By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
Not many businessowners can say 2020 has been their year. But then not many are Ashley Dixon, 29, and Bianca Jemison, 30.
The determined young women—owners of What’s the Scoop, a Birmingham-based ice cream business—have kicked into high gear this year. Through marketing, word of mouth from friends and family, and social media posts, the duo has reached a lot of new customers.
“When we … really started going hard back in March, we had 65 Facebook followers. Now we’re at, like, a little over 700—and that’s just been over these few months,” Jemison said.
The growth – during a pandemic nevertheless — has come from how they market the business, engaging their audience by telling stories and jokes.
“We try to make it as fun and lively as possible,” said Dixon and Jemison.
While many small businesses have taken a step backward or closed up shop since COVID-19 set in, the pandemic ended up being a blessing in disguise for the business owners, who also hold down other positions.
Dixon works for the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham as a case manager for the Medicaid Waiver Program, and Jemison works for Shipt, but working remotely has given them the space to better balance their two occupations and bond not only as business partners but also as friends.
“It’s kind of easy to work with somebody you know is going to work because they … want it as bad as you do,” Jemison said. “I feel like [Dixon] wants it as bad as I do, so we work really well together. … [Plus], it seems like we kind of think alike. There are times when I would say, ‘I was thinking about this yesterday,’ and she would say, ‘Girl, me too!’ We always come together.”
What makes What’s the Scoop different is that the ice cream is made from scratch, a concept that isn’t new for Dixon.
“My grandmother, [who passed away from natural causes on Feb. 15, 2015], learned from my great-grandmother. When my great-grandmother got too old to cook, she passed the recipe down to my grandmother—and she, of course, made it her own,” said Dixon, noting that she and Jemison also added their own special twist to the ice cream recipe.
What’s the Scoop uses Dixon’s grandmother’s base ice cream recipe, substituting the unhealthier ingredients used by Dixon’s grandmother for all-natural, organic, and lactose-free products. And that’s what sets this frozen treat apart.
“When we made the vanilla, one comment a customer made … was, ‘Oh, this is some true, old-fashioned vanilla ice cream,’” said Jemison. “It’s really and truly like the old-fashioned ice cream that grandma made, but it’s just a little bit healthier.”
For Dixon it’s a great feeling to build generational wealth based on a recipe passed down from an ancestor.
“I hope our children are able to continue it and it goes on … for generations,” said Dixon, who has a 2-year-old son.
Jemison added, “It’s more so … seeing the generational wealth that we create within our own families and the entrepreneurship that we weren’t taught.”
Growing Through Sisterhood
Dixon and Jemison met at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, where Dixon majored in social work, Jemison majored in marketing, and they both became members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
“[Jemison] is my prophyte, [an older sister from the sorority chapter],” said Dixon.
Jemison, who is not married and doesn’t have children, grew up in West Birmingham in the Riley community, where she still lives. Dixon, who is married with one child, was raised in the Titusville community and lives in the same home she grew up in.
The sorors started brainstorming business ideas and considered opening a bar, but then they shifted to something that everyone—children, adults, families—could enjoy.
“Both of us [said], ‘Ice cream! What about ice cream?” Jemison remembered. “We started looking at the market, and at the time there were no ice cream makers in Birmingham, so it was … a shoo-in at that point, … especially because we would be making ours [from scratch].”
Although Dixon and Jemison decided to start the business in 2015, they weren’t able to perfect their base until 2017, when the ice cream came out creamy after churning, with no ice crystals.
“We discovered that it’s all about the proportions of each ingredient and how they are mixed together,” the business partners said.
It took a few years and a few failures, but they pushed forward. Some of the failures included “destroying” chocolate ice cream the first time because they missed a step and made mousse instead of the regular chocolate base consistency.
“When we knew, we knew,” Dixon and Jemison said, explaining that they knew it was time to move forward with the business when they had the right amount of everything.
It was definitely a learning experience, the business partners said: “We packaged differently, stored it differently, but all in all it was great, especially for our first time.”
Initially, they used plastic desert containers with plastic tops, instead of the insulated containers they use now. In addition, they stored the ice cream in a cooler with ice and dry ice to prevent it from melting.
“It maintained pretty good, but it was just not how we would prefer to sell,” said Jemison.
