It’s been an emotional time for Connie Brown, owner of the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, 7347 Madison St. in Forest Park. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced the business owner to pivot in the face of a pandemic.
Typically at this time of year, Brown Cow would have a staff of 22 employees and serve in excess of 1,000 customers per day. Today, they have reduced hours to a single shift (Tuesday-Sunday, 2-6 p.m.) and operates with a small staff of six.
“I have no idea how many people we are serving right now, but we’re doing less than a quarter of our regular business,” said Brown.
Despite the business decline, Brown engaged her creative side to simplify her business and embrace cost-cutting measures. Days before the Illinois shelter-in-place order went into effect in March, Brown closed her ice cream parlor for 10 days in order to regroup and readjust. After assessing how best to serve customers efficiently and safely, Brown broke out her toolbox and created an 11-inch-wide walk-up window.
The simple solution made Brown and her employees feel more comfortable serving customers, young and old, during this unprecedented time. Using the window minimizes points of contact between employees and customers while ensuring guests can easily order pints, quarts, scoops and ice cream sandwiches from the sidewalk. Additionally, Brown Cow is offering sundae kits to enjoy at home. Each kit, purchased at the window, comes with ice cream, cones, sprinkles and topping in quantities designed to feed 6-12 people.
Approximately 20 percent of Brown Cow’s business comes from on-site birthday parties, and cancellations have been prevalent these days. Rather than wallow, Brown, looked to the internet to find a solution.
The Brown Cow is offering host-your-own online cake and ice cream birthday parties geared toward children 6 and under. The shop will deliver a cake and pint of ice cream to the birthday person, along with party napkins, party blowers and candles. Since no one likes to celebrate alone, the shop will also deliver a little box to local party guests, including an individual cake, kiddy scoop of vanilla ice cream and a party blower.
Additionally, Brown Cow has partnered with Geppetto’s Toy Box in Oak Park to add some presents to the party. Parents can order from the toy shop and selected gifts will be delivered to the birthday person along with the cake and ice cream. This concept will soon be expanded to include hosting online parties on the Zoom platform, complete with entertainment, gifts, cake, and ice cream.
“I feel like I am reinventing my business every single day.” said Brown. “I am optimistic by nature and know I am blessed to be open.”
As Brown shifts her business model, she is also focused on giving back to the Westchester Food Pantry. The pantry serves nearly all Proviso Township and relies heavily on overstock from grocery stores to operate. Brown learned from a close friend that bread was in extremely short supply at the pantry.
“Our baker is our only full-time employee,” said Brown. “We started baking 100 loaves of bread for the pantry every week and have given some to Housing Forward.”
Brown Cow offers products like ciabatta, baguette, and white sandwich bread for sale out the front window on Fridays. Customers are encouraged to buy one loaf and donate another.
Overall, Brown acknowledges the COVID-19 outbreak has made her nimble under pressure and she feels grateful for her new perspective and ability to serve and give back to her community. Her heart is with her Forest Park community and she has hope for the future.
“Small business is a staple of America and I hope our local businesses get the help and support they need to survive,” said Brown. “I know we are ready to bond together to help our Madison Street businesses make it.”