Rachel Burns turned an unwieldy patch of mint into an ice cream venture.
At first, Rachel Burns and her family viewed the mint growing prolifically in their University City backyard with a little bit of angst. It was a huge patch, and the less they paid it attention, the more it grew. They didn't want to get rid of the bush, but they also weren't sure what to do with all of it, and they could only drink so many mojitos. Eventually, Burns had an idea.
"It was growing so beautifully that we couldn't let it die, so I started making mint ice cream," Burns says. "Prior to that, I had never made ice cream before. I had one of those Cuisinart ice cream makers in my basement for years and I would walk past it and pay it no attention, so I brought it up and started making mint ice cream. We had a small pool in our backyard, and we'd invite people over and all have ice cream. Eventually, it became a condition of accepting our invitations."
Burns laughs at how such a seemingly insignificant detail as a patch of mint in her backyard has launched her into ice cream entrepreneurship. If someone would have told her just a few years ago that she would launch a gourmet ice cream brand, Bold Spoon Creamery, she would have thought them to be crazy. An investment consultant by day, Burns always enjoyed food, but she never considered herself to be an especially gifted home cook, let alone a culinary professional.
However, something about making ice cream spoke to her. That entire first summer she made only a mint version of the frozen treat, but the following one, she began experimenting with flavors. She began to see that ice cream was becoming more than a hobby, and she wanted to explore it further, fueled on by the joy she saw her handiwork bringing to people.
"I think I wanted to explore it because it's such an easy way to make people happy," Burns says. "Everyone was giggly happy when I brought it out; no one was paying attention to their phones — just talking and happy together."
With the support of her husband, Burns began the process for turning Bold Spoon into a bona fide ice cream operation in 2019. With the help of her circle of friends, who became her volunteer tasters called "the Spoons," she came up with recipes, developed a business plan, got all of her licenses and certifications in order, found commercial kitchen space at the incubator STL Foodworks and planned to launch in 2020. Grown out of her home-use Cuisinart, she had her commercial ice cream maker set for delivery on March 18.
Then, everything shut down.
"Our plan was to sell wholesale to restaurants and specialty stores," Burns says. "I remember the day we got it, I asked the delivery people if they were even still making deliveries. It was such a bizarre time. We thought about having them restock it, because there was no way we were going to be able to execute our business plan. No restaurant was going to talk to me about carrying my ice cream — they didn't even know if they were going to be open or closed."
Burns decided to accept delivery on the ice cream machine and figure out a way to move forward. She didn't know where to start, but she knew she had to do something, so she put her ice cream in a cooler and walked it around her neighborhood, giving samples to anyone who'd accept. She also gave her ice cream to hospital workers as a way to give them a little bit of joy in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and eventually set up an online store to sell directly to customers. When her first orders came in, she was beyond thrilled.
"My husband, son and I were jumping around like we'd made a million dollars," Burns recalls. "It was really $40, but it could have been a million, because it made us see that this might actually work and someone wants it."
Burns got to work fulfilling online orders and eventually started selling Bold Spoon's frozen wares at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market. There, she enjoyed interacting with customers and getting to know the other vendors, many of whose wares she began using in her ice cream. By late July, she had her products in six different Schnucks locations and several specialty stores around town, and just this January she and her husband moved to Park Hills, where she has space for both a commercial kitchen and a massive garden she will use to cultivate ingredients for her ice cream. Both the move and Bold Spoon's success are things she never could've have imagined, but she can't help but feel that she was led to this moment, even by the most random act.
"There are so many things that happen that seem small and insignificant," Burns says. "The fact that I planted that mint in an area where it could grow rather than putting it in a pot like I should have — it's so crazy. You think the little things are insignificant, then look what happens."
Burns took a break from making ice cream to share her passion for the St. Louis food community, how the innovators in the restaurant business inspire her, and how everyone in the industry is better when others succeed.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
When I was much younger, I used to think about starting a business. I would think about products or services I could provide. However, I could never come up with something I thought would be successful, so that went by the wayside. Then flash forward twenty years and I started Bold Spoon and it evolved naturally. Making ice cream started as my hobby, it turned into a hobby on hyper-drive, then it turned into a business. I stopped letting myself get in the way of me and decided to go for it, and I’m glad I did, and I encourage others to do the same, even if that means someone starts another ice cream business. To be successful you don’t need someone else to fail; there is room for all who have a great product and are willing to work hard.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
I have a cup of coffee in my hands within fifteen minutes of being awake. I tried to change that habit once, but it didn’t stick. I have no plans to try to change it again.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
I love so much about the local St. Louis food scene; it’s so eclectic. My brother, Brad, is a chef at Lorenzo’s Trattoria on the Hill, so Lorenzo’s is among my favorites. If you haven’t been there you should give it a try. St. Louis is lucky to have so many great and unique neighborhoods all with their individual restaurant scene. Lafayette Square, Dogtown, the Loop and Central West End, to name a few neighborhoods, all have great restaurants. I also love St. Louis staples such as Imo’s and Ted Drewes. I grew up eating both, so they are a bit nostalgic for me.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
If I think about the ingredients in our ice cream, I will say spiced honey. In our Brie and Spiced Honey ice cream, we swirl honey spiced with cayenne pepper throughout. The honey is mostly sweet and smooth with an occasional gentle kick, kind of like me.
If you weren’t working in the food business, what would you be doing?
I love being in the local food industry. Through our sourcing of local ingredients for our ice cream, I have met so many great people whose products we use in Bold Spoon ice cream. However, this question is easy for me, because I currently have a career outside of the restaurant business, separate from Bold Spoon. I am an investment consultant by day and an ice cream maker by night and on the weekends.
As a food professional, what do people need to know about what you are going through?
I only have things to be grateful for as a new business owner. Bold Spoon is off to a solid start, and I have made new connections with great people. Bold Spoon is 100 percent Black-woman-owned (me), and there has been growing interest in supporting minority business, and for that I’m grateful. I am grateful for the local stores that sell our products; we are currently sold in Schnucks (Arsenal, Richmond Heights, Ladue, LindbergH, Des Peres and Webster Groves), Smoke House Market, Woman’s Exchange and Garden District STL, and all of them have been amazing partners.
What do you miss most about the way you did your job before COVID-19? What do you miss least?
People often ask me what it is like to do business during COVID. Oddly, I have nothing to compare it to, as we started Bold Spoon in 2020 during COVID. Our first sale was May 2, 2020.
What have you been stress-eating/drinking lately?
I can’t stop eating pistachios. I don’t think it's stress-eating; I just can’t stop eating them.
What do you think the biggest change to the hospitality industry will be once people are allowed to return to normal activity levels?
I think the way we do a lot of things will change. For instance, many jobs are now remote and will likely remain flexible going forward. Think of the impact on restaurants that were near big office buildings filled with people going out to lunch. Now, many of those people will not be coming into the office every day like they did pre-COVID, so the potential customer base is reduced. I think we will all be adapting for some time to come.
What is one thing that gives you hope during this crisis?
I love small businesses, and not just because Bold Spoon is one. Something that gives me hope is all the small business owners I see who keep pushing and adapting day in and day out. I’ve been amazed by all of the innovations people have been forced to create. There is a saying that “necessity is the mother of invention"; 2020 proved this saying to be true many times over.
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