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From scrubs to ice cream scoops

Kristen Buttress founder of Kristen’s Kick-Ass Ice Cream store.
Kristen Buttress founder of Kristen’s Kick-Ass Ice Cream store.
Image: Supplied.

Kristen Buttress exchanged her scrubs for an ice cream scoop when she opened Kristen’s Kick-Ass Ice Cream store and is now a flavour alchemist with branches in South Africa and Mauritius.

Her journey to owning a growing chain of ice cream scoop shops is unexpected: she was a nurse in New York City and moved to SA with her husband in 2015. 

They received an ice cream maker for a wedding gift and she began experimenting.

She was making ice cream for parties and got a call from world-class chef Franck Dangereux, asking her to supply her heavenly ice creams to his deli in Noordhoek. 

She googled how to open an ice cream shop and opened her first store at the Noordhoek Farm Village two weeks later. She had no culinary experience and had never been a boss.

“I had never made ice cream before, but I love food and the entire experience of creating an environment for delicious food to be enjoyed,” said Kristen.

“For the first three years I did everything myself and created all the flavours from scratch in my home kitchen, using the best possible ingredients,” she said.

The ice cream is made by hand in 3-5 litre batches and takes three days to make. “I’m busy working on a new flavour for Halloween.  I’ve been making Snickers, Twix, Crunchies, Bounty Bars and Peanut Butter Cups from scratch and I’ll get customers to choose their favourite three bars to go into this brand new flavour, which will be launched for Halloween, of course.”

Kristen has tapped into the vegan market, quite unintentionally and 30% of her sales are vegan ice cream.  There is also a xylitol-based ice cream to cater for paleo and banting customers. “We have something for everyone, but I’m not a health store,” she added.

“I love creating and I try to create one new flavour a month.”

Kristen is a mom to two children.  “My first child Charlie, forced me to be organised.  I had been working almost 24/7 and his arrival gave me the opportunity to re-order my priorities and to be productive when I was at work and a mom when I got home.”

She has just given birth to Evelyn May which has given her the opportunity to trust her team and learn to delegate.

Kristen’s favourite flavour is Sweetie Pie, it’s an emotional ice cream.  She compares Iridium her accountant and business advisory to Louisiana Butter Cake which is a cream cheese base with chunks of ‘melt in your mouth’ butter cake, “Cream cheese is decadent on its own, but  completely compliments the butter cake and lets it shine, just like Iridium.”

Kristen said Iridium moved her business into the cloud where all the aspects of the business from point of sale to accounting and payroll are all integrated.

“Their experience and cloud-solutions have given me the biggest gift of time, it has helped me to shift my focus to thinking about the future and not being bogged down in the day-to-day,” she added.

Future expansion plans?  Kristen believes the customer experience is so important, she’s waiting for the perfect location to open the next store.

“At the Noordhoek Village store, families visit with salt on their skin, sand between their toes and an ice-cream enjoyed in the sunshine is such a heartwarming experience, all my venues have to match that.”

Lessons learned as a first-time entrepreneur

Go with your gut when you create your brand

Be true to who you are, you can’t be duplicated and customers have a nose for inauthenticity.

Do everything yourself

I did everything myself for the first three years.  This means you get to know every aspect of the business and when you eventually hire people you know what to expect and can’t have the wool pulled over your eyes. 

I might not have been the best person for all aspects of setting up Kristen Kick-Ass Ice Cream, but I understand every detail of the business.

Learn to manage people

As a nurse, I had never managed people, I had always been part of a team.  I don’t like telling people what to do and I find it really hard being a boss.  Learn your strengths and bring in experts where you aren’t the best.

Use your personal experience to add value and give insight for your business

As a mom, I curate the customer experience with all my lessons of going out with babies and toddlers: all our stores have an outside area or garden; a tap to wash dirty little faces; plenty of napkins to mop up the mess; and a safe place for families to enjoy time together.

Be outside the box

Despite having no formal culinary training, this has been beneficial to creating my brand.

While I would never pass any sort or muster to work in a commercial kitchen, I do think that gives me more flexibility to think outside the box, especially when it comes to flavors.

Basically, I have no box.  But ice cream is very scientific, so I do draw upon my organic chemistry courses.

My nursing in acute care settings has trained me to multitask and prioritize, almost in my sleep, as well as handle crisis situations with a calm mindset and care for people in all emotional states. 

All crucial skills when starting your own business. Don't let a piece of paper dictate what you can and cannot do to stand in your way. If you have the drive and passion, create your own dang path.

Covid Learnings

Despite six months of lock-down and an icy winter, Kristen’s sales in July matched January.

“We make premium ice cream and families visited our stores for a luxury experience at a fraction of the cost, plus all the stores have an outdoor area, so they were able to enjoy their favourite flavours safely in the fresh air,” said Kristen.

Covid19 forced online sales and delivery expansion via Uber Eats and Mr Delivery.  “Our online and distribution expansion gave us access to new customers without relying on foot traffic.”