Ice Cream + Social Responsibility

Episode 56

Ice Cream + Social Responsibility

Meet Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, where tempting flavors and social responsibility thrive. Spend 30 minutes with founder and socially conscious business advocate Molly Moon, and learn how she created a hardworking, happy staff, strong local partnerships, and sustainable practices to deliver the best ice cream made with the finest ingredients. It’s salty and sweet, and you will enjoy every minute.

Featured on the Show
You can't create and build something that's important to the whole community unless you take care of the people doing the work. And I have had a lot of fun over the last 16 years, evolving the work culture and the benefits package to meet the needs of my team.


CCB One Workplace: [00:00:22] Welcome to the ONEder Podcast. This is your host CCB. And today we're doing something that we haven't done before, which is recording our podcast in front of a live audience. I'm going to say the audience is being very well behaved at this moment in time. I hope it stays that way. Please remain silent. Um, we today, in celebration of Women's Month, Women's History Month and International Women's Day, we have an amazing character from the Seattle Marketplace who is going to share with us the story of her iconic brand and building a culture that is socially responsible. And we're delighted to have Molly Moon join us.

Molly Moon: [00:01:02] Thank you for having me.

CCB One Workplace: [00:01:04] Excellent. So, we start with the origin story. What was the inspiration for Molly Moon's Handmade Ice Cream?

Molly Moon: [00:01:13] It's Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream.

CCB One Workplace: [00:01:15] Homemade, I knew that,

Molly Moon: [00:01:18] So I was running a political nonprofit called Music4America for most of my 20s, and we were partnering with bands and venues to register young people to vote and then turn them out to vote in elections. And that was my life's passion at the time. But after several years of doing that for most of my 20s, I got really tired of asking rich people for money. So, I decided to try to run a for profit business where I could continue to sort of embody my politics and make an impact on the world in the way that I wanted to, but maybe through a for profit venue. And I was whining to my mom on the phone one night about what I was going to do with my life. And she said, Molly, why don't you just open an ice cream shop? You know how to do it. You watched your grandparents be small business owners. You worked at that ice cream shop in Montana forever. You can do that. Just do that. So, it was early 2007. I started carving out time to work on a business plan for an ice cream shop in Seattle, and I worked for jobs while I did it, and I reserved Tuesday mornings, and I went and sat at Volunteer Park Cafe on Capitol Hill in Seattle and had a pear cardamom muffin and worked on my business plan. And I thought to myself, if I can put free health insurance for all the employees and make everything compostable and buy local ingredients, and the numbers at the bottom of my projected P and L are black, I'll do it. And if I put all those expenses into an ice cream shop business plan and the numbers at the bottom of the P and L are red, I will go get a job as a political consultant or do something else.

CCB One Workplace: [00:03:11] And 16 years later.

Molly Moon: [00:03:13] So we provide free health insurance for everyone who works 18 hours a week or more. We have added a list of a dozen other benefits everything is compostable that you take out of our shops, and we still buy 90% of our ingredients locally, you know, not chocolate, sugar or vanilla, but pretty much everything else. And we've been able to grow to ten shops. We start construction on number eleven on Monday.

CCB One Workplace: [00:03:45] Oh, you heard it here. The audience is starting to make noise. Okay. They're, they're very excited. So, that brings me to the question about crafting unique experiences. So you've you've developed business acumen and and married that with social responsibility and concern. And then there's the place where it happens. And first I want to ask you what did your grandparents' ice cream shop look like. And then how did you decide what Molly Moon's was going to look like?

Molly Moon: [00:04:15] So my grandparents were small business owners, but they owned a bar when I was a kid, And I grew up going to a bar at 8:30 a.m. every morning of every summer of my childhood and picking up the change off the "carpet" of the bar and rolling it into penny and nickel and dime and quarter rolls and putting it in a savings account. And watching my grandparents clean the bar and do the books and vacuum the "carpet" of the bar. So I sort of learned small business ownership through osmosis. The ice cream shops look nothing like the bar.

CCB One Workplace: [00:04:58] I was going to say. It probably doesn't have a carpet.

Molly Moon: [00:05:01] No carpet at Molly Moon's.

CCB One Workplace: [00:05:03] But, but it's interesting that every experience happens within an envelope, interpersonal, of some nature. So, I'm just wondering, did you have a vision for what it wanted to look like?

