Diane Mastrull: A second scoop of ice cream
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The Midwest was getting hammered by a whopper of a snowstorm one afternoon last week; weather forecasters were warning (albeit inaccurately that particular day) that some snow would hit here.
And in a storefront just off Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia, three young entrepreneurs and two small business advocates clustered together - not for warmth but to exult over ice cream.
To true connoisseurs, it's never too cold for the chilled concoction of cream, milk, and sugar!
But this time, nobody was indulging. They were talking about the revenue-building potential of the businessmen's fledgling company, and its economic-development promise for the commercial corridor once the indulging begins.
Assuming renovations stay on track, the former sign shop at 49th and Catharine Streets will open April 1 as the second retail location for Little Baby's Ice Cream.
"It's all about the tree canopy," co-owner Pete Angevine said, only part-joking, of what sold them on the Cedar Park neighborhood. "We don't have those in Kensington."
That other rebounding city neighborhood is where Little Baby's churns out its handmade, small-batch, super-premium ice cream, including nondairy and vegan options, and where in August it opened its first shop.
Though Little Baby's flavors are of the intensely imaginative variety - Blackberry Chronic Sage Pesto, Yards (yes, the beer) Brown Butter Brawler, Chocolate Teriyaki, and Red Bean Rice Krisps, to name a few - the true entertainment is the story of the three musicians behind them.
Angevine (29, drums), Martin Brown (30, jazz trumpet), and Jeffrey Ziga (31, drums) started the business as another creative outlet.
"We just kind of became obsessed with ice cream," Brown said, referring especially to himself and Angevine. Both had been making it in their homes as a hobby. When a mutual friend overheard them talking about it one day, he encouraged them to go in business.
They started with a customized tricycle outfitted with a freezer on wheels that could hold six flavors and could handle block and birthday parties, cultural events, and festivals with up to 500 participants.
But their first event, in late spring 2011, attracted about 3,000 people, Brown said. It took three days to produce enough ice cream - an experience Brown, the company's ice cream maker, was not eager to repeat.
Angevine handles all event bookings and public liaisons; Ziga, sales and employees, of which there were about 25 during the last season (as if there's a finite time when ice cream is appropriate). The West Philadelphia store is expected to employ four to six people.
A search for a place that could accommodate a full-production kitchen and store led Little Baby's owners to 2311 Frankford Ave. in Kensington, formerly home to a flower shop, an art gallery, and a bakery.
The ice cream company is experiencing a profoundly successful symbiotic relationship with its neighbor - and major foodie draw - Pizza Brain, a restaurant and museum. Last season, total sales for Little Baby's were $250,000, up from $20,000 for the tricycle-dependent debut season.
When asked whether the company was profitable yet, Angevine hedged: "I'll say that we have exceeded our expectations by quite a bit."
Its performance was good enough to persuade the Enterprise Center Capital Corp., a West Philadelphia nonprofit community-development micro-lender, to issue Little Baby's a five-year, $50,000 loan last month for the Cedar Park expansion.
Director Michael Bing lauded Little Baby's use of social media - including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and SoundCloud - to reach an ever-expanding customer base, including a growing number of co-ops and other wholesalers. (Find a list at www.littlebabysicecream.com.)
"You can go to pretty much any part of Philadelphia and mention Little Baby's, and people know about it," said Bing, who is sweet on the Earl Grey Sriracha flavor. "There's something about their energy and their passion."
"And their ice cream!" added Iola Harper, an aficionado of Little Baby's Bourbon Bourbon Vanilla and head of the Enterprise Center's business-acceleration group.
She said Little Baby's new location, where Baltimore Avenue and Catharine Street converge amid a collage of discount, liquor and health-food stores, a nail salon, a Laundromat, and pizza and Chinese take-out restaurants, will help drive a revival of the commercial corridor, which is surrounded by neighborhoods of young professionals.
"This type of resurgence starts with food and entertainment," Harper said.
Where things go after that is still to be determined, the big boys behind Little Baby's say.
At least one thing will be reassuring for the 15 or so family members and friends that have invested to help get the company up and scooping.
"We're paying everyone back," Ziga said.
The owners of Little Baby's Ice Cream talk about their new shop opening soon in West Philadelphia's Cedar Park neighborhood. Go to www.philly.com/business
Contact Diane Mastrull
at 215-854-2466, email@example.com,
or @mastrud on Twitter.