Connie Brown got excited when, shortly after they opened the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor on Madison St. in 2004, Trapeze, OPRF High School’s newspaper, named them the best ice cream parlor in the Oak Park area.
“I could wrap my head around that,” she recalled.
She could even comprehend the fact that U.S. News and World Report picked Brown Cow as one of the 12 best ice cream shops in the country a couple years ago.
But her head is still spinning from a phone call she received in May that a London-based production company was considering doing a TV feature on her store for the Food Network.
“I have no idea how they got my name,” said Brown. “They were looking for the best sweet shops — cupcake shops, ice cream parlors, etc. — in America.” The first interview was on June 1. “I borrowed some equipment; we held up a little camera; and had a Skype interview at 7 in the morning.”
“About a month ago,” she continued, “they told us that we were on their short list and they were going to come out to do a walk through in two hours. It was a Sunday and we had sold everything over the weekend, so we had to quick make some new cakes and restock everything. When they walked in, there was a children’s piano recital going on in the front room and a birthday party in the back room. It was chaos. I thought, ‘There’s no way he’s going to pick us.'”
The guy said he loved it, that it was even better than Brown had described it. Instead of chaotic, he found it “charming.”
“Shortly thereafter,” Brown concluded, “they told us we were chosen as the only ice cream shop they were going to feature, at least for the pilot show.”
This past Sunday the crew focused on the ice cream cakes, the apple pie (made in the bakery in the back of the store) ala mode, and their “trough” — seven pounds of ice cream, 21 scoops (one of each of flavor) topped with mounds of whipped cream, sprinkles, nuts and a cherry. Plus a T-shirt!
A crew came in the store on Saturday and gave her a rundown of everything that was going to happen.
“Sunday was an overwhelming experience,” said Brown. “The crew and host were so very kind. The whole experience was almost surreal. Our whole family was involved in the production, and everyone did such an amazing job. The name of the show and the name of the host I was required to keep a secret until closer to the air date.”
It will air at the end of October on the Food Network.
Brown speculated on how a company based in London found out about an ice cream parlor in Forest Park. U.S. News & World Report undoubtedly helped, but word of mouth also extends a long way.
“There was a couple that came in two weeks ago from South Bend, Indiana,” she said. “Their whole purpose in driving to Chicago was to go to the Willis Tower, drive out this way, eat at Shanahan’s and have ice cream at the Brown Cow. They drove back that afternoon.”
Brown worked in marketing for 13 years before opening her shop on Madison Street, but she said she could throw out the window everything she learned in her former job. Her biggest marketing tool is her customers.
“I have amazing customers,” she said, “who are very vocal. I get good reviews on Yelp and we do some advertising in the Review, but it’s the word of mouth that gives me more business than anything else. For example, if we have a birthday party and 20 kids are invited, parents of two of the kids will book birthday parties themselves. If a customer comes in, has great ice cream and likes the total experience and the service, they’re going to come back.”
Brown said some of her customers got involved in Sunday’s taping. Forest Park Youth Soccer League players came in to sample “the trough” and numerous people were interviewed on camera.