Molly Moon: [00:05:14] Yes. When I was writing the business plan for Molly Moons, I really wanted, I sort of made the first shop just exactly what I wanted to be in Seattle that didn't exist. I was in my late 20s, I was dating, and I had spent most of my 20s at a bar called Linda's Tavern on Capitol Hill, and I was tired of going to bars and talking to boys. I wanted someone to take me out to dinner and an ice cream shop afterward. And so I made an ice cream shop that was not primary colors, that had zero Formica involved, and that, you know, the lighting was dim and I made it feel like a coffee shop or a cafe that you would want to hang out in. And I really hoped that people would come there on dates and like, want to linger and talk over ice cream and maybe not get drunk, but like, get sweeter.

CCB One Workplace: [00:06:12] Okay, we had a little conversation before we started doing this recording, and, um, and I was remembering an event, uh, from an ice cream shop in San Francisco that our father used to take us to because he loved this particular flavor of ice cream that they made. And it was, uh, homemade Swensen's ice cream, which then became a chain. But it was the first shop. And the flavor, which was apple pie and had some bits of apple pie in it. Truly, whenever I smell that or get anywhere near it, it's this flood of, oh, my father, oh, all of us, you know, going to something special, uh, some place special, which was “just” an ice cream shop. And I'm going to say it, uh, it was it was kind of a classic, traditional ice cream shop. So that conversation around creating memories in a place, but with a flavor, with a sensory kind of prompt.

Molly Moon: [00:07:11] Yeah. Well, an important thing that I knew from my days working at an ice cream shop in college was that when you when you have an ice cream shop, you should smell waffle cones from down the street. And so I worked really hard to research all of the waffle cone mix purveyors when I opened, and bought the smelliest one. It's also delicious. But yeah, I think the experience of a Molly Moon's starts hopefully half a block or a block away when you smell us baking warm waffle cones. And that's sort of that first introduction. And then you walk in and you smell the ice cream and the other toppings. And one of the cute things about sort of the memory and the olfactory connection is, anyone who works for us goes home and smells like waffle cones. And their family, or the person they're seeing like just thinks of them as smelling like waffle cones. And we got the cutest email a couple weeks ago from a former employee. She worked for us in 2018. And her fiancé, they're getting married this summer, just has he's like, I don't know, a software programmer or something. And he just has always wanted to experience working at Molly Moon's and like serving people happiness, which is what we do, and come home smelling like waffle cones. And she wrote us and said, can I, as a wedding gift, give my fiance the gift of working one shift at the walk up window in Madrona at the Molly Moon's. And we're going.

CCB One Workplace: [00:08:46] To… and you said, of course. Yeah, but of course, make it happen. Um, and that starts to like, create this like mélange, if you will, of of experiences that I can imagine people have had or created because Molly Moon's was there and offered the opportunity.

Molly Moon: [00:09:07] We have had so many incredible experiences happen at Molly Moon's. We have, I used to have this big, beautiful, white, bright, gorgeous office. I wish you all could see it. And I gave it up in the pandemic, but we had two employees get married in our office because Molly Moon's was such an important part of their story. Including a guy named Eric who was a scooper in 2008, and he met his current wife, Cory, she was a customer in line. And that was 16 years ago, and they got married in our office. We've had babies, um, you know, lots of babies eat their first ice cream at Molly Moon's. We've had lots of people tell their partner that they're pregnant. We've had many proposals happen at Molly Moon's or like on the walk home from Molly Moon's, and we've had lots of gender reveal sundaes, where people will bring in the ultrasound texts like they've written, the gender of the baby on the on a piece of paper and they hand it to our scoopers and say, you know, make us a chocolate sundae if it's a boy and a strawberry sundae if a girl. And we cover it with whipped cream so they can't see the flavor underneath, and they walk away to the park and they eat that sundae and find out.

CCB One Workplace: [00:10:22] Okay, big smiles on the entire audience. And I'm reminded to tell all of our audience that obviously we're here in Seattle having this conversation. And Molly Moon is an iconic business entrepreneur, but totally successful in this, here in Seattle. And so people in the Seattle audience will know, I mean, Seattle audience listening will know who she is. But you may be something new to to many of our folks from the California audience. And that being said, as you're sitting here talking about this and putting smiles on everybody's faces, I'm I'm brought back to the folks that work for you, the team members, because happiness doesn't get served from unhappy people. And you have done such an amazing job creating your brand, ethos and culture by your concern for the folks that work for you. So you mentioned it when we first started chatting, but I'd love you to spend a little bit more time on what you're doing now and what you're planning on doing.

