When we opened in August 2010 (on a Friday the 13th, no less!) we had no clue what we were doing. I made my second batch of ice cream two days before our opening, and crossed my fingers.....gulp! We won't talk about the first batch I made about 6 months prior. A word of advice: if you're going to open an ice cream store, you might want to shoot for early Spring as opposed to the last days of Summer.
Our first Winter in business also turned out to be one of the snowiest on record in Michigan. Ouch. There were days when less than 10 customers would find their way into our store. (and I can't say thank you enough to our first regulars....you know who you are!). The weather, and our business prospects, can best be summarized by the words of the immortal Susanna Hoffs: "A Hazy Shade of Winter". (interesting trivia: that song was written by Paul Simon in 1966 and covered by the Bangles in 1987). But Spring was on it's way!! As luck would have it, one of the rainiest Springs we've ever had.
But we continued to churn out new flavors. Tons of new flavors. Flavors that until now had never been attempted before. Lobster bisque, brown sugar ham, macaroni and cheese, chicken and waffles. Horseradish cream with brisket from Slows Bar BQ (yeah, Slows!). And bacon ice creams. Lots of bacon ice creams.
Then something magical happened that first Winter. I emptied the cash register to scrape up enough money to head to Nashville for an ice cream trade show. There I met a man named Donald Sargent, who owned an ice cream store in Atlanta called Morelli's Gourmet Ice Cream. After swapping stories of some of the more unusual ice creams we both made, he asked me if we made Salted Caramel ice cream. After I told him that we had tried a couple of times, but weren't happy with the results, he proceeded to instruct me, step by step, on how to make it. He promised me that if I did it correctly, it would be our best selling flavor, outselling Vanilla 3 to 1. Well, Mr. Sargent wasn't exactly correct........our Salted Caramel outsells our Vanilla 5 to 1! Our flagship flavor was born!
We kept appearing at, and donating ice cream to, every charity event that we were invited to and would have us. So many spoon-fulls that I would get blisters on my ring finger from scooping the spoons. We hardly ever turn anyone down (occasionally we are double or triple booked), and to date have donated over $6,000 in cash and $thousands more in ice cream to over 80 area non-profits.
And something else was happening. People started taking notice of us. And talking about us. And spreading the word. Metro Times, Metro Parent, the Detroit News, and even Food Network Magazine gave us shouts out. We got the attention of Eat it Detroit and The Hungry Dudes. But we really knew we had arrived when we got a mention in a nationally syndicated comic strip, Frazz! (thanks again, Jeff).
With that great word of mouth came more customers. With Spring behind us, our attention turned to cranking out as much ice cream on our 6-quart machine as we possibly could. (yes, a 6-quart machine!). We were on our way! The Summer was warm. And getting warmer. And we were filling up our freezer. Life was good. And on the hottest weekend of the year, another challenge was thrown our way: much of Ferndale lost power, and we were without it for 3 days. After being out of business for two days, and 500 pounds of dry ice later, we decided to make lemons out of lemonade, and we hosted a "sidewalk sale" with the ice cream that we had left. I witnessed the power of social media when I put out a Facebook post that morning, and over 100 people re-posted it on their page. That night we went through over 500 scoops of ice cream, as what seemed like the entire community came out to show their support. It was an incredible evening, and I wouldn't change that whole experience for anything.
We continued to soldier on. We have built up an awesome crew headed by Cheryl. We hired a pastry chef and started banging out Awesome Brownies. And kept pushing the envelope on ice cream flavors. In addition to our store, we are featured on the dessert menu's of 9 area restaurants.
This past Spring we started organizing, and appearing at, Food Truck Rallies across the area. We upgraded from a 10 x 10 foot tent, to a purple bus, to our ultimate food truck: the Dream Machine! Last Spring we sprung for a new ice cream machine (a 20 quart model...woo-hoo!!). We had no business making it this far (did I mention that I was a banker for 17 years with no prior restaurant experience?), but thanks to our loyal customers, our Dreams are coming true.
Our Big Plans
All of that seems like a lifetime ago. But now, over 500 flavors later, we're ready to expand. Not just ready to expand....we NEED to expand. Between our store and the numerous Food Truck Rallies that we pop up at (with our new Dream Machine!....see our Facebook page for cool pics), our walk in freezer is full, and there is no room in the kitchen for another one.
We have just signed a lease to double in size, and will expand our kitchen (doubling in size) as well as our dining area (almost tripling it!). And we're not stopping there. While we're knocking down walls, we are also going to put in a brand new floor, go with a totally new paint scheme, replace all of our furniture, purchase more kitchen shelving/racking/prep tables, a walk-in freezer three times as big, and come April, add a large outdoor dining area on the sidewalk. Think of it as TreatDreams2.0.
The expanded kitchen will allow us to formally introduce "Treat Dreams After Dark": adult ice cream camps where groups of friends will come together after-hours to make their own ice cream after we've closed for the day.
And that's not all. We've also got some great ideas on expanding our offerings and continuing to press the envelope on unique desserts. Think "Dessert Cafe", with great desserts in a relaxing environment. We are proud to host works by local artists, and will continue to do so in our new space. We also hosted our first "pop-up" restaurant this year (The Batata Shop) and hope to host many more in the future.
We Ask, and Your Shall Receive
So this is where we are giving out a "call to the community" one more time.
With a budget of over $50,000 we've saved up some, but not all, of what we need, but could use your help in realizing our dream. We are looking to raise $15,000 to complete this project. This expansion will allow us to continue to spread the Treat Dreams word across all corners of Metro Detroit (via the Dream Machine), and will be the next step in our dream to have a second location down the road.
We know we're not a charity, and most people aren't in the business of giving away their hard earned money, so we're here to make a deal with you: in return for helping us out, we'll give you some really cool swag and unique stuff that you can't get anywhere else. One of a kind experiences and an opportunity to try something or experience something that you can't get anywhere else.
Please take a moment to explore the perks that we've put together. No contribution is too small, and is much appreciated!
Other Ways You Can Help
Your support of us so far has been incredible. Thank you to everyone that has helped us get to where we are today. Although we understand that you may not be able to make a monetary donation, your personal connections are just as important to our campaign. Tell your family! Tell your friends! Tell your coworkers and associates! Please spread the word to whomever you believe would be interested in contributing to a cool concept, and a community based business that strives to make changes for the better. The Treat Dreams expansion campaign needs your social network, your word of mouth, and your experience with us to be shared with your world. Anything and everything you can do is needed and much appreciated. Thanks for listening to our story!