When Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen, founders of Blue Marble Ice Cream, discovered the lack of ice cream in Brooklyn, their shop was born. Just one year later they are now expanding their two organic, grass-fed ice cream parlors in the borough, and adding a third in Rwanda, naturally. With the launch of their non-profit organization Blue Marble Dreams, they'll "explore the transformative potential of ice cream not just as a source of fun and joy but also as a means of sustainable economic growth in developing countries with local but underutilized dairy resources." Not only that, but they'll be doing so with eco-conscious business models. This week the two ice cream queens told us a little bit about their business, some new flavors on the way, and their plan to set up shop in Rwanda.
You've only just opened your first store in 2007, and already have a second. Have you been surprised at all by the success of the business so far? Equally surprised and inspired by the great community support in our Brooklyn neighborhoods. We opened here because we suspected that folks would respond to the high quality product, the atmosphere we try to create, and our philosophy. But we didn't anticipate the kind of customer loyalty and enthusiasm we've experienced thus far. Opening the second location felt to us like a huge risk at a time when we had only been open seven months and had yet to experience our first busy summer. We went for it, just because our business instinct told us we couldn't walk away from the opportunity. It's the customer support that has made us feel so relieved that in fact, the risk was worth it!
In Boston, there's a lot of "Burnt Sugar" flavored ice cream. It's delicious, but nowhere to be found in New York. Would you ever consider bringing this flavor on? Alexis: Funny you should ask that! Burnt sugar is one of my favorite flavors of all time! I used to live in Boston and would make regular treks across the Charles to Christina's (in Cambridge) for it. They made a great burnt sugar. We have definitely considered it, among other great flavor ideas, and hope to have it up on the menu someday soon.
What flavors would you like to see on the menu in the future? We are currently working on a salted caramel using the incredibly delicious organic caramel made by fellow Brooklynite, Justine Pringle of Nunu Chocolates. We'd also like to do an organic peanut butter swirled into something. Maple has just returned to the menu, and pumpkin is just around the corner...
Where does the name Blue Marble come from? We borrowed it from Earth's nickname, the Big Blue Marble (derived from the observation that that was what it looked like from space). We thought it would work well as the name for our shop because it was an evocative representation of what our scoops would look and taste like...cool, round, packed with natural stuff, made with sustainably grown ingredients that are produced both locally and from across the globe. So the idea was that with each bite, you literally taste a little piece of Earth. Then, of course, we riffed on the whole ice cream scoop thing; we call our regular-sized scoops "marbles" and the smaller version "mini marbles." The name also speaks to our desire to promote conscientious consumerism. These days, more and more consumers want to know the origins of their food purchases and are recognizing the impact those origins have not only on the quality of the products but also on the well-being of our global community. We love it when customers ask us where we source our dairy, coffee, vanilla, cocoa, etc. because it offers an opportunity for us to connect with the faces, cultures, landscapes, resources, etc. behind what they're eating. We also use only biodegradable cups, bowls, spoons and other serveware, which is composted after use, further conveying our commitment to the planet and its precious resources. And, finally, we're kid-friendly, and marbles are just plain fun.
Tell us about Blue Marble Dreams. We decided that the best way to create the shop in Rwanda would be to start a nonprofit, Blue Marble Dreams, that would sponsor the shop. The idea is to create a place that is self sustaining, run by the women of the community whom we select to be part of the project. Blue Marble Dreams will function as a community development organization with dairy development and ice cream production as its focus. Our hope is that once we see how it works in Rwanda, we will do it in other locales as well where dairy is available locally. So, Blue Marble Dreams is something beyond just this one expansion to Rwanda -- it is its own nonprofit entity, a sister of sorts to Blue Marble Ice Cream, that connects our own community to those in developing countries. We state four main goals:
1) Support local nascent dairy industry by deepening and diversifying the market for milk and milk-
2) Build a functioning, sustainable ice cream production and retail operation;
3) Provide sustainable, gainful employment for local women; and
4) Deploy a mobile ice cream unit to distribute free ice cream to children in surrounding
communities who do not have access to transportation and cannot afford to purchase ice cream.
