Dothan’s ice cream man scoops out a new dream _ a lunch cafe
DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — A dream Brett Smith “toyed” with for five years became a reality several weeks ago thanks to helping hands from his downtown neighbors and others.
“If there’s any story I can tell is you can make it on your own, but it’s way more fun and a whole lot easier with people beside you,” Smith said as he sat in the middle of his new dream, Stix & Cones at 123 N. Foster St. “It’s been a community effort.”
In recent years Smith garnered local fame with his newsboy hat and bowtie outfit that he wears while pedaling his Dothan Ice Cream Company cart and peddling his homemade popsicles. While he also operated a store at The Nest for about two years, Smith recently relocated and expanded his menu to include some lunch options to accompany those sweet treats that ignited his current career path.
Now you can enjoy chicken salad, BLTs, grilled cheese sandwiches, soups and salads before — or perhaps after — you partake in his ice cream. Smith’s new business model launched on Jan. 2.
“I just saw an opportunity to answer the question that I was asking — where do I go for lunch?” he said. “I had been working downtown at The Nest for two years. I needed something fast. I needed something affordable. I needed something that tasted good, and it never came. We just kind of answered that call.”
But Smith quickly acknowledges many people aided his new adventure.
A COMMUNITY WITHIN A COMMUNITY
Smith’s journey to where he is begins with an unfortunate event — the day the roof collapsed on the St. Andrews Market in 2015. Smith had utilized some space in the building for the creation of his frozen concoctions but now needed a new home.
Smith said within 24 hours, five different restaurants had offered some space and time for his operations. Eventually he worked out of Mama Goldberg’s for about 18 months.
Smith relocated his operations to The Nest, a business incubator the Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority operated on Foster Street. The spot provided him a solid foundation that allowed him to expand past the bicycle cart and into an ice cream counter — though an overwhelming majority of his business came the traditional way.
“I’m like the poster boy for what the DDRA wanted to do with that business incubator,” he said. “We were able to develop our brand and reach more people. We were really grateful to find that spot.”
Smith’s business had grown to a point that he had begun to look for a new home, identifying a building Joe Gibbons owned just two doors down from The Nest. The timing was “fortuitous” as the DDRA announced it had sold The Nest so a Diablo’s Southwest Grill could open, he said.
Even crazier for Smith was when he asked Gibbons’ son about the building, the son relayed that his father had discussed that same idea the day before.
“It was one of the serendipitous moments,” Smith said. “We since have had a good relationship. Joe Gibbons . . . he’s been the most helpful person in this transition.”
Smith notes that was the beginning of the aid he received in launching Stix & Cones.
“Mural City (Coffee Company), Darrin and Gina Swan, loaned me all of their tools they used to build Mural City,” he said. “Andrew Reid donated all of the South American and African mahogany that trims everything. He owns Reid Classics, makes four-poster beds, and this is from his scrap pile. Paul Fripp, an executive chef in town, helped me put this entire bar set together. It has been a team effort.”
The assistance provided a glimpse into the relationships that form the business — and downtown — communities that unite entrepreneurs, Smith said.
“The community of owners, we have a level of care for each other that stems from an appreciation of what another owner puts into their business,” he said. “With that (business) dream comes a lot of anxiety.”
While Smith’s expanded venture addresses the questions he had about lunch, he hopes his new store does more than that.
“Our mission is to provide friends and family with an opportunity to shape a positive memory,” he said. “Who doesn’t want something positive in life?”
Smith readily admits that begins with ice cream — “Who’s mad on their third bite of ice cream?” he posits — but creating memories involves much more than that. It begins with providing customers with a complete experience.
“We care about how our food tastes. We care how people are treated,” he said. “We care about people’s time, and we care about people’s experience, and we care about kids’ memories.”
What also shapes the experience are Smith’s tributes to the past via his outfit, the shop’s motif and other nods to history.
“Some kids have never seen an old-school ice cream man, but they know what he looks like,” Smith said. “It’s something familiar that some people have never seen.”
Even the lettering and paint that will soon adorn his business front affirms the traditional ice cream store feel. In a meeting with the Historic Preservation Commission Thursday, Smith said the letters for his signs will be in a circa-1920 art deco font, and the colors he plans to use reflect vanilla, caramel and white chocolate.
“We’re coming into the 100th anniversary of the Roaring 20s. Why not have a revival of that without The Great Depression at the end?” he said. “I’ve taken this appearance because it hearkens back to something that’s familiar, and it’s cross-generational.”
Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com