A year later, a friend gave Dixon and Jemison a chance to sell their ice cream on his food truck, which they did once. Because they wanted to maintain the integrity of the product—“[the food truck] wasn’t as conducive as we would have liked,” said Jemison—they decided to sell from home.
They make the ice cream together, alternating between their homes, and the ice cream is stored in a deep freezer to ensure that the product gets hard enough.
A Double Scoop of Joy
Dixon and Jemison usually work during the week, so they sell the home-based What’s the Scoop ice cream on the weekends. They make the ice cream Monday through Wednesday after work, and package it on Fridays, so they can sell on Saturdays.
Making the ice cream itself takes approximately an hour, but the entire process takes approximately three days: one day to make the ice cream and give it time to chill; the second and third days to churn and package. Jemison and Dixon brainstorm on the flavors they will sell for the week, create a grocery list, purchase the items, prep by cutting the fruit that will be used, measure the ingredients, and make the ice cream, which is then cooled and churned. After the ice cream has been churned, it is placed in a glass bowl to freeze a day or two before packaging.
Customers can either call or reach out via social media to place orders. Because having a storefront establishment is still a goal, Dixon and Jemison hand-deliver their ice cream. They meet customers at Heritage Plaza on Dennison Avenue Southwest, which leads toward Green Springs Highway, or at the Shell Gas station on Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Family and close friends go directly to their homes to pick up their ice cream.
While making and handing off the ice cream to customers, Dixon and Jemison wear gloves for safety, something they did prior to the pandemic, though they now wear masks when making deliveries. The ice cream is also prepackaged, making it an “easy hand off,” said Jemison.
Dixon and Jemison believe in supporting other local businesses, as well.
“Locally sourced [products] are always just a good deal, especially when you’re talking about giving back to commerce [in the area]—just helping it all go around full circle,” Jemison said. “We kind of looked at it like we’re helping the local farmer and the local businessperson, while benefitting from the natural products.”
Having their business survive during the pandemic is a blessing, said the duo.
“I guess [we] just kind of took a bad situation and turned it into a good one the best way we could,” said Jemison.
Dixon recalled that when her grandmother made her ice cream, it felt good to hear family and church members go on about how delicious it was: “People still talk about it today,” she said, adding that she’s pleased to have the opportunity to bring her customers that same experience.
“Everything from our personalities to our marketing exudes joy,” Jemison said. “We try to create a welcoming atmosphere through jokes, fun facts, and stories about the ice cream experience for us. We also offer samples of new ice creams we may have, to ensure [that customers] return for more.”
There’s another reason Dixon and Jemison are focused on excelling at what they do: when researching the business before opening, they found only a few Black women nationally making ice cream.
“The closest one I found was in New Orleans, [Louisiana],” Jemison said. “I don’t think [there are any other Black women] really making ice cream [in Birmingham or Alabama]. There are a ton of creameries, people that sell ice cream, that do a vendor program, but we’re actually making it from scratch.”
Being Black businesswomen pushes them to keep going.
“It’s really our motivation … to let little girls see that they can do something like this, too,” Dixon said.
“That’s the best part,” Jemison said. “That’s something we try to keep at the forefront, … all the way down to our logo—a chocolate cone, curvy like women. It’s supposed to represent us, and that’s a big part of it. … Everything around our brand represents who we are as women.”
What’s the Scoop ice cream sells at $5 per half-pint, $7 per pint, $25 per gallon of classic flavors, and $30 per gallon of specialty flavors. Classic flavors include chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. Among their specialty flavors are banana pudding, strawberry, peaches-and-cream, strawberry cheesecake, and Neapolitan. They also offer three different forms of cookies and cream—chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, which has lemon-flavored Oreos—in addition to ice cream sandwiches.
When developing flavors, Dixon and Jemison come up with ideas or take suggestions, giving them insight into what their customers want. For example, butter pecan and pralines-and-cream were customer-suggested flavors.
“Someone suggested white chocolate cranberry for the holidays, and even lemon,” said Dixon and Jemison. “Once they give us the flavor, we sit and wonder how to properly execute it.”
To learn more about What’s the Scoop or place an order, visit @Whatsthescoop205 on Instagram or Whats The Scoop Ice Cream Co on Facebook.