“I can’t even wrap my brain around this,” said an emotional Connie Brown, owner of the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor in Forest Park. “I am in complete awe and beyond grateful. I never thought something like this could happen so fast.”
In less than 48 hours, an emergency GoFundMe campaign, established by Brown’s eldest son, Keegan, has exceeded a $50,000 goal set to help the beloved shop create an in-house creamery.
For 16 years, Brown Cow, at 7347 Madison St., has relied on ice cream co-packer, House of Flavors, to use Brown’s personal recipes to produce the 26 ice cream flavors sold in the Forest Park shop. Despite being a large-scale ice cream facility, House of Flavors runs smaller batches for boutique shops like Brown Cow.
Last week, with supplies running low, Brown attempted to place an order, only to be told the manufacturer was discontinuing small-batch runs because of COVID-related supply chain interruptions — effective immediately.
“I was shocked and started to panic. The news came so suddenly,” said Brown. “I understand their struggle but would have liked at least some notice. We had enough ice cream in the shop to last just six weeks.”
The ice cream parlor is the sole source of income for Brown who is a single mother of three teenagers. Without access to her signature product Brown knew she had a small window of time to find a solution.
The implications were grave for a shop that had already made significant changes to their operations to adapt to the global pandemic. Brown eagerly shifted to walk-up window service, curated creative online birthday celebrations, and used her commercial kitchen to produce bread for homeless shelters in the area.
She was also soliciting bids to have modifications made to the front of the shop to allow for proper social distancing indoors once the weather turns colder. In fact, a local contractor was in the shop when Brown learned her ice cream production was in jeopardy.
“He was looking at the front of the shop, but after that call, I asked him to take a look at the back,” said Brown. “Building an in-house creamery seemed like the only solution and it has been a dream of mine for a long time.”
After saving diligently, Brown bought the building housing her ice cream shop last year and subsequently started saving to build her own on-site ice cream production facility in the future. The crisis forced her to consider speeding up her timeline despite the hefty price tag associated with such a project. Brown estimates the total price tag to be around $120,000 — a blast freezer alone costs $48,000.
“I have some savings and applied for a loan, but my son told me I needed a Kickstarter or GoFundMe to help,” said Brown. “I don’t like to ask people for anything, but I am so grateful he pushed that button.”
As soon as Brown Cow’s GofundMe account went live, donations started pouring in, including a $1,000 offering from a former winner of the shop’s signature 21-scoop “trough” eating contest. Now, just days later, the account has well exceeded its $50,000 goal. Thanks to more than 1,100 donors, Brown’s business has a pathway to survival.
She intends to “cannibalize a portion of the party room” to accommodate the creamery and will install a viewing window to allow customers to witness the ice cream making process. In addition to sourcing a blast freezer, Brown will need to acquire a batch freezer (the actual ice cream maker) and large walk-in refrigerator to hold all the dairy products and fresh ingredients used in her recipes.
Brown, who attended ice cream manufacturing school, anticipates the need to retool some of her recipes as she will produce smaller batches of ice cream more frequently at Brown Cow.
If all goes well, she anticipates being operational in approximately two months and hopes to use the excess funds to complete the front-of-the-house improvements to help increase speed and efficiency in the shop. She has also had conversations with people about ways she can give back to a community that has shown her so much support. Giving back is a core value at Brown Cow and this experience has inspired her to do so on a larger scale.
“I promise I will give back to the community 10-fold,” said an overwhelmed Brown. “I don’t have words to express the gratitude I feel. It’s wonderful and emotional and just a mushy ball of everything.”