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Small-Business Success Story: Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream

She uses local ingredients in her ice cream and offers generous benefits to employees.

Kiplinger's spoke with Molly Moon Nietzel, 38, founder of the Seattle-based dessert company Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream, about why she left an executive-level position in the nonprofit world to start her own business. Here's an excerpt from our interview:

Why ice cream? I worked in an ice cream shop in my hometown of Boise, Idaho, and at one in Missoula, Mont., in college. For most of my twenties, I was executive director of a political nonprofit that I founded, but eventually I burned out on asking people for money. When I whined to my mom, “What will I do with my life?” she said, “Why not open an ice cream shop?” I opened my first shop in Seattle in 2008, and immediately there were lines around the block.

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What’s special about your formula? Our ice cream is 19% butterfat. The milk and cream come from local dairy farms, and they are hormone- and antibiotic-free. Our ice cream has some of the lowest sugar content in town, and we use only non-GMO cane sugar. When we started, it was hard to find local organic ingre­dients, such as strawberries, in commercial quantities. It’s still not easy, but it’s easier. [See Molly’s blog at www.mollymoon.com/blog.]

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Where do you make the ice cream? We make it in every shop, rather than in one big commissary. Ice cream delivered in trucks melts and refreezes, which leads to icy ice cream.

What’s your biggest seller? Cookie dough—oatmeal chocolate-chip dough in a nutmeg-and-cinnamon ice cream. But spring garlic and cheddar cheese were two that bombed.

How much do you charge? We charge $4.25 a scoop and $9.50 for an 18-ounce “scooper’s pint.” Because of a global shortage of vanilla beans, a gallon of organic vanilla costs us $420. We’re doing some testing to decide whether we need to use vanilla in as many flavors.

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How did you fund your start-up? I knew people in my network who had money to invest, including a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and soon raised $220,000. One of the people I asked was a former boyfriend, Zack Reinig. He invested $50,000, and his parents invested, too. Zack and I later married, and we have a beautiful daughter, February Moon Reinig. To open our second shop quickly, I raised money a second time in exchange for equity. Since then, we’ve financed growth through cash flow and a bit of debt.

How have you grown? Our revenues in 2008 were almost $400,000. In 2016, they were nearly $6.6 million, and we expect to hit $7.9 million in 2017. We have eight shops now, and we’ll add another shop this year and two more next year. We have 100 to 120 em­ployees year-round, and we hire seasonally, so we’ll have about 212 employees this summer.

What’s your greatest satis­faction? Creating jobs and building a company that is a leader in labor practices. Every new shop creates 20 jobs. We pay 100% of medical premiums for employees and their children, and we offer a family-leave plan. This past spring, we launched a 401(k) program. We’re matching employees’ contributions up to 1% of their income in 2017, and we expect to raise the match to 2% in 2018 and 3% in 2019.

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