BROOKLIN, Maine — Eating ice cream is a family activity.
But for one local family, making ice cream is not only a family affair, but a family business.
Nancy Veilleux, her husband Chris Hurley, a full-time carpenter, and their daughter, a full-time 7-year-old, run The Ice Cream Lady, a business they purchased this spring.
The business started in Stonington and now makes and markets homemade ice cream that is made in the family’s Brooklin home. On a recent Saturday, with the house filled with the aroma of freshly made toffee, all three were busy whipping up a batch of a customer favorite, Espresso Toffee Chip.
The new venture has resulted in a slight change in lifestyle. It’s a desired change, Vellieux said, and one that involved switching places with the former owner. Veilleux and Hurley had operated an organic farm for a number of years, but had wanted a change in order to be able to spend more time at home where they home-school their daughter Isabelle. The former owner of The Ice Cream Lady owned some land and wanted to sell the business so she could focus on organic farming.
“So we just did a switch,” Veilleux said. “We home-school Isabelle, and working on the farm was just too much. I wanted to do something more homebased.”
Isabelle is involved in the ice cream operation — she was hand packing the Espresso Toffee Chip along with Hurley. He said the home business provides a multitude of learning opportunities for her.
“She learns a lot, about math, about the business, and about responsibility,” he said.
Veilleux works about 20 hours a week making the ice cream, and also does much of the deliveries. That takes extra time, she said, because she and Isabelle often look for little adventures on the way back from their customers. She also continues to work part time at a local dentist office.
They use their own eggs and as much local produce as possible. Some of their ice creams are seasonal. A bunch of rhubarb, for example, which came from the neighbor’s yard, sat on the counter waiting to become a special ice cream treat. Maple syrup from Carding Brook Farm just down the road provided the a maple-flavored variety. Fresh strawberry and fresh blueberry ice cream will come later in the season.
There also are other, more exotic flavors such as Madagascar vanilla bean, ginger, coconut, and fresh mango.
Their process is straight-forward and takes place in a converted storage area-porch with a bank of windows providing a view of the Benjamin River. They create a basic milk mixture, adding the flavors as needed and pour the concoction into the 25-year-old Italian ice cream maker, which literally churns out a batch of ice cream in about 12 minutes.
“It’s 25 years old, but it just keeps chugging,” Hurley said.
Then, one, two or all three of them hand-pack the stacks of pint containers and trundle them off to the outdoor freezer where rows and rows of Bodacious Blackberry, Peppermint Stick, Chocolate Chip Mint and a variety of other flavors line the shelves.
The ice cream comes out of the machine at about 19 degrees, but the freezer continues the cooling process, taking the finished product down to about -10 degrees.
Although the weather has not been ideal for ice cream eating so far this year, Veilleux said she is trying to stock up ahead of what they hope will be a busy summer season.
“We bought the business in the middle of March, so we’re coming in just at the right time,” Veilleux said. “I don’t mind working every day, but I don’t want to have to make it on demand.”
Demand is the key. Initially, The Ice Cream Lady was stocked only in local markets in the area.
“It was an existing business when I bought it, and a lot of business was local, a lot of mom and pop stores,” she said.
But, she said, she has tapped into contacts from their vegetable business and her demand is growing with larger super markets, such as Trade Winds in Blue Hill, along with area restaurants starting to carry The Ice Cream Lady ice creams.
“She is the ace marketer. She sells better than anyone I know. She can convince people to bring home things, without being overbearing,” he said. “Hey, she sold me on this idea.”
They are excited about expanding the business, but Veilleux and Hurley have slightly different ideas on how much or how fast the business should grow.
When they started farming, Veilleux said, they jumped in with both feet, and by the end of their first summer, they were exhausted.
“I don’t want to do that with this,” she said. “We’ll go slow and easy and keep it manageable.”
Hurley, however, says the sky’s the limit. He’d like to see the business grow large enough so that he too could work at home, making ice cream and home schooling their daughter.
“My theory is that Ben and Jerry’s started in a garage,” he said. “We have no idea where this can go. But hope springs eternal.”