Lindsay Taub is the remarkable and innovative woman behind the wildly popular Sundae School, a school themed ice cream parlour in Ottawa. I had the chance to sit down with Lindsay a few weeks ago. We talked about making a career change, realizing your dreams and being an entrepreneur.
❥ On creating Sundae School
Lindsay is a former psychotherapist and new mother. When she came up with the idea of Sundae School, she decided to run with it and leave her old career behind. “I just dove in and thought ‘Okay… I love food and I’m passionate about building my community’ What can I offer people?”
Lindsay briefly considered starting her business as a food truck, before settling on a static location in Beechwood Village. An industrial look, with a bright teal wall, a chalk board for playing and bean bags just waiting to be plopped into. The idea behind the shop was to create a child-friendly space, sort of like being in a class room.
❥ On changing careers
“I had to take a leap of faith. Starting a new career as an entrepreneur was hard. I loved my job as psychotherapist and I had invested all this time and money into what I thought my career would be. When starting Sundae School, I sort of felt that I was throwing all that away, but I realized that I’m not throwing anything away — everything that I’ve learned along the way has helped me to run my business today. For example, my experience as a counsellor is so useful because as a business owner, I have a lot of relationships to manage.”
❥ Find a mentor (or two)
“Being a small business owner can be overwhelming. The best thing that I did was to surround myself with amazing mentors.” Lindsay is fortunate enough to have friends and connections in the restaurant and retail industries, like Stephen Beckta (Beckta Dining & Wine) and David Segal (David’s Tea and Mad Radish), who were able to provide advice from experience and helped her set up shop. “I give a lot of credit to my husband [who is also an entrepreneur]. He encouraged me, supported me and he would always tell me ‘you’ll never know until you actually do it’.”
❥ Delegating is key
As an entrepreneur, “you need to delegate where you can.” Lindsay reached out to a graphic designer for the logo, who came up with the whimsical design and the pop of red.
As for the product, Sundae School does not make the ice cream, but focuses more on the toppings and assembly. Why decide not to make their own ice cream? Starting a new business is a huge project and Lindsay wanted to make sure she could focus on branding and community marketing. She also saw it as an opportunity to support another local business. All of Sundae School’s ice cream is supplied by the Carp Custom Creamery, a premium, artisanal creamery West of Ottawa.
❥ The importance of engaging with customers
Lindsay is always thinking about her business and engaging with her customers. “It is so important to engage with customers, whether it’s through social media or in person. You always want people to enjoy their experience.” Lindsay uses social media to connect with customers and she uses Instagram in particular to repost customer photos. Not only is it a great way of connecting with customers (featuring them on your profile), but she also says that “best content” comes from Instagram. It’s no secret why. In the age of social media, it seems like consuming photogenic food has never been more popular. At Sundae School, each frozen treat is so aesthetically pleasing, it’s an Instagrammer’s dream.
❥ Providing a desirable product
Before opening shop, Lindsay did some research to make sure she was offering a product that her customers would want. “I decided to do a focus group to get feedback from my target demographic, which is kids and families. I wanted other peoples’ opinions. I wanted to serve what my customers wanted to eat. I set up a mini ice cream parlour in my kitchen/living room and invited the children of my family and friends. They tried different ice creams and toppings, and filled out little feedback forms. They were really helpful in determining which toppings would be best for the sundaes.”
❥ On making your dream a reality
We all have good ideas, but how many times do you actually do something about it? I asked Lindsay about how she got past the hurdle of executing the idea: “I was willing to take the risk, but you have to have faith in yourself and believe in your idea. If you don’t try, it’s definitely not going to happen.”
You can also manage your risk: “When starting a business, if you do the right kind of research, it ends up not being such a big risk.”
Finally, let your customers guide you. “You have to listen to your customers, they end up influencing what you provide to them.” Lindsay described one particular occasion where a customer requested to speak with her and then proceeded to instruct her exactly how to run her business. Welcome feedback and be prepared to take some criticism, but make sure to maintain boundaries.
❥ On overcoming challenges
“I definitely encountered people who did not believe in me… and being a woman in business has its own special set of challenges.” Lindsay describes that it can be difficult to be taken seriously as a female entrepreneur. From mansplaining, to unsolicited advice, to being repeatedly asked whether ‘she is sure’… Lindsay did not let any of that stand in her way, but she doesn’t have to tell you that. The success and overwhelming popularity of Sundae School speaks for itself.
❥ 3 tips for women who want to start a business
1. “Start talking to people who are in the field that you’re interested in. Get into contact with as many experts as possible. Find out who they are and ask them to meet you.”
- “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be intimidated. The worst that can happen is that someone will say no. You have to put yourself out there.”
- “Believe in yourlelf, because if you don’t believe, why would anyone else?”
Lindsay Taub is an incredible example of someone who took a whimsical idea and made it happen. I mean, it doesn’t really get more whimsical than a school-themed ice cream parlour. Sundae School is proof that your idea doesn’t have to be overly complex. In fact, some of the best ideas are simple: school, kids, ice cream. It all kind of flows together and yet, Lindsay was able to build a brand that is totally unique and incredibly appealing to all ages.
Sundae School is currently closed for the colder months, but will re-open in Spring 2018.