An entrepreneurial spirit combined with a determination to spread happiness in Hartford encouraged Chantell Boissiere-Kelly and her husband to open Capital Ice Cream in 2018. On the shop’s opening day in April 2021, MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Chantell about their entrepreneurial journey.
NAN PRICE: How did you develop the business concept for an ice cream shop in Hartford?
CHANTELL BOISSIERE-KELLY: My husband and I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. We had a lot of ideas, but we wanted to make certain what we chose as a business venture was needed and, hopefully, wanted in the local area.
We love ice cream! As longtime Hartford residents, for years we would travel to other local towns to get ice cream. It wasn’t until after we had our own children that we started thinking about how awesome it would be to have an ice cream shop in our own neighborhood—a place where families and friends could connect and reconnect without the outside distractions of the world. We visualized a place where our children and the children who grow up in the area could be proud of something in their very own community. What’s more, we were excited about becoming a part of an up-and-coming neighborhood of awesome businesses including Story and Soil Coffee, Red Rock Tavern, and Little River Restoratives.
Over the years, we made ice cream together as a family at home. We love trying new recipes and putting our own spin on them. Unfortunately, our current business space has limited capacity, so we’re unable to produce our own ice cream at this time. Fortunately, we partnered with a local ice cream producer with a lot of history, experience, and heart. They’re very collaborative and open to our ideas. More importantly, they’re another small, local family business and we love working with them because they care so much about their product and the people who consume it. We work very well together!
NAN: Did you utilize any local resources as you’ve been building and growing your business?
CHANTELL: We researched the market and spent some time interviewing in the local neighborhood to get general feedback and thoughts on having an ice cream shop in the area. This feedback was very helpful in guiding our steps.
In the beginning, everything we did was of our own initiative and sacrifice. It took us over a year to get all the basic things we needed, but we took our time. We’ve been taking our growth slowly—we don’t even offer soft-serve yet! That’s something we’re working toward. We want to make smart moves and that means pursing one thing at a time. That’s sort of how Capital Ice Cream came to be in the first place!
In terms of additional resources, I started working with the Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center right before the pandemic hit. They’ve provided guidance about marketing and event planning. We intend to continue working together this season.
NAN: Capital Ice Cream is very involved in the community.
CHANTELL: Yes, my family has always been committed to giving back. We try to instill the importance of helping others in our children. Whether it’s bringing toys to the Children’s Medical Center or making sandwiches for the House of Bread in Hartford, giving back is important to our family.
This is also our goal for Capital Ice Cream. One of our hashtags is #morethanjusticecream because while we want people to love our ice cream and desserts, we also want them to know that we stand for so much more. With that goal in mind, we’re continuously looking for ways to engage in community outreach and support.
We created a Kindness Cone program that gives people the opportunity to spread love and kindness through the joy of ice cream. Customers can donate toward the purchase of a cone for a discounted rate and it’s offered/shared with any visitor in need. They can also leave a sweet or encouraging note behind. These cones most often go to children or the elderly in the neighborhood. It feels so great to give the joy of ice cream. It’s a small gesture but has such a huge impact.
Capital Ice Cream participated in a few fundraisers so far, including Ice Cream for Change, which helps raise money and awareness for organizations creating solutions to real-world challenges. The event raised funds for Re-Center, an organization in Hartford that focuses on equality of education in K-12 schools. I’ve has also reached out to local schools to collaborate for other fundraising efforts this upcoming season.
I’m committed to finding more ways to connect with and help support the positive development youth. So, I’ve spoken on a few panels to help inspire young people to believe in themselves, pursue their dreams, and take the steps necessary to achieve them.
I try to instill a sense of pride in our own teen employees by helping them realize that their job at the shop is so much bigger than just scooping ice cream. It’s an opportunity to build character, increase their skill set, and tackle tasks in the shop that will help them continuously learn and grow, ultimately, giving them transferable skills that will benefit them long after they move on from the shop and into their future.
My husband and I always say to our employees: You came to us great, but we want you to leave even better than you came. We want you to feel like when you leave your position at Capital Ice Cream, you can tackle the world.
NAN: How has COVID-19 affected your business?
CHANTELL: Our opening day is usually the first week of April. We usually close for the season November to March. Last year, we couldn’t open until June due to COVID-19. So, we lost two months of revenue.
We’ve also lost a lot of our local business customers, because many are working from home now and aren’t coming to the area for work. However, we’ve been very fortunate to gain the support of new customers from local and neighboring towns and their support has helped us get through this tough time. It hasn’t been easy, but we try to keep our heads held high and operate from our hearts believing that our efforts will allow things to eventually fall into place.
NAN: Any advice for others who are thinking about starting a business?
CHANTELL: First and foremost, you have to make a sincere and real commitment to your vision—and that means staying the course during good and trying times. There are always going to be challenges, especially in the beginning. You have to plan for those challenges and for the unplanned ones too. Do the work, stretch yourself beyond your own expectations, and be kind at all times. Be kind to yourself and everyone along your path.