This week we dove into all things small business ownership with Katie Burford, owner of Durango’s favorite ice cream shop Cream Bean Berry. Formerly “Lunches with Leaders”, this YPOD event was held after hours with snazzy appetizers and drinks.
Katie’s background is a colorful whirlwind of travel, career changes, and following passion like a North Star. Originally from Oklahoma, Katie and her brother got a first-hand look at business ownership when her parents took over a business in an industry that slumped soon after. She associated that life with struggle and nonstop upkeep.
With interests in both journalism and psychology, Katie worked in a psychiatric hospital and later as a foreign correspondent. She nannied in Spain, then worked for the Associated Press in Chile and Mexico. Her priorities rearranged, as they do for new parents, when she gave birth to her first child in Mexico City.
A move to prioritize quality of life brought Katie and her family to Durango, where her partner had attended college. Katie got a job at The Herald, but faced the reality all of us in Durango face at one point or another: comfortable living in Durango is hard to achieve without going the route of creating your own work. She wondered what of her eclectic experiences she could spin into a business...
As a child of 1970’s convenience-foods, Katie experienced something of a revolution discovering all the quality goods she could whip up from scratch in her own kitchen.
Ice cream, she noticed, was the food she saw the most difference in when it came to homemade vs. store bought. The idea of an ice cream shop was born.
Katie studied up at Gelato University (you read that right), a week-long immersion in North Carolina, among other programs for top dessert makers. Funding the business seemed the biggest challenge. Even with support from the community via a Kickstarter campaign, the Carver’s, the Fort’s SBDC, grants and loans, she ultimately fell shy of the needed capital - and was heartbroken.
Despite massive disappointment and temptation to abandon the endeavor, Katie pushed on. That first year of business in 2013, Katie sold scoops from a bicycle cart along the Animas River.
A one-woman scrappy operation, she juggled motherhood with labor-intensive ice cream making.
Her next season was a bit more grounded, opening shop at the Smiley Building. Through trial and error she learned that ice cream is an impulse buy; time and place are everything, and she needed to be where the traffic was.
Her current location on Main Street came next. The first year ran on a shoestring budget, but business only got better from there.
Reflecting on her career, Katie acknowledges that mistakes were indispensable to getting things right. Navigating the seasonality of an ice cream business, learning to relinquish control to employees and value the unique contributions they all make to the company.
One YPOD asked about the challenge of staffing. To that, Katie responded that she thinks the formula to happy employees is quite simple:
As a self-employed writer early in my career, Katie’s message helped alleviate some pressure I feel to have it all figured out, ASAP. Even a business owner admired in town took a long, winding, and sometimes four-wheel drive road to be where she is today.
Join us at the next Leaders After Hours if you’d like to hear the inner workings of a local mover and shaker like Katie Burford.