Robyn Sue Fisher: Chief Ice Cream Maker | Summary and Q&A

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July 25, 2013
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Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Robyn Sue Fisher: Chief Ice Cream Maker

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Summary

Robyn Sue Fisher, the founder and chief ice cream maker at Smitten Ice Cream, shares her journey of starting the company and her passion for creating the best ice cream possible. She discusses the science behind ice cream and the importance of freezing it at extremely low temperatures to achieve a smooth texture. She also talks about her experimentation with liquid nitrogen and the development of their ice cream machine called Brr. Robyn recounts her early days of selling ice cream on the streets of San Francisco and the success she eventually achieved. Smitten Ice Cream now has a unique shop made from a recycled shipping container, where customers can witness the process of ice cream being made right in front of them.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Robyn Sue Fisher start Smitten Ice Cream?

Robyn started Smitten Ice Cream while attending the GSB, where she focused on entrepreneurship and realized her passion for ice cream. She wanted to take a product she loved and make it even better. Robyn researched the science behind ice cream and discovered that the size of ice crystals greatly affects its quality. Freezing the product at extremely low temperatures results in smaller ice crystals and a smoother texture. She began experimenting with liquid nitrogen and making ice cream in her backyard while sourcing a tank of liquid nitrogen from GSB.

Q: How did Robyn develop the ice cream machine known as Brr?

Robyn spent two years working in a basement shop with an engineer, experimenting with different types of mixing devices to perfect the ice cream. They eventually developed a prototype of the machine now used in Smitten Ice Cream shops, which they named Brr. The machine uses a double-helical mixer that scrapes every surface, creating exceptionally small ice crystals and ensuring a smooth texture. It also has proprietary software that controls viscosity and dosing. The machine gives real-time feedback and knows when it has created the perfect scoop.

Q: How did Robyn promote and sell her ice cream in the early days?

Robyn wanted to prove that she was taking a wholesome approach to ice cream, despite the modern look of her product. To transport the ice cream and the 40-pound stainless steel machine, she came up with the idea of using a Radio Flyer wagon. She sold ice cream on the streets, alleys, and parks of San Francisco for nine months. Initially, she was unknown, but as lines and demand grew, she garnered attention and eventually opened her first shop in Hayes Valley, San Francisco.

Q: What is unique about the design of Smitten Ice Cream's shop?

The shop is built out of a 40-foot-long recycled shipping container. It is divided in half, with one half serving as the tiny kitchen and the other half as the open retail front bar. On the front bar, customers can see four of the Brr machines in action. The machines generate a fog of nitrogen vapor, creating a visual spectacle. The shop design allows customers to witness the ice cream-making process and experience the unique environment.

Q: How does Smitten Ice Cream ensure the quality of its products?

Smitten Ice Cream focuses on doing one thing exceptionally well. By keeping a small menu, they can carefully select the best ingredients and ensure that every flavor is made to perfection. The smaller menu also allows them to maintain high-quality standards and prioritize customer satisfaction. Smitten Ice Cream aims to create an experience where customers can enjoy natural-tasting ice cream and have full transparency regarding the ingredients used.

Q: What do customers appreciate about Smitten Ice Cream?

Customers often mention the natural taste and smooth texture of Smitten Ice Cream. The ice cream is known for being very cold, a result of the extremely low temperatures at which it is frozen. People also appreciate Smitten Ice Cream's transparency about the ingredients used in their products. Being able to see where the ice cream comes from and having full disclosure about the ingredients create a positive customer experience.

Q: What motivated Robyn to start Smitten Ice Cream?

Robyn wanted to pursue something more personal and meaningful than her previous work in the consulting world. Ice cream has always been a source of joy and togetherness for her and her family, and she wanted to create delightful moments in people's lives. She advises entrepreneurs to follow their passions and pursue something they truly love, rather than just a business idea. Robyn emphasized that her dedication and love for what she does were crucial for the success she achieved.

Q: What advice does Robyn have for entrepreneurs?

Robyn suggests that entrepreneurs go after something they genuinely love rather than merely a business idea. She shares that she didn't experience real success until the fourth year of her journey with Smitten Ice Cream. The challenges and setbacks would have been difficult to overcome without genuine passion for her work. Robyn wears many hats in her role, but ultimately, her goal is to make people happy through the ice cream they enjoy. She finds joy in seeing the smiles on her customers' faces and feels grateful for the path she has taken.

Takeaways

Robyn Sue Fisher's journey with Smitten Ice Cream showcases the success that can come from pursuing one's passion. By focusing on creating the best ice cream possible, utilizing innovative techniques like liquid nitrogen, and maintaining high-quality standards, Smitten Ice Cream has become a popular destination for ice cream lovers. The combination of natural flavors, transparent ingredient sourcing, and customer experience sets them apart from others in the industry. Entrepreneurs can draw inspiration from Robyn's story and the importance of dedicating oneself to something they genuinely love.

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