Molly Moon: [00:11:25] Yeah, thanks. This is one of my favorite things to talk about. So you can't create and build something that's important to the whole community unless you take care of the people doing the work. And I have had a lot of fun over the last 16 years, sort of evolving the work culture and the benefits package to meet the needs of my team. That's different than like an office worker team in some ways, and in some ways it's the same. There are things we all want. We all want to make more money than we're making today, and we all want our lives to be easier. So we've added we have the health insurance that I talked about. We have a subsidized Orca Pass, which is our transit pass here in Seattle. We match a 401 K even for like we had to go petition our 401 K company to let us match four one K's for 18 year olds because they were like 18 year olds don't start 401Ks. We're like ours do, especially if they're not going to go to college and they're just going to work their way up in the ice cream company. So that's been really fun to get lots of teenagers to start retirement plans. We provided paid family leave, 12 weeks of paid family leave at 100% pay, long before Washington state created the law. And then, I actually helped work on that bill and lobbied to pass the law that created the Washington State Paid Family Leave program. And that's been a big part of my work as well, is like, yes, I want to protect the Molly Moon's workers and experience, but I've spent, I would say, 25% of my time for the last 15 years lobbying the government to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to require paid, safe and sick leave for all workers in Seattle and Washington state.

Molly Moon: [00:13:08] I was on a committee that wrote small business tax breaks for health insurance into Obamacare. So. lots of lots of what I think is being a good corporate citizen is being a good citizen in our nation and participating in the political process. And then our latest benefit that I'm really excited about is a childcare benefit. So everybody that works and has kids has to find out how someone else who is just almost as wonderful as us, will take care of our children while we work. And that's especially hard for people who work in the service industry and food + beverage, because they often work at night and most daycares close at 5:30 or 6. So we now provide $1,000 a month to every Moon Crew member per child for childcare from birth to when their kids go to kindergarten. And then between kindergarten age and age 12, we give each child $4,000 a year to pay for after care and summer care. And so that has been a really fun thing to add, and it has been life changing. Like, I have a manager who thought she would only ever have an only child. She has a daughter in kindergarten, and we announced the benefit last April, the child care benefit, and in May, she and her husband decided that that was what made the difference. And she took her IUD out and they got pregnant. And they're having a baby girl in May.

CCB One Workplace: [00:14:46] Okay, I just have to say yes, thank you very much. And the audience is clapping silently and, and universally. Oh, yeah, there's some fist pumping going on. The ripple impact of what Molly Moon is doing is having an impact in the Seattle marketplace. And the childcare for hourly workers is like monumental when I think about it. And in an earlier conversation, you were talking about the folks that come in and do the cleaning of offices at night, for example, and how the heck do you take care of that if you're a single parent and you've got young people at home, young children. So, so kudos. And you know, whatever we can do to help support that, you know, I'm sure you're going to let us know. Which reminds me on the ONEder podcast, we have a website, and each podcast has a page. And so there will be links to everything that Molly's talking about, and any of the other references that we make during this podcast. So you'll be able to find them and find Molly. Okay, I'm going to go. I'm kind of like, I don't know which direction to go. I'm thinking I'm going to first start with sustainability, and then I'm going to move into ice cream flavors, because we know some special things about ice cream flavors. So you started with the compostable, compostable saying that that's what it's going to be, but it kind of has gotten even bigger than that.

Molly Moon: [00:16:11] Yeah. Although the compostable thing is really funny because when I said I'm not going to let anything leave the shops, that's not compostable, I had to like, go do the research to find a compostable spoon, because there wasn't one in the city of Seattle. And the same year that I opened. And it's so crazy now because for everybody in Seattle, it's the law. Like every takeout you it has to be compostable now. But I found one buyer on the UW campus who was buying spoons for a food court, and he and I went in on the pallet of compostable potato starch spoons so that I could get enough spoons now. And my commitment to local ingredients is a huge, sustainable impact piece. We buy all of our milk and cream from one farm up in Lindon in western Washington, and not having to truck cream and milk very far is hugely impactful to our planet. And all of our ingredients, most of our ingredients come from the Skagit Valley, some of them come from Oregon, and occasionally we'll buy citrus from Northern California. But that's about as far as it gets. And then chocolate, sugar, coffee, tea, vanilla, those things have to be organic, have to be fair trade. And we need to feel really good about the routes that they're taking. Like we recently switched our chocolate. And I'm so happy that the cacao is going straight from where it's grown to Bellingham, Washington, to be roasted and processed into chocolate and then to Seattle. So that's just not a very far trip. And a lot of chocolate is grown in Africa or South America, and then is put on a ship to Europe to be processed and then comes to the United States. So we try to really think about all of the little things that add up.

