar hopping. Needless to say, I fell in love with the city. And since my new found business was growing, I decided to rent an office space at North 2nd Street right after I graduated. Now, fast forward to three years later, after making business acquaintances and amazing friends…I got to know the city pretty well. Every summer, I kept hearing grumble of how there were no Ice Cream joints around. Other then finding the common Turkey Hill or Hershey’s Ice Cream, there were no local and unique ice cream shops. Hearing this got my brain gears ‘churning’. I thought I could churn like my family used to and sell that unique ice cream here in Harrisburg. It’ll be easy I said, a no brainer… Well, through my naivety, I quickly realized there were a lot of legal and technical hoops I had to jump through to be able to do what I wanted. Nonetheless, I trucked through those obstacles and followed through to complete my goal.
I started out selling ice cream at the Midtown Cinema, then expanded to the Garlic Poet, from which I learned a lot through the knowledge of the Chef: Kurt Wewer. Eventually Urban Churn started selling to Lancaster Brewing Company, Devon Seafood & Grille and beyond. The business kept growing and I became more ambitious. The largest reward from making ice cream was and is the fact that people enjoy it. I am someone who thrives off of knowing that whatever I do and create, others will enjoy and find benefit from it. It keeps me going when I see smiles and folks’ eyes light up after tasting something I created. During the expansion of Urban Churn, I determined my goal was to sell at a larger restaurant chain… I set my sight at Aroogas Bar and Grill. I recall sending a tweet out to the establishment enquiring about a potential partnership. To my surprise, they responded positively, however it wouldn’t be until a year and a half later that I received a request to meet and present my ice cream. I was beyond excited. To think, a large restaurant chain, known in Pennsylvania as Aroogas, is interested in selling Urban Churn. This was the next step for the company. However, at the time, little did I know that this was going to be more than a next step… it was going to be a huge leap.
Once I began churning for Aroogas, demand for Urban Churn Ice Cream grew exponentially. The space I was churning in became way too small. I knew I needed to expand the facility, get more help and purchase more equipment. I was even running 24 – 48 hours with no sleep and all work to meet demand, which that alone was wearing me down. I would even hear others say that I look like a new father on some days. Other folks would say, “Well at least you have a good problem” to which my response would be “Yea, but a good problem can become a very bad problem if you don’t do it well”.
When a small business is taking leaps and growing fast, wrong moves can send it to a terrible fate. Imagine a rocky trail heading up a mountain, and the peak of it is the end goal. A person that take huge leaps and progresses fast, can be easily pushed and fall or end up landing on the wrong foot. However, a person that takes takes simple steps and progresses slowly can counter resistance and land on their next foot easily. To take those leaps, one must be careful and know where to land next. I felt like I was taking huge leaps and progressing fast with Urban Churn. I was failing to meet demand, and time was short… continuing to not meet demands meant the business will lose all of its customers and close. I had to make quick moves and I was risking the existence of the business. It was the most stressful 3 months of my life to get Urban Churn to where it should be. Though, if I pull it off, the business will have an ‘almost’ clear runway to take off for greater things.
How We Are Expanding
To grow, we ended up getting a loan through the SBA ( more information here and talk to a bank who participates), started searching for a new location, change the company structure to an LLC, and restructure how the company worked since we’ll be hiring new employees. The SBA Loan allows us to have a pot of funds for equipment, a pot for COGs, and a pot for working capital. Without the funding, I wouldn’t be able to hire more folks, purchase new churns to decrease production time, and to increase the capability of storing finished product and the ingredients. Previously, I was limited to how much Ice Cream I could make and provide because I only had so much freezer and refrigerator space. Regarding space, I wanted so much to remain in the City of Harrisburg. I promote and encourage business here. I see the potential in Harrisburg and am already witnessing the amount of new businesses moving in. However, based on time and money, I had to make a decision. Thus I decided to move outside of the city, for the time being, into a 4,200 sqf facility that has everything I need. I do promise, however, that I will move back to the city some day. When I do, we’ll be able to make more of a difference and continue to support the growth of this wonderful place.
The timing of everything was very rough. I had to be out of the small space I was in, but in order to do so I had to have funds. And to find a space to move into, I had to have the funds in place and ready to pay the deposit, and get going. Equipment takes time to purchase, renewing insurance, Department of Agriculture needs to check the new space and process a new permit and so forth. There were a lot of moving pieces that needed to be managed, and I needed to watch every step step so that I wouldn’t lose my footing and keep making those leaps up the mountain. Though, after much work, Urban Churn is now in a 4,200 sqf building, equipped with a loading dock, warehouse space, a clean room for churning, a showroom for pickup orders and more. We will be churning with 6 churns instead of 2, will have an all new walk in freezer, 2 refrigerators, employees and will be able to meet demand until the next big milestone is near.
The Next Steps
Our next steps are to finish preparing the new space, start churning over 200 gallons / week of ice cream and start partnering with more restaurants in AND out of the area. Instead of focusing on Central Pennsylvania and Aroogas, we will start reaching out in other regions and making deliveries. I don’t have an end goal, and as long as there is demand and folks continue to support the business I will keep growing and expanding. Part of why I do what I do is the fun of not knowing what will come your way, the rewards of completing hurdles and challenges, and the fact that folks enjoy what I create.
So, through all that, I am grateful for everyone’s support which has helped me pass this huge milestone and hurdle. I’d like to specifically thank Gary, President of Aroogas for his interest and support of a small business and deciding to put our product on the menu, as well as Roy from US Foods for having patience with this small business, as we learn to provide for such a large Corporation. As well, thanks to my friends, family and all of the folks in Harrisburg and the Central PA area for supporting this small business. If it wasn’t for everyone, I would lack encouragement, support and information needed to grow this business.
Here is to a new year and a new chapter for Urban Churn. I’m excited to see what will happen in the year of 2017!
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Our New Facility:
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