Between now and October 19th, all donations are being matched by our two Angel investors up to $20,000. We've got another $10,000 to go -- please help us bring this innovative development to our friends in Rwanda. Give folks there the experience of fun, laughter, and simple joy that we here take for granted. Make a donation at www.bluemarbledreams.org.
How did Rwanda become the location? The idea was presented by a Rwandan woman whom Jennie met over the summer at a theatre workshop in Utah. Odile Gakire Katese is an accomplished theatre artist and community leader in her city of Huye (Butare), Rwanda. She found out that Jennie owned an ice cream shop and approached her with the idea. The first thing she said was that Rwanda is a country of milk. It's true: dairy cows are very common there, and milk is a huge part of the culture, so the base ingredient is already there, local. As for the ice cream, Odile said that it would be a wonderful resource for her community because, even though they have other more pressing physical needs (clean water, food, healthcare, electricity), there is a spiritual need for joy, leisure, and laughter that she feels is not being fully met by other philanthropic/development initiatives. Her philosophy is that in order to create a possibility for joy in the future, it is imperative that children both experience joy and witness their parents or other adults experiencing it, even if it is for a brief moment. These moments, she charges, are just too few and far between right now. Ice cream is more than just a commodity; it is a symbol of these moments of happiness, when you can let your cares go and indulge. Creativity comes out of the moment when you can take a break from arduous troubles of life and just sit, daydream, smile, imagine. This is the space we want to create with Odile. Neither of us feels we could have initiated the idea ourselves; how could we presume to offer such a "luxury" item in Rwanda, a country so challenged by poverty, disease, and the still crippling legacy of the genocide? But, with the request coming from Odile, who lives in the midst of these challenges, we were immediately compelled to make it happen.
Have you found the endeavour to be successful so far? Yes. We have been humbled and inspired by the response we've received since announcing Blue Marble Dreams and explaining its mission. In addition to heartfelt words of encouragement, people have presented us with numerous and substantial opportunities to learn, connect and rally support for this initiative. This response has confirmed that we are indeed on the right path and that this is something we can and must do. We are in the middle of our first fundraising effort. Two inspired donors came forward with a combined pledge of $20,000 ($10,000 each) in matching funds to get the initial startup capital together. We're only just two weeks into the drive but have already gotten the first $10,000 matched. We have also made incredible strides in our outreach to individuals and institutions both on the ground in Rwanda and otherwise active in the region - government agencies, funding institutions, equipment manufacturers, private business owners, nonprofit organizations, etc. While they certainly have made us aware of the challenges that await us, they have been uniformly enthusiastic and are committed to providing assistance where they can. We have also had incredible support within our own community here. We view this as an opportunity for Brooklynites and New Yorkers in general to really share in this gift. We love that our community has a chance to contribute and feel that they are giving a part of their own lives to those who will be enriched by it so far away.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? Jennie: Fewer cars. More bikes.
Alexis: Bigger apartments (and storefronts!) for less money.
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? Jennie: I used to hang out a lot at Les Deux Gamins on Grove and Waverly (that location is now closed). That place used to be packed with celebs, just chillin out. In the early '90's, I lived upstairs, it was romantic. One day I ate lunch next to Daniel Day-Lewis. I just sat there in the glow of his genius. That was it for me.
Alexis: I had dinner recently with my mom and sisters at La Esquina (a reliable place to spot famous faces). At the table next to ours was Jay Z and Beyonce. My mom was facing away from them, so she couldn't get a good look except for when they walked past us coming in. She asked us, "Is she wearing a gold lame top or a big, shiny necklace? I thought I caught a glimpse of something brilliant." No, indeed she was not wearing a gold lame top nor a big, shiny necklace. It was just her ridiculously radiant beauty. No makeup, no bling, just gorgeous.