CCB One Workplace: [00:18:12] I just my mind keeps kind of blowing up, thinking about wow, wow. Okay, but you brought me to ice cream and to flavors. And could you talk to us a little bit about, share how do you decide how much of it is Molly Moon deciding, how much of it is customer preference, and are there external factors that might come into play? When you come up with new flavors.

Molly Moon: [00:18:38] Yeah. So we have ten “always” flavors and four rotating seasonal flavors. We release 48 new flavors a year, for a month. And many of those at this point are greatest hits. Like, if we didn't bring Cherry Chunk back every July, I don't know that I'd be alive. And, you know, over so many years we have all these greatest hits. So it's actually gotten kind of funny and interesting now. I when we're in a flavor planning meeting, we put the, I'm very data driven. So I'll look at the percent of sales that each flavor did in the month that it was on the on the menu. And if a flavor did more than like 8.5% of total sales, that's a good selling flavor. And we should consider it. And we've gotten so good over the years at only making the flavors better and better and better. I would say our ice cream in 2008 was not amazing, and now I think our ice cream is absolutely the best in the world. And it's been 16 years of refining and making it better and better and better and better. And now it's really hard to have a flavor planning meeting, because we have enough greatest hits that we could never make a new flavor, but nobody wants that. So that's kind of the process.

Molly Moon: [00:19:59] We try to add maybe two greatest hits per month and then two open slots. And we we have a concept brainstorm with all of our chefs. We have eight highly trained pastry chefs who've gone to culinary schools all over the world, and myself and our marketing director, and we brainstorm, and then I assign research and development out to all those chefs. They make, uh, they R&D the flavor. They might make two or 3 or 4 versions of that concept. Then we get together for a tasting. Yes, I taste first. Nobody rubs a spoon before me, and we all talk about what it tastes like. And then I might say, oh, you need to go rework this. I didn't like any of the four. And then we might rework 2 or 3 times to get to a flavor that we're like, that's it. And my palate is saltier than most. And I think anybody who's had our salted caramel ice cream can attest to that. And we used to get a lot of negative feedback about that. In the beginning, people would be like, oh, this is too salty. But I knew I didn't want to change it because that flavor was 30% of my sales in the first year.

CCB One Workplace: [00:21:10] What percentage of sales is it? You know, in year over year?

Molly Moon: [00:21:15] Now it's more like 9%. But I've added a bunch of other flavors that are salty to the mix because people love salty sweet. That is the crack factor.

CCB One Workplace: [00:21:29] I'm going to say, every business is fraught with challenges. And the last couple of years have presented challenges to all businesses, particularly small businesses. So what stories would you share with us about challenges and overcoming or?

Molly Moon: [00:21:49] or How long do we have?

CCB One Workplace: [00:21:50] Well, we've got, you know, you can have two or three minutes for this.

Molly Moon: [00:21:54] Um, I mean, the pandemic was the most difficult thing that any small business in the food and beverage industry could possibly imagine. And I will just say that, you know, the role that the federal government played during the pandemic, and every wave of relief was really necessary for small businesses. I know that there was, you know, there was a lot of controversy about the PPP loans and there was a lot of abuse of the PPP loans. But for my business, we took, uh, we got a huge emergency disaster loan from the Small Business Administration. We got a big PPP loan. I didn't pay myself for six months. I thought I was going to lose my house. And it wasn't until the second PPP Loan Act was passed on December 27th, 2020, that I knew that I was going to be able to be current on my mortgage. And that's a long time for small businesses to be that stressed. So, you know, how about no more global pandemics? I would say that, um, I think the other, more universal challenge that many people are facing now is how to lower turnover.

Molly Moon: [00:23:18] And I think that's across a lot of industries, but it's still really affecting the food and beverage industry and my, and service industries and industries where there are more like low wage workers. And my response to that, when I give advice to other business owners or, you know, just in general, I think the answer is: you have to trade profits and your margin for paying people well enough that they can afford to live in the city where they work. And that's what I do. And my profit margin is smaller than most of my peers in small business. And, this translates to corporate America. Like, billionaires who run companies need to pay their fair share of taxes so that everyone in our society can live a joyful life and put food on their tables and tuck their kids in at night because they're not working two jobs. And I just think that this actually is an American value, and we all need to show up this November and make sure that it continues to be possible in America.

