Izzy’s Ice Cream is saying goodbye to its origins as the pandemic exacerbates economic difficulties for businesses of all varieties.
Down to about 10 percent of revenue and with big accounts like with restaurants, wholesalers, and the Minnesota Twins at a standstill, co-owner Jeff Sommers said he and his wife and business partner Lara Hammel decided not to renew the lease on their original location, Marshall Avenue in St. Paul—a spot they picked intentionally, 20 years ago, to bring ice cream to their own Merriam Park neighborhood.
“We've lost tons of business in the two retail stores,” he said. “We were looking at just the prospect of carrying that overhead through basically for 12 or 13 more months until we get to May or June of next year. we just didn't think that it was going to be possible.”
Founded in 2000, Izzy’s has since expanded to Minneapolis and to big Minnesota attractions like the State Fair, Target Field, and the Minnesota Wild. They’ve gotten their pints distributed statewide through restaurants and grocery stores, and have been aiming to expand nationally. And it all started in the classic, red-brick storefront on Marshall Avenue.
“St. Paul's really special, and it's made us who we are today,” Sommers said. “Everybody came away like there was some magic in that store. That had its time and, obviously, its place. And we're impacted by that forever––we never set out to be what we are today. We were lifted beyond our aspirations by that community.”
Izzy’s was renting the St. Paul space, and is now looking to sell the equipment in place so that the neighborhood can continue having a ice cream shop on its block. Sommers and Hammel own their downtown Minneapolis location, near the Guthrie Theater in the Mill District. They plan to open with delivery-only service starting May 4.
“Our landlord there has been amazing in making it affordable for us to be in business,” Sommers said.
But renting right now is hard. Other places are also closing doors permanently, and El Burrito Mercado—another family owned business—just announced that it will not reopen its Chicago Avenue location in Minneapolis. The St. Paul-based restaurant and Mexican grocer had just expanded to Minneapolis in 2018.
Right now, Izzy’s is still available at grocery stores like Lunds & Byerlys, Whole Foods, and Kowalski’s. Sommers said Izzy’s is still aiming to expand nationally into a grocery store like Cub Foods, Hy-Vee, or Jewel-Osco.
“We're a local independent and we're competing in a global economy,” Sommers said. “There'll be a lot of losses before we get those wins, and that's no different than I think many, many people who pursue the opportunity to participate. You have to work at it and earn it. We're trying.”
To endure the pandemic and stay relevant, Izzy’s is also working on developing a regional online shipping program.
“Historically ice cream has been really recession proof. But this is a different challenge,” he said. “It's a global event. And I don't think that we can really understand today what we're going through. And so what we're trying to do is the best and the safest steps to sustain the best parts of our business and our mission to make great ice cream and create great moments for individuals and small groups. And at the end, our mission is to be sound financially.”
Hear Jeff Sommers and Lara Hammel share their founders' story, and future expansion plans, on our podcast, By All Means.