Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna, the co-founders of Ample Hills Creamery, embarked on a tumultuous journey in the ice cream business. From humble beginnings with an ice cream push cart to a $40 million valuation, they experienced a meteoric rise followed by a sudden fall. This article explores their remarkable story, shedding light on the challenges they faced, the lessons learned, and their inspiring resurgence.
The Birth of Ample Hills Creamery
From Push Cart to Brick-and-Mortar
Brian Smith, a former Syfy screenwriter, and Jackie Cuscuna, a long-time teacher, defied the odds by venturing into the ice cream industry. It all began with Smith’s passion for making ice cream, a source of joy that ignited their entrepreneurial spirit. Encouraged by Cuscuna, they started their journey with a push cart in 2010, offering high-quality ice cream with flavors designed to evoke childhood nostalgia.
The Sweet Taste of Success
Their dedication paid off as they opened their first brick-and-mortar scoop shop in 2011, investing their life savings of $225,000. Ample Hills quickly gained popularity, with lines stretching down the street during the summer months. Celebrities and even Disney CEO Bob Iger recognized their exceptional ice cream, leading to collaborations and opportunities that would set the stage for their eventual challenges.
The Ambitious Expansion
The Need for a Factory
In response to soaring demand, Smith and Cuscuna made a pivotal decision to build a factory in 2014, raising $19 million in venture capital funding. This move led to the rapid expansion of Ample Hills, boasting 13 shops across the United States by 2019 and $10 million in annual sales. However, their success concealed underlying issues.
Oversights and Overspending
Their oversized factory, while ambitious, led to supply exceeding demand. Unique ingredients caused equipment problems, and significant expenses were incurred designing custom rectangular pints. The result was wastage due to inconsistent filling of containers. Financial difficulties arose as winter approached in 2019.
The Downfall and Bankruptcy of the Ice Cream Empire
Seeking Financial Help
Ample Hills faced a critical financial crisis, and the founders turned to their investors for additional funding. Unfortunately, their pleas were met with rejection, leaving them with limited options.
Personal and Business Bankruptcy
In March 2020, the unthinkable happened as Ample Hills Creamery filed for business bankruptcy. Just six months later, Smith and Cuscuna faced personal bankruptcy. The sale of Ample Hills to Schmitt Industries for $1 million primarily went toward settling creditors’ debts.
The Rebirth: Lessons Learned and New Ventures
Embracing Change and Learning
In the wake of their hardships, Jackie Cuscuna embarked on a “pivot course” for entrepreneurs, leading her to a new business advisor who would become their investor for The Social, their new ice cream shop.
A New Beginning
With a more focused approach and a small group of knowledgeable investors, Smith and Cuscuna regained control of their brand and shop leases for $150,000. Their determination and resilience brought them full circle.
The Future: Nurturing Growth
New Leadership and Strategy
Smith and Cuscuna handed over the CEO role to Lisa Teach, a business coaching and entrepreneurship expert. They now oversee marketing and creativity. Their investors, well-versed in the food industry, hold 20% ownership collectively.
Their current focus is on slow, deliberate growth, ensuring operational excellence before expanding. As they nurture The Social and Ample Hills, both businesses have shown promise with profits in sight.
Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna’s journey with Ample Hills Creamery is a testament to the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Their story underscores the importance of resilience, adaptability, and the pursuit of one’s passion. As they rebuild their empire, they stand as an inspiration to all entrepreneurs facing challenges on their path to success.