Several months ago I decided to start interviewing successful business owners. I knew I could learn a lot from my peers and I figured along the way that many readers of the Elemental Yoga blog could also benefit from the wisdom of a self-made person. Kari Crowe, the owner of Melt ice creams, was the first person to sit down with me and share her story.
I read a little about her before our meeting from previously published articles. So I know Kari is athletic, savvy, and that everything she does, she does with excellence. At first sight, Kari is modest, kind and understated. She is the type of person who inspires others not through what she says but through consistent action over time guided by a community centered vision.
She opened the doors of Melt in 2014 not knowing what to expect. Her service and product were so immediately well received by the community that in the course of a little over five years she went from a one man show to a crew of fifty plus employees including a full time kitchen staff with three locations.
Kari, like many, learned how to run a business on the job. Her lifelong fascination with business and her operational capacities supported the steady growth of the company. What makes Kari stand apart from so many other small business owners? The answer is simple- grit, determination, and an active imagination.
What else is a commonality between successful people? Learning! How else does this entrepreneur continuously expand her homegrown vision? Early on in establishing Melt, Kari took advantage of resources such as the Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Businesses and applied for business fellowships designed for women in the food industry. She carves time every week for reading business and self-development books. The time she sets aside for learning coupled with her passion for running are her personal refuge.
Not only does she learn from small business programs and books, she learns from the everyday people who love her product and those that serve her product. Kari is responsive to her employees’ needs and feedback. One surprising thing she learned while on an ice cream pilgrimage was the joy of seeing how ice cream can make someone’s day so much better. One man she interviewed told her this was the entire reason he worked at an ice cream shop.
The name Melt comes from this image of letting go of unhappiness. A customer can walk through the door in a negative or stuck state of mind and leave in a different, much happier place. Kari notes it is impossible to frown when licking an ice cream cone. The mouth has to curl upward. : )
In starting her business, Kari found the intersection between community need and individual talent: gourmet ice cream in the hottest state offered by the friendliest people. Kari doesn’t believe in doing anything mediocre. She trains for 50-100 miles runs in her small windows of free time in the wee hours of the morning. If she is going to attach her name and brand to a service or a hobby, it is going to be her best.
Kari thrives in the face of challenge. When the business was still gestating in her creative womb, she wrote a sixty page business plan and took that plan to dozens of banks but not one bank approved a loan. Instead of being discouraged, she and her husband built out their newly rented space on Rosedale from the ground up. She learned construction and recruited help from friends. “You only live once,” she said when referring to the chance she took when she opened Melt.
Her first career after college was photography. After a few years of this, she realized it wasn’t her calling. So she took an ice cream pilgrimage instead. She also did an unofficial internship in Ohio which involved couch surfing, observing an ice cream expert, and asking tons of questions. Through all of this, Kari chiseled out her own image of what she wanted to experience when she walked into an ice cream shop.
Kari has been literally and figuratively sprinting since Melt’s opening five plus years ago. Through all of this, she has cautiously expanded the business in such a way that she can meet its demands both in time and finances. She has received many offers for expansion but she and her husband have decided thus far to go down the route of full company ownership.
For Kari, an average day consists of waking up at 5:00am, going running, then going to the office and cranking away at admin work for the first few hours of the work day. In the afternoon, she pops by the shops on Magnolia and Houston Street and helps employees troubleshoot equipment, technology, sales, customers or whatever is needed. Kari oversees an operations manager, store managers, kitchen staff, shift leaders, and happy scoopers.
She is never not on the job. Both she and her husband work full time for Melt. At home they problem solve together and constantly talk about possibilities. I asked her if she sleeps much but she said she has never slept much.
I walked away from the interview with Kari eager to share tidbits and specific mental approaches with Michael. I think that is how revolution takes place. We see people we admire, pry into their secrets and seek to emulate them.