Person of the Week
Tula McDougal: The Sweet Life
Though the pandemic required some unforeseen adaptations, Tula McDougal has opened an ice cream shop in chester with her daughter Christiana Barabe. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Here’s an easy question: What’s the most popular ice cream flavor? Yes, it’s vanilla, says Tula McDougal, who with her daughter Christiana Barabe has recently opened Honeycone, an ice cream shop on Chester’s Main Street.
And the second most popular is no mystery either. Tula says it’s chocolate. She adds that one of their own flavor creations, honey cinnamon, now seems to be picking up fans.
Opening their ice cream store as cold weather approaches was not what Tula and Christiana planned when they started. In February, their business plan was done, they had found a location and everything seemed ready to go. Then came COVID-19.
Tula had to scrap her design for a sit-down ice cream parlor and rethink.
“We needed to step back and revise our plans,” she says.
And she adds there were some moments of self-doubt.
“I thought, ‘Wow, are we crazy,’ but we changed from sit down to grab and go,” she says.
There are partitions between the servers and the customers; masks are necessary to enter the store and the number of people who can be inside is limited.
Tula, who had a career in marketing, knew she wanted to start her own business someday and she wanted to do it with her 29-year-old daughter who, with her husband, had returned to this area.
The question was what kind of business. Tula had for many years made her own ice cream as a weekend treat for her family.
“Everybody loves ice cream; it brings back childhood memories,” she says.
But love did not mean that she could turn a hobby into a business. In addition to creating a business plan, an exercise she was familiar with from her career as a marketer, she knew she needed to do something else: research.
Tula and Christiana’s concept was to make their own ice cream using natural ingredients, not purchasing the ice cream from suppliers. She called the company that makes the ice cream machines that many small stores that produce their own ice cream use. To her surprise not only was the president of the company willing to talk to her, he talked to her for some two hours.
“He walked me through the basics,” she says.
In addition, she took an online course on the ice-cream business, Scoop School.
It was amazing. We knew the basics when we started,” she says.
At this writing, the store has been open little more than a week. The biggest surprise has been the volume of patrons.
“Much more than expected,” Tula says.
Some patrons have come from places like Hartford and Wethersfield, having seen posts on social media.
It’s been “awesome,” Tula says, but exhausting. “I’m running on adrenalin.”
The name of the ice cream shop, Honeycone, not only refers to the sweetness of ice cream but to Tula’s own Greek background.
“Honey really has figured in my life story—Greeks make so many deserts with honey,” she says.
She is selling two of them at the store, baklava and a Greek Easter treat, Kaitifi nests. She makes the pastries every morning before the store opens.
“My mom taught me how to do it and I’m pretty good at it,” she says. “Other stores in Chester can do things like excellent cookies, but I wanted something that no one else does. It’s a labor of love.”
Tula’s previous career was also in the food industry. She worked for a company that sold gourmet cookware. She had contact with such stars of the food world as Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, and Buddy Valastro, of Cake Boss fame. But she tired of the constant travel.
“I knew I had to have a plan B, that I had to stop traveling,” she says.
The store, Tula says, has goals beyond ice cream. She says Christiana was the stimulus behind their relationship with several community organizations involved in social projects.
“You know she’s a millennial and she said we should also be a force or good,” Tula says.
So far, the store is carrying honey from the Hunneebee Project, working with inner city New Haven youngsters to teach them about the natural world through learning about the different aspects of beekeeping. The store is also selling coffee beans from Giv, a Connecticut-based business that focuses on sustainably grown coffee. Going forward, Tula and Christiana are planning to partner with other community organizations.
Until the ice cream store opened, Tula says she had been gaining weight during the pandemic. But now, even with the temptation of ice cream, she reports that all the running around in starting the business has had a welcome effect: She has lost 6 pounds, even eating ice cream. When she scoops out some for herself, what flavor does she chose? No surprises here. Tula choses vanilla!