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Cotton candy, sweetie go.
Not sure about you, but when I was a kid, I labeled August as the last call to soak in antidotes of a Southern summer like cookouts, catching lighting bugs at dusk, dips in the pool and staying up all late before school began.
It’s also the last time to indulge in my favorite treats. Sending lots of love to neighborhood candy ladies who keep their freezers full of slushies and freeze pops so we can have some relief from the Summer heat. Y’all are the real ones!
I’m sprinkling a little brown sugar on your day as we talk about the Black-owned dessert companies that literally make our day a little sweeter.
But before we hop into it, consider forwarding this email to three friends who have a sweet tooth in your life. Don’t keep this information to yourself!
What’s the scoop?
Hearing the ice cream truck roll through the neighborhood is probably one of my favorite summer memories. I would rush in the house to ask my mom, “Can I buy some ice cream?” Her response: “Do you have ice cream money?”
Well, if you’re in Birmingham, Ala., and do have some extra cash, you should spend some of those coins with the Black-women-owned What’s the Scoop? Ice Cream Co. Founders Ashley Wells-Dixon and Bianca Jemison have churned up 27 flavors of organic, lactose-free homemade ice cream for y’all to enjoy. That includes five dairy-free flavors so those living that vegan life don’t miss out on the indulgence.
At least twice a month, Jemison and Wells-Dixon post Facebook and Instagram their menu full of funky-named treats such as “Smooth Criminal” (Cheesecake ice cream with Oreo cookie crumbles) and “Butter Believe Pe(can) (Butter pecan ice cream with caramel swirl). The women promise their vanilla ice cream, dubbed “Plain James,” will have you craving for more. Wells-Dixon said they tweaked her great-grandmother’s recipe by switching out the diabetic-levels of sugar for all-natural ingredients and whole milk with lactose-free or oat milk.
If you ever get a lick of “Plain James,” know that you’re enjoying four generations worth of joy and resilience. Wells-Dixon’s grandmother made her own ice cream during a time when Black people couldn’t purchase it unless it was the Fourth of July.
Oh, how American. *rolls ice and sips tea*
Wells-Dixon remembers helping her grandmother hand churn and taste test a recipe that was so good, its popularity left a lasting legacy.
“She used to make ice cream for our church as well, and they still talk about it to this day,” Wells-Dixon said. “Me and Bianca always say, ‘That’s what we want. We want people to still be talking about our ice cream even after we’re gone.”
The origin story of What the Scoop? actually was planted a few generations back. Jemison’s family tree has strong entrepreneurial roots. Even during Jim Crow, the family owned land and their own homes. When her great-grandfather passed away, he left her grandmother and her siblings thousands of dollars in cash that he made from selling barbecue.
So when Jemison and Wells-Dixon were thinking about building generational wealth in 2015, they thought about starting their own business. They first thought about opening a bar, but after doing some research, they learned about the lack of Black ice cream owners. They stepped into that void and got to work not just for their families, but for the kids of west side Birmingham who don’t have access to fresh ice cream or healthy food options near their neighborhood.
Jemison and Wells-Dixon experienced the same problem growing up. So, during the quest to build generational wealth, the women are also breaking generational curses.
“It’s about the access,” Jemison said. “We thought it would be great to have something clean and all natural in our community that is easily accessible to people in the area.”
Jemison and Wells-Dixon started selling ice cream on and off at first. They didn’t become official until 2020 – the year of the Rona virus.
But some aspects of the pandemic worked in their favor. Working from home gave them more time to create. Add on a boom in Black business support and they had a recipe for success, one that feeds them to this day: During Juneteenth alone, they sold 90 containers of ice cream in three hours.
Currently, the women are producing and selling from their homes. But when I asked them about what’s next for What’s the Scoop?, they said an ice cream empire – one that will benefit the everyone.
“That’s the type of impact I want us to leave on our family and our community” Jemison said. “I want us to be the people that did well for our people and never shied away from that.”
What’s your flavor (of joy)?
I said above that joy is built into the recipe of What’s the Scoop?. So I asked Jemison and Wells-Dixon to pick their favorite flavors and associate it to a moment of joy from their childhood.
Jemison: “I Want Some of Your Brown Sugar” (cheesecake ice cream with homemade pralines and caramel swirl) and “Praline On Me” (vanilla with pralines and caramel swirl) remind her of the times she sat on the porch with her grandmother enjoying some pralines and crème ice cream.
“It would be hot because her air never worked in the house for real,” Jemison said. “Like, that was the best part of our summer day, being able to enjoy that with her. So, another part of my personal Black joy was learning how to make it with the flavor I was looking for specifically.”
Wells-Dixon: “Main Squeeze” (lemon ice cream with lemon Oreo crumbles) may be her favorite on their menu, but chocolate reminds her of a tradition she and her mother created together.
Wells-Dixon’s grandmother stopped making ice cream when Wells-Dixon entered elementary school. Wells-Dixon’s mother craved ice cream so much, that they would buy Blue Belle’s chocolate and vanilla ice cream every week.
“We could go through a gallon,” she said.
Where to find your next brown sugar rush
August is also national Black Business Month. So here are a few Southern entrepreneurs that will surely satisfy your next craving.
Phillip Ashley’s Chocolates: If Memphis, Tenn., was a box of chocolates, what would it taste like? Well, it looks like Designer chocolatier Phillip Ashley Rix has figured it out. Think barbecue, banana pudding, collards and cornbread. Yes, we are still talking about chocolate. Known as the “real life Willy Wonka,” Rix’s delights are a work of art that has been praised by locals and celebrities. Oprah selected his Perfect Turtles as one of her favorite things.
K & J’s Elegant Pastries: Now, if you want to be EXTRA-extra about your sweets, then head down to K & J’s Elegant Pastries in Alabaster, Ala. Owner and chef Kristal Bryant monstrous milkshakes have been “ooohed and “ahhhed” across the nation. Forget the whip cream and cherry on top. That’s boring. Bryant’s milkshakes are decked out with five-layer cakes, dollops of cotton candy, smores and other crazy concoctions. If milkshakes don’t bring ya’ to the yard, Bryant also creates some amazing cakes and cupcakes.
Spread Black Joy and not COVID-19. With the delta variant acting raggedy around here, I’m reminding you to get vaxxed (if you haven’t already) and wear ya’ mask. See you next time!