When we moved into Bristol Square half the businesses were boarded up and a four-story derelict factory building loomed threateningly over our tiny building. We had no business plan, didn't know how to make ice cream, had no idea how to even work the cash register two hours before opening. In a flat panic we opened the doors to a line of eager and excited locals. That flat panic? Well it didn't actually go away for several years. In fact if truth be told it has never quite vacated the building.
The factory building that I mentioned earlier was not the only thing that threatened our business. In 2008 just two short years after we opened for business, America was plunged into one of the worst financial crisis in recent history. Small businesses were closing at a rate far greater than the usual statistical ‘80% within five years’ quoted as the norm in business magazines. We struggled on and thanks to the people of Bristol, our loyal fudge customers from all over the United States, our wonderful staff, and our own gritty determination, we survived against all odds.
This week we are here to celebrate our ten-year anniversary. In the ten years we have been in Bristol there have been births, deaths, weddings and serious illnesses in our family and among our staff. We lost our dear friend Terry McLaughlin. Terry wandered in one day in 2006, quietly sat his huge bulk at a table where we were painting our large storefront sign. He picked up a brush, dipped it in gold paint and without saying a word a deep friendship began. It is a cliché to say he was a gentle giant, but if ever there was a gentle giant it was Terry. He was the perfect foil to our fast moving frenetic style. Often telling us to "take it down a notch", he helped us relax and laugh at ourselves amid the craziness of a new business. He was involved in everything, from making all the ice cream to repairing equipment and generally being our rock. We wish he had lived to celebrate this milestone but sadly he died in his sleep two years ago at only fifty years old. On a happier note, Noah met his beautiful wife Kriste, at a marketing event while he was publicizing our fudge and she was marketing a winery. On their first date they made wine flavored fudge together, so he knew she was the one! They were married last year. Four of our five grandchildren were born in this ten-year period. These little ones have no idea yet how lucky they are that uncle Noah, granddad and Noona own an ice cream and fudge shop. Children are very important to us at the mill ice cream and fudge factory. It has always been my pleasure to create great memories for then. You can imagine my joy when our now cafe manager, Ashley told me that one of her best childhood memories was when she was ten, coming in to the shop the first Halloween and drinking hot chocolate out of a tiny pumpkin cup.
We didn't just survive these ten years, however, we are very successful and we became famous! We have been featured on NH Chronicle and Boston Chronicle, been voted one of the top fudge makers in the country by the Paula Dean network and MSNBC. Our cafe has become a destination for thousands of out of state tourists helping put Bristol on their map of places that are a must to visit. Our glowing five star Trip Advisor reviews are from people from many states.
“Not much to say about the Mill Fudge Factory that isn't a superlative. Their ice cream is superb and the fudge as well. They're back room offers very good inexpensive live music.”
“Great homemade ice cream, and other light menu items. The view in the back room was fantastic. Great on a date or with the kids.”
“Really enjoyed the music and a glass a wine by the river in an old mill building. Ice cream and fudge are excellent too.”
I am particularly proud of our live performance venue, THE BACK ROOM. I understand the value of live performance and it's extra magic when an audience shares the experience of listening to a live band. Each performance is unique and creates a synergy between everyone in the room that you don't get listening to a device on your own or in a bar where the audience are chatting and the performers is just background noise. I work hard to get some of the best bands in New England to play in our listening room. Again, against all odds we are increasing our following at a time when bands and small listening rooms are closing at a rapid pace.
Friday nights we host acoustic open mic and it is huge. It runs all year and has become a strong community, even kept going in the old town hall the year that nemesis, the old mica factory, became a very real danger and we were evacuated at the height of the summer season! We were almost put out of business by that event. Thanks to the people of Bristol, the musicians that played at the back room led by Uncle Steve and the Uncle Steve band, a fundraiser kept us going till we could regroup in the empty building next door. Against all odds we weathered another storm.
In the past ten years we have learned so much about ourselves, and about how to run a business. Noah has gone from a young kid fresh out of college to an accomplished Babson college graduate with a master in business. He is now helping other small businesses avoid the mistakes we made :) with his company, Edible Commerce.
We accomplished everything we set out to do. We created community, jobs, and made great friends along the way. A lot has changed in the Square in ten years. The old mica factory building is long gone with the prospects of a garden taking its place. Far from being boarded up, there are now thriving businesses in Bristol Square and it has been renovated to become one, if not the most beautiful nineteenth century squares in the country. Perhaps most importantly for us, against all odds, our business survived and so did our relationships. That is not a small thing for family businesses. David and I are about to retire and will be able to spend more time on our business. We look forward to being able to improve on what we started and create more fun for everyone at The Mill Ice Cream Cafe and Fudge Factory and The Back Room performance venue. We look forward to enjoying the next ten years with you. Sorry, Terry, where ever you are. We don’t intend to “take it down a notch.”
To celebrate our Birthday we will be joining Making It In Bristol Fair right outside our building in the Square on Saturday August 6th from 9am to 3pm. We will provide live music from our Back Room musicians. In the shop we are giving away a free scoop of ice cream to every kid below fifteen years, and we have a face painter coming from noon to 2pm for free face painting for kids. And for adults there will be a beer tasting from from noon to 2pm. Please join us for the fun, see you there!