20 Mar Dream Big. Start Small. And Invest In Being The Best.
Geri Martha and Ryan O’Hara (Big Spoon Creamery)
Imagine you’re Frank Stitt walking into Bottega — one of three wildly successful restaurants you own — and your Sous Chef (who’s been with you for seven years) and Pastry Chef (five years), have something to discuss with you. The couple want to leave the restaurant, buy a tricycle, and sell ice cream at Pepper Place Farmer’s Market. Which is open one day a week. For five hours. Weather permitting.
If you like them half as much as they like you, you try to talk them out of it right? “Chef gave us his blessing,” says Geri Martha O’Hara.
Are we missing something here?
Well, nothing other than the key factor supporting their idea (conveniently withheld for dramatic effect). Geri Martha and her husband Ryan had already proven the potential of their homemade ice cream. At home.
“When we got serious enough about the idea of pursuing ice cream as our business,” Geri Martha explains, “we started with a simple pop-up in our driveway. We only opened on Sundays, but routinely sold as much as $1,000 worth of ice cream in an afternoon.”
For the record, the couple live in a quiet residential neighborhood Hoover. Not on the busiest retail thoroughfare in the Birmingham Metropolitan Area — where selling $1000 worth of ice cream in a single afternoon might sound entirely plausible.
“Ice cream has always been one of my favorite things to make, and Ryan has so many fond childhood memories involving ice cream.” Now owners of Avondale’s Big Spoon Creamery — named Alabama’s 2017 “Emerging Retailer of the Year” by the Alabama Retail Association — Geri Martha and Ryan make all their ice cream from scratch. Including Soft Serve.
Enter TSSI’s James Palmer.
“We knew we wanted to get into Soft Serve, and we knew that Taylor had the best machines. So I worked hand-in-hand with James adapting our own recipes to the machine.” And here’s what made the idea a challenge: Traditional Soft Serve is made with a specific set of ingredients that ensure consistency — not only in flavors, but also in consistency.
“This was new territory for James as well, and what we’re doing is really unique in Soft Serve. He was so knowledgeable, and so helpful in working with us to develop our own Soft Serve recipes from scratch.”
Try these on for size.
“Now that we’ve learned how to make it all work, we can be really creative with Soft Serve. For instance, we’ve had a Bulleit Bourbon flavored ice cream. During Christmas, we served Gingerbread Man with Cranberry Cream. Our most popular Soft Serve offering right now is probably cake batter. It’s been great for us. The customers love it. They love all the different flavors. And they love the fact that it is locally sourced from scratch.
“We recently introduced a flavor,” she continues, “using beans from Domestique” — a local coffee roaster. And with the increased popularity of Soft Serve at the shop, there are days when their machine is working at maximum capacity. “Our machine has been great. We’ve had absolutely no problems. And TSSI’s service after the sale has been as consistent as James’ support was from the very beginning.”
Getting From There To Here: A Timeline
April 12, 2013: Geri Martha and Ryan get engaged. “Ryan proposed to me while I was at work. He had Pardis [Stitt] lead me upstairs to the mezzanine at Bottega.” (NOTE: At this point, Ryan is sous chef at Chez Fon Fon. He started with Chef Stitt as a line chef at Bottega).
April 12, 2014: Geri Martha and Ryan are married.
July 4 weekend, 2014: Geri Martha and Ryan begin selling ice cream from their driveway. She leaves Bottega. He leaves the restaurant May 1.
Their venture gets a huge boost courtesy of a neighbor — and fan — who writes for Southern Living Magazine, and publishes a blog post in praise of the couple’s work. Geri Martha and Ryan reinvest their earnings into the business and buy their tricycle with cash. “Before we opened our Avondale storefront, we bought everything with cash.” From the tricycle, they sell ice cream sandwiches and pints of ice cream.
The couple spends the winter months of 2014 preparing to formally launch the company and leave their full time jobs. “Between the two of us, we were working 120+ hours a week. In April, I’d given Chef a one year notice, that I would leave April 1, 2015 to go after our dream. I left April 1, and Ryan followed in May. All our eggs were in one basket!”
April 12, 2015: The couple celebrates their anniversary by launching the tricycle business at Pepper Place.
April, 2016: They expand to a truck. They also expand their product lineup — adding offerings like scoops and waffle cones.
April 22, 2017: Big Spoon Creamery opens in Avondale. Response is so strong, the couple add staff and expand their operation.
October, 2017: Big Spoon Creamery named Alabama’s 2017 “Emerging Retailer of the Year” by the Alabama Retail Association.
April, 2018: Big Spoon Creamery scheduled to open at Mae’s Food Hall in Cullman.
April 10, 2018: Official due date for the couple’s first child — a son.
Giving thanks. In her own words.
“Every winter we are working diligently to prepare for the growth that is coming in the Spring! So pretty much every wedding anniversary we have, we are growing with our company and now our family! April is the month that God really blesses us! We are always excitedly waiting with expectant hearts and gratefulness!”
Geri Martha O’Hara: Wife. Soon-to-be-Mother. Entrepreneur. Ice Cream Genius!