Bold Spoon Creamery makes farm-to-scoop ice cream in St. Louis
St. Louis’ sports stadiums have always served ice cream (looking at you, Dippin’ Dots). But now, when fans with access to CityPark stadium’s Michelob Ultra Club section are looking for something sweet, they’ll find chocolate ice cream speckled with chunky flakes of Maldon sea salt. Tart goat cheese and sweet fig jam will create a flavor that’s almost cheesecake-like. It will come from a stand named Bold Spoon Creamery, and everything from the peaches in the roasted peach to the pumpkin in the pumpkin-chai will have been grown just a few feet from the kitchen it was made in. You’ve heard of farm-to-table. But what about farm-to-scoop?
When Rachel Burns first received a phone call saying Gerard Craft, the local restaurateur leading the food experience at the soccer team’s new stadium, had personally requested her Bold Spoon Creamery ice cream be a part of the team’s inaugural season, it was a lot for her to take in. She’d never even met Craft. Bold Spoon was hardly a household name and didn’t have a scoop shop like many other local ice cream brands. She’d faced challenges like having to trash her original business plan when the pandemic’s onset rendered it impossible. But Burns had wanted to start her own business since she was in her 20s. She just didn’t have a good enough idea – until 2017, when a mint plant took over her garden.
After more mojitos than she cares to remember, Burns began turning her surplus of fresh mint into ice cream using the Cuisinart ice cream maker stored in her basement. She had a pool in the backyard of her and her husband, Corey Wilkinson’s, University City home, and her mint ice cream became something of a tradition. “People would come over to swim and then have ice cream,” she recalled. “It just, like, became a thing.”
Soon, she was constantly thinking – no, obsessing – about her new passion. She experimented with different cooking methods, conducted melt tests and timed everything. “I told Corey, ‘I’m thinking about this so much that we either need to make it a business, or I just need to drop this,’” Burns said. Wilkinson agreed to give it a try. “We were clueless going in,” he chuckled. “I didn’t know what to have reservations about!”
Burns drafted a business plan focused on selling wholesale to restaurants: Have a great dinner, then enjoy a scoop of Bold Spoon Creamery ice cream with your apple pie – that sort of thing. Her brother, Brad Burns, a chef at Lorenzo’s Trattoria on the Hill, wasn’t sold on the idea at first. “He was kind of confused how this was going to work without having a scoop shop,” she explained. Her decision not to open a storefront was simple: A scoop shop would need to be open during business hours with no exception, and she didn’t want that kind of rigid structure – not for her, not for her family and not for her employees. “It will work,” Burns told her brother. “Trust me.”
With a plan down on paper, she jumped through all the legal hoops and certifications. She found a commercial kitchen in the Central West End and ordered equipment. But by the time the equipment arrived, it was March 2020, and suddenly the pandemic slapped a question mark on every line of her newly minted business plan. Was the kitchen she was renting even open? How could she ask restaurants to try her ice cream when they didn’t know how they’d pay their employees? She needed a new path – one not focused on selling to restaurants.
So, she did what any entrepreneur would do: She made ice cream. She gave it away to friends, and then one day, she dropped it off at the homes of a few neighbors. “Usually no one would be home to accept it, but everyone was home,” she recalled of those early quarantine days. “So, I’d put it on the doorstep, ring the doorbell [and] run back to the street, because I didn't know, could you be 10 feet away? 20 feet? Who the hell knows? … And [I’d] say, ‘Hi, my name's Rachel. I live around the corner. Just wanted to share some ice cream with you and, if you really like it, you can order it online.’”
Her first order came in that very same day. “It was $40,” she recalled. “It wasn’t life-changing money, clearly, but it was enough of a nugget that makes you think this ridiculous thing might actually work.”
And so, her obsession grew. She’d invite friends over – a group she lovingly deemed “The Spoons” – to taste test everything. She’d hand them detailed surveys, some ice cream and spoons. There was no talking and no looking at each other’s papers. Everyone would get their sample, fill out their survey and then discuss. “I would have questions based on what’s the forward flavor, what’s the background flavor, are they well balanced? What they thought about consistency, the sweetness level. And I would never tell them what flavor it was, because I didn't want to shape their thought.” When they were done, they’d all get new spoons for the next flavor. “No cross-pollination!” Burns mused.
Soon, you could find Bold Spoon at Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, then a few Schnucks and Straub’s and at The Smokehouse Market in Chesterfield. It wasn’t long before Bold Spoon started outgrowing the commercial kitchen they’d been renting in the Central West End. Burns also wanted Bold Spoon to be more than just another pint of ice cream on the shelf. She thought back to what made those original batches of ice cream out by the pool so irresistible: The fresh mint she plucked from a few feet away and threw in.
She and Wilkinson began looking for property in the country. Within six months, they’d found a farm with a building they could turn into a commercial kitchen that also had space for gardens and orchards. It was about an hour from the city, so they could easily visit their grocery clients and still be close to Burns’ father.
Over the next few months, they gutted the building, built it up for food service and bought equipment. They planted pear, peach and apple trees and a garden full of strawberries, raspberries and herbs. Soon they were able to harvest the fruit, walk it into the kitchen and toss it into the ice cream. “Someone asked me, ‘So, you live on an ice cream farm?’” Burns recalled. “I was like, ‘Well, I guess we do.’”
While waiting for the trees to take root in the orchard, Burns and Wilkinson began teaming up with local vendors to host dinners at the farm and hosting open houses with some games and, of course, ice cream. The commercial business picked up too. The shelves at 20 Schnucks locations turned into 80. And then came the day when the phone rang asking them to be part of CityPark.
“The opportunity is beyond amazing,” Burns said. “I think it's amazing that the stadium has an express initiative around the food to make it local, like a reflection of our broader region, which is something unique I think in sports.” Unique, indeed. Just like an ice cream farm.