April 28, 2020

A New Chapter for Chaeban Ice Cream

We opened our ice cream shop on the first day of winter December 21, 2017.

As we write this article, we are in the middle of the COVID situation and 28 months into our store’s life.

We started out with a vision to make the best premium ice cream possible, completely from scratch, using every local ingredient we could find and serve it in our store direct to customers.  We also wanted to create employment for Zainab’s family, who are Syrian refugees.

Joseph wanted to put his passion for dairy products to good use in his own business and Darryl wanted to be involved in all of it.

This initial vision was realized early on.  Eventually most of Zainab’s family found their own path through their own ambition, hard work and the opportunities available in Canada.  Saada, Zainab’s sister, saw her future here with us and has been with us ever since.  We have employed all kinds of other people, many for their first real job, serving ice cream to our customers and helping to make ice cream.

On the sustainability side, we have struggled.  The reality of seasonal ice cream sales in a single location hit us hard in our first full winter.  People don’t venture out for ice cream as much in the winter – imagine?   We learned that the hard way.  The natural response to this was to work through the approval process and build the relationships required to sell our pints in stores.  We did that last year and now you can find our ice cream in Sobey’s, Safeway, Coop, Vita Health, Jardins St-Leon, Crampton’s and other great stores.  This brought us to near sustainability.

Then we were hit with COVID like so many others.

The reality for us is that we lose money all winter, much less than we used to thanks to grocery store sales, but we need the summer to fill the coffers and make the year a success.  We were close to having our first break even year if this summer had gone as usual. Then the world changed.

We closed the shop ahead of the order to do so, afraid of the line ups that would happen on the first warm days.  We also did what we had never ever wanted to and laid off all the staff, including Saada.  A heartbreaking day for all of us.   But with no reserves and no revenue there was no choice.

The three of us sat and talked about what to do.  We were at a loss.  How could we possibly operate safely and make enough to survive, cover our rent and utilities and continue to pay back the loans that we took out to get started and operate our fist few years.

The first break came when our friend Terry suggested we try a monthly ice cream subscription.  His idea was if people would commit to at least a couple pints a month, that we deliver it to them for free.  He was cooped up at home like everyone else and he is a Salty Carl addict (one of our signature flavours).  He wanted his fix and two pints a month was just about enough for him.

We floated the idea in an email to a test group of regular customers and the response was HECK YES.   At the same time, we heard about the $40,000 loan for small businesses like us and the wage subsidy to partially cover staff costs.  It felt like we were being handed a lifeline.  It felt serendipitous.

So, we started figuring out the Chaeban Ice Cream Club with Katerina, a marketing wonder person, who offered to help us.  The response has been overwhelming to say the least.  It won’t be like a regular summer with 15 staff, and it is like figuring out a whole new business, but it is bringing in enough that with the help of the government support, we think we might just be okay.

We are also getting to talk with our customers in a whole new way.  We are having detailed discussions about people’s relationship with ice cream, their expectations around service and how they are doing during the crisis.

One overwhelming message we have heard is that both vegans and dairy sensitive people alike want us to offer more non-dairy options.  We will have big news on this over the next few weeks.

The biggest news of all for us, thanks to all of you, is that this week we were able to ask Saada back to work full time as well as one of our other staff.

If you want to join the club click here. Or just find the “get started” button on the main page of our website.

The Free Press did a very nice article up on the Ice Cream Club if you want to read more click here.

Thank you for your support Winnipeg, we truly appreciate it.

Zainab, Joseph and Darryl