Monday, August 12, 2013

Small Business Profile: Sweet Sammies, Toronto's Gourmet Ice Cream Sandwiches

I often write product reviews on the blog, usually because I've stumbled upon something I want to share. In this case, my husband stumbled upon some fantastic ice cream bars at a downtown farmer's market while on his lunch break, and he like the product so much he texted me to tell me about them and left my card with the owner. She got in touch with me, and I was intrigued by the business model she runs, and thought it might be nice to do something a little different and feature a small business owner who provides a selection of gluten free products.
Sweet Sammies Ice Cream Sandwich Co. is a local Toronto company that specializes in gourmet ice cream sandwiches. Along with regular sandwiches, they also offer some gluten free flavours, which is what my husband tried. He called his sandwich one of the best he's ever eaten, and was impressed at the quality and flavour. The owner, Sanobar Motiwala agreed to a quick Q & A with me about her business, ice cream sandwiches, and why she decided to branch out into gluten free.
1) How did you choose ice cream sandwiches as the one product to create? Do you have any plans to expand your flavours or offer different products?

I have always loved ice cream sandwiches, and have a fascination with frozen treats like ice cream, gelato, shaved ice desserts, etc.  Ice cream sandwiches were a fun way to combine my interest in ice cream making with baking while offering people something different that's not already out there.

Right now, our product offering includes regular sized and mini ice cream sandwiches, custom ice cream cakes, and pints of ice cream.  At select farmers' markets and events, we also offer ice pops, which are gluten-free and mostly dairy-free/vegan.  
2) Are your sandwiches available year round, or are they seasonal?
Most of the Sweet Sammies menu is available year-round.  We play around with some seasonal flavours using Ontario fruits.  Right now, we are featuring a strawberry cheesecake flavour on the menu.  In the fall, we may do something with pumpkins and perhaps feature eggnog ice cream sammies on the menu around Christmas time.

3) How many flavours do you offer? How do you decide on flavours? 
Right now, we have over a dozen different ice cream sandwich flavours on the menu but we are constantly playing around with different ingredients as they come into season.  

Deciding on the flavours is the toughest (and the most fun) part of the job!  I went to culinary school for baking and pastry arts; that training helps a lot in terms of not just creating new recipes but also thinking of what flavours and textures pair well together.  At the end of the day, I try not to focus only on what I like, but offer variety on the menu.  Family and friends have been eager taste testers so I definitely incorporate others' feedback on what works and what doesn't in terms of different flavours.
 4) Which flavour is your personal favourite? Which flavour is the best seller?
The best seller hands down is the Crownie, which is a cross between a brownie and a cookie that has vanilla bean ice cream inside.  O'Canada (maple-bacon ice cream in a red velvet whoopie pie) is also surprisingly popular. My personal favourite - that is a really difficult question.  It changes every few weeks.  Right now, I am really enjoying Honey Boo Boo, which is one of our gluten-free flavours.

5) Describe your decision to go into business for yourself. 

I wanted to combine several different interests and skills of mine, and couldn't do that in any one job.  Sweet Sammies provides the perfect combination of all those things (chemistry/mad science, pastry arts, marketing and business).
 6) Why did you decide to offer a gluten free version? How do you avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen when producing them?
The best part of my work is seeing the delighted expressions on customers' faces when they take the first bite of their Sweet Sammies ice cream sandwich.  Several customers approached me and asked if any of our sammies were gluten-free.  It bothered me to have to say no and not be able to see that just-had-my-first-bite-of-a-Sweet-Sammie expression on their faces.  That was basically the motivation behind creating gluten-free options: to offer our customers what they wanted. 

We take the standard food safety measures in our kitchen to avoid contamination of the gluten-free products, such as sanitizing our work surfaces and utensils prior to making the gluten-free recipes, and storing the final products in separate containers.  We do make all our products in one kitchen, and we share the kitchen with other companies so unfortunately we cannot guarantee that the gluten-free products may not have come in contact with flour.

7) Which flavours are available gluten free?

In deciding to offer gluten-free options, it was important to me that they taste just as good as the non-gluten-free options.  I think we've succeeded in achieving that because many customers who are not even looking for gluten-free options opt for the gluten-free options.  Right now, we offer two gluten-free ice cream sandwich flavours.  Honey Boo Boo is a honey-lemon frozen yogurt sandwiched in French macarons made with ground almonds.  Mango Lassi is a mango frozen yogurt, also on the French macarons.  For catering orders, we can combine any ice cream flavour with our gluten-free cookies, so some people mix and match the macarons with our other ice cream flavours.
8) What has been the best part of opening a small business?  The most challenging?
The best part of starting Sweet Sammies has been the repeat customers - the regulars who come to the farmers' markets every week, rain or shine, for their ice cream sandwich fix.  There is a sense of validation that comes from seeing a satisfied customer that is unparalleled by any other accomplishment of the business.  The most challenging part of opening a small business has been not having enough hours in the day to get through my entire to-do list.  Many people had forewarned me that work-life balance will be a struggle and they were absolutely right!   

9) What piece of advice would you give to anyone thinking of opening their own business? 
Do what you love and everything else will fall into place.  And don't be afraid of failure.  I have already learned so much in my first year of business that I am excited to apply going forward.
Want to try a Sweet Sammie for yourself?  During the summer they can be found at the following weekly summer markets:
Tuesdays, 3pm – 7pm at Apple Tree Davisville Village Market
Wednesdays, 10am to 2pm at Nathan Phillips Square Fresh Wednesdays (July 10 – August 28)
Saturdays, 9am to 1pm at Withrow Park Farmers’ Market
Catering is also available.


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