CCB One Workplace: [00:24:40] Coming from California, where we had our primary election on Tuesday, I will say that I have my voter sticker is not on this badge, but it's on another one. And thank you for pointing that out, the commitment or the responsibility that all Americans have to get out and vote. I wondered about kind of your cultural influence in this kind of steps forward off of what we were just talking about, your cultural influence and kind of future directions as a as an iconic brand in Seattle. What impact do you think Molly Moon has made on the food industry or the creation of new businesses? And, and where do you think you might be going?

Molly Moon: [00:25:28] I think Molly Moons has had an impact on a lot of our small business community in Seattle, people trying to add benefits and trying to increase their wages. I mean, I worked hard to make all of my peers have to pay their employees more, and a lot of my peers hated me for raising the minimum wage, working hard to raise the minimum wage in Seattle. But they're all doing fine now. We survived it. We all raised wages and our workers are better for it. I forgot the question.

CCB One Workplace: [00:25:57] Well, the question was that kind of that impact on the broader I'm going to say, you know, the market, but food market. But also one of the things that you mentioned earlier, uh, outside of this conversation, was the longevity of folks that work at Molly Moon's as a result of and there's something there that goes back to, you know, the turnover and the churn and the cost.

Molly Moon: [00:26:21] So I think my biggest impact has been as an example of an employer, and what you should expect from an employer. And in all the lobbying I've done, I really do feel proud of the work that I've done to influence a lot of laws that have made it easier to live in Seattle. I think that it's really important to create a culture where we expect that you can live and survive and thrive with one job. And my employees absolutely can do that, and so they don't leave. You know, if you we sort of give them even like 16 year olds who start with us, we give them this Candyland graphic of what the next seven years of their life can look like. And it's like, if you stay on the bottom row, the entry level job, well, you can expect these raises every year. There's one for performance and there's one for sticking around for a year. And you can make X amount in seven years. But if you take one little step up on this other, on this yellow square and you apply to be a shift leader, then you'll make this much. And then those annual raises over seven years look like this. Well, if you do Career Pathways Program and you become an assistant manager from your shift leader position, and on and on and on. To the point where you can start at Molly Moon's when you're 16, and you can work seven years and you can make about $90,000 a year. At an ice cream shop, and not go to college because not everybody gets to go to college. And so, that's really appealing to a lot of our employees. And they stick around and we have really low turnover. And we have an insane number of applicants for jobs. Like we'll we'll hire 100 seasonal workers and we'll get 750 people to apply for them.

CCB One Workplace: [00:28:20] How many, how many workers are there that are annual and as compared to the seasonal?

Molly Moon: [00:28:26] We have about 120 year round. And then we'll grow to almost 200 employees each summer, and then we'll pare back down. And that's a really fun opportunity to give people a chance to just have a summer job while they're in school, or show us that they're amazing and get become what we call a Tenured Scooper and get to stay year round.

Speaker3: [00:28:52] Okay. The audience, yes. They're looking. There's some head shaking. I don't know if it's for themselves or for members of their family. Okay, so I'm going to end with speaking of family. One of the things that you mentioned, we talked about the olfactory nature of taste and smell. And one of the things that you said was the taste of ice cream is one of... Finish the sentence for me. The last.

Molly Moon: [00:29:18] Oh, sorry. So ice cream is one of the last foods, it's one of the first foods that I think people remember a lot of baby's first sugar when they turn one and they get their first ice cream. But it's one of the last foods that people want in their lives. And so we get a lot of people picking up pints for their grandparents or their parents on hospice, and it feels really special to be a part of sort of the full circle of people's lives.

CCB One Workplace: [00:29:51] The contributions that you are making to the community, to your crew members, to, I'm going to say, movement of social responsibility are are beyond admirable. And for International Women's Day, we're delighted that you have been the person to speak with us on the Oneder podcast. And you have like last say, anything else you want to say?

Molly Moon: [00:30:17] Oh, well, if you employ a woman, you should give her a raise tomorrow. All right.

CCB One Workplace: [00:30:25] All right, Thank you, Molly Moon, so much. Thank you for having you ONEder podcast, listeners, uh, the podcast is available on all streaming services. So circle back and listen to another one and have some Molly Moon Homemade Ice Cream.

Speaker3: [00:30:41] Good job as.

CCB One Workplace: [00:30:42] Quickly as you can. Thank you.