If you’re like me, you remember your grandmother hand-churning ice cream on the back porch in the summer. There was nothing better than that sweet, cold treat on a hot Memphis summer day. Black women are known for making things and making things happen.
Brenae Cole, owner of Waffle Cream, made hit records before making it happen in the ice cream business. She soon plans to make her own ice cream, like Cincinnati-based Chef Liz Rogers, who was, less than a year ago, lauded as the first African-American female ice cream mass manufacturer in the United States for establishing Creamalicious.
Check out this sweet story!
TSD: What type of business do you own?
Brenae Cole: I own an ice cream shop where we serve waffles and ice cream, milkshakes and specialty flavored cones.
TSD: How long have you been in business for yourself?
BC: We started out as a food truck in 2017 and we opened a storefront in August of 2020.
TSD: How many employees do you have?
BC: Seven employees
TSD: What was your inspiration for going into ice cream and starting your business?
BC: This is a fun story! So, I used to be in the music industry, as a piano player (with South Soul Rhythm Section) and later a recording engineer (at One Sound Studio, owned by my husband). We first started making music in our dorm rooms at the University of Tennessee at Martin. We loved making people happy and spreading joy through music, helping people make their dreams come true.
Fast forward to 2016, I engineered the “Hit the Quan” and it went Platinum! I thought, let me use money from that and do something lighter and less stressful, or so I thought, so I chose ice cream! It’s fun, makes everyone happy and smile. I loved ice cream as a kid, and even though I’m lactose intolerant, I wanted to use ice cream (instead of music) to make people happy! (I recently went to Scoop School in St. Louis, so soon I’ll start making ice cream, including dairy-free, lactose-free and sugar-free.)
I even incorporated music into the menu. A lot of the menu items are named after popular songs, like Strawberry Letter 23, an homage to The Brothers Johnson.
TSD: What challenges have you faced in your industry and being a business owner, and how have you risen above them?
BC: First challenge: Opening during COVID. I had to learn new laws, decide to mask or not mask and delayed opening for months. It was tough.
Second challenge: Transitioning from music to owning a food service. I had to learn the business, so I took business classes and ice cream classes.
Third challenge: The seasonality of ice cream. There is a lull November to mid-February, sometimes the first of March. So, we incorporated a hot cocoa during those months this year. Last season it was terrible. I still had to pay employees, insurance and other bills. But I was smarter for winter 2021, and started saving, planning and watching my spending. A couple of the students I had working for me went back to college, so that worked out well, too.
TSD: As a wife and a mother, and now a business owner, how do you balance it all?
BC: Scheduling has saved my life and my business. At first, I was all over the place. When I first opened, I would work before the shop opened and wouldn’t get home until late. Now I have more employees to help me and due to planning and scheduling, my life now runs seamlessly. I’m a procrastinator, as well, so I had to learn to stay on top of things. Thankfully, my family works with the business, my husband, daughter, mom and my siblings, too. Their support helps me keep it together.
TSD: What impact does your business have or do you hope it will have in the future? On your family, community, etc.
BC: As far as family goes, everyone strives to create generational wealth; to have something your children can have to always fall back on. I wanted to show my daughter she can do anything – she can be in music, she can own an ice cream shop, she can be president!
In terms of the community, I love working with youth and showing them “You can do this as well.” Sometimes I take my employees out to dinner because many of them have never been to a nice restaurant, and I teach them appropriate behavior, etiquette, etc. The shop gives me an opportunity to be a mentor to our youth and hopefully inspire them to do something similar one day.
TSD: What advice do you have for someone who might be interested in entering your field?
BC: Research and pray! Pray with anything you do, but mostly do your research. I think ice cream is a great field to get into, especially in the summer.
TSD: What advice do you have for other Black business owner hopefuls?
- Network. There are so many other people who have so much more knowledge, whether it’s someone in banking or marketing or website design.
- Get around other people who are like-minded and have the same ambition that you do.
- Don’t give up, no matter what. Sometimes it gets hard and you think you won’t make it. But they say things get harder when you’re closest to your goal. So, stick with it!
TSD: If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing?
BC: Well, music is a given. But I would probably be teaching high school students English or something. I’d probably give it a shot. I have a degree in English – I would put that degree to work.
TSD: What professional accomplishment or major milestone are you most proud of?
BC: I am most proud of just opening the ice cream shop. Going from a truck/trailer vendor to opening the shop is truly amazing to me. And, we are looking to open another shop in Desoto County very soon. That will be amazing as well.
TSD: Anything else you’d like to add?
BC: I just want to speak about my family for a moment – I have an extremely supportive family. All of my (two older) brothers and (two younger) sisters and my mom – they were all there on opening day working as my staff. I am so grateful for their support. And I get a lot of creativity from my mom.
We can’t wait to see you at Waffle Cream – 999 Cooper Street, Suite 103, 38104. Hours: Tuesday – Friday: 1 p.m.-7 p.m.; Saturdays: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.; closed on Sunday/Monday. Follow us on social media at @ilovewafflecream.