For Casie Sullivan, ice cream is a way of life—and a way to create new experiences. In 2019, she took a leap and launched Chill Out. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Casie to get the scoop about how and why she got started and how she utilized local resources to help.
NAN PRICE: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit or known you wanted to have your own business?
CASIE SULLIVAN: Yes. I used to come up with ideas for inventions when I was younger. I always knew I wanted to be my own boss and create something cool to market to people.
NAN: What made you land on ice cream?
CASIE: I’ve been in the restaurant industry for more than 10 years. I’ve worked at some great restaurants in West Hartford Center, including Barcelona and Max’s Oyster Bar. I currently work at The Charles in Wethersfield. I’ve around so many creative people, which has helped me be more creative.
I always had a love of ice cream. It was a big part of my life growing up—I’m sure it’s the same for many others. So, I took all the things I really liked—ice cream, creativity, and my entrepreneurial spirit—and turned them into Chill Out, which is something I’m really happy to be doing.
NAN: When did you launch the business?
CASIE: About three years ago, right before the pandemic hit. I had just come back from Spain with my best friend. We tasted all these gelatos in different cities. I thought: when I come home, I’m going to try and figure out how I can start an ice cream business.
I’ve always liked experimenting with flavors. So, one day I bought an ice cream machine and started coming up with unusual flavors that I didn’t see often. I brought some samples to work to share with my coworkers. They tried them and liked them, which made me think maybe I could turn this into something more.
I thought it would be fun to get an ice cream truck, which you don’t see that often. I started by registering my LLC and buying an ice cream bike I found on eBay. Then I bought a truck that still needs to be refinished. It’s a lot more work than I’d anticipated. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I didn’t realize how much it was going to cost.
So, that’s a goal in the future. Right now, I’m booking some events with the bike. I’d like to do more catering at weddings, bridal and baby showers, and birthday parties. I want to build off of that and have multiple revenues with different options for people, whether they book with the bike or the truck.
NAN: You have experience in the food industry. Do you have any business background?
CASIE: I have no business background. I went in that completely blind. I reached out to a lot of different people for help, including some bartenders I worked with at Barcelona who own a liquor truck they use as a mobile bar at weddings and other events. They’ve been a good resource.
Anissa Teich, Founder of The Small Business Collective has helped me with a lot of marketing resources—which is beneficial because I’m not great at marketing myself! Local entrepreneur Beth Bolton coached me a lot with the business plan. I’m grateful I had a lot of one-on-one time with her.
NAN: You said you’re not so great with marketing, so how are you building clientele?
CASIE: One benefit from my bartending experience is that I’ve met so many people, who have been excellent resources. And I love meeting people in person and building those connections. What I’m not good at is putting myself out there on social media. I’m working on getting more confident in posting authentically.
NAN: Do you consider yourself a business owner or an entrepreneur—or both?
CASIE: I would probably say more entrepreneur because I’m an idea person and I think I’m fairly creative. With the business side of things, I’m maybe not the best. Sometimes things like paperwork can be overwhelming. But I love learning and I love trying to figure things out. So, entrepreneur, yes. Business owner, maybe not so much.
NAN: Other than getting the truck up and running, what’s next?
CASIE: My short-term goals are getting the truck ready and building more clientele. Also, I’m working on creating more vegan flavors, so I can branch out into that market. I’ve noticed that Connecticut doesn’t have a ton of vegan options for ice cream.
And then eventually, I’d like to settle down and have a brick-and-mortar store. Choosing the right location is always the hard part, because once you’re there, you’re there.
I would love to be able to sell my ice cream commercially in the future and get pints in stores or restaurants. I originally started off doing that when I was first trying to figure everything out. I was selling ice cream at Zohara and the Toro Restaurant Group. But that’s too big for me right now, production level-wise. I would love to build up to that point.
Right now, I’m enjoying being mobile and being able to go out into the community wherever someone wants me to go.
NAN: Any advice for others thinking about starting a business?
CASIE: As someone who’s more creative than business-minded, my advice is to get all your ducks in a row. When I first started, I was spreading myself too thin. I was saying yes to everything I could say yes to because I wanted to get out there. But in the end, I felt like the product was suffering because I was stressing myself out trying to do everything.
I ended up taking a step back for about six months to figure out my game plan and what I needed to do to make sure the business could scale in a way that I could handle it. I do all of this pretty much by myself—I make all the ice cream and I’m the one on site. So, I need to scale at a level I’m comfortable with as I continue to grow.