For Tamara Keefe it all began with a $2 hand-crank ice cream maker. Growing up poor in southern California, she would watch wistfully as other families stopped for ice cream every Sunday after church. Tamara yearned to partake in the weekly tradition, but it wasn’t until her mother discovered an at-home churner at a garage sale that they were able to enjoy their own DIY ice cream ritual. That family activity quickly spiraled into a neighborhood gathering, and from then on, ice cream became synonymous for Tamara with the notions of home, family, community, and childhood. It brought her joy and a sense of belonging, and now she’s spreading those ideas at Clementine’s, the first and only microcreamery in the Midwest.
A destination that’s all about the experience of creating memories through happy ice cream, Clementine’s boasts all-natural, decadent flavors of naughty (boozy) and nice (alcohol-free) ice cream.
Known for dreaming up all the flavors herself and her trade secret process for infusing wine, spirits, and locally brewed beers into her boozy ice cream creations, Tamara is an innovator like no other. In this Brazen interview, we explore innovation as an entrepreneur – from products to strategy and even funding.
When you first started, where did you see your company headed? Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
Initially I had romantic notions of opening one ice cream shop, having a baby and having her grow up around the shop and keeping it all very simple. Little did I know we were creating something truly unique and different that needed to grow and have a life of its own. It’s also ingrained in me, I create brands and grow them, it’s in my DNA. In 10 years, we will be a national brand and have shops across the USA.
How have you deviated from your original plan? Has anything stayed the same since day 1?
I haven’t really deviated from the plan but I definitely course-correct all of the time. My strategy over time has gotten more refined.
Do you create goals for yourself or your team? How do you measure and define success and how far are you willing to go to succeed?
We definitely set goals as a company and individually. Goal setting is key and keeps you on track and accountable to yourself and your team. Success defined changes over time, as I grow and the company grows, the bar gets set higher and higher. But at the end of the day, I still own my destiny and get to have breakfast with the man I love every morning!
How do you generate new ideas? How important is innovation in your business?
I am constantly inspired and get new ideas, and opportunities everywhere. Travel is key for me especially as I develop new flavors. Clementine’s is known to some as a 15-minute vacation, so bringing great flavors from around the world and a unique flavor perspective is key. Innovation isn’t something that the ice cream industry has typically embraced. So those of us who do it are changing the game for sure. Our trade secret process for infusing alcohol into ice cream up to 18% is causing major waves and causing the competition to try and innovate to keep up with us.
How do you view strategy? Do you have some examples of tactics you use to look at the big picture and work “on” your business (vs. “in” your business)?
To begin with we have an actual strategy and marketing plan that we execute against. All activities come from that. From production of new flavors, to market specific PR plans, and targeted store openings.
How long do you stick with an idea before giving up? When do you know that it’s time to pivot? Can you give us an example of a dead-end strategy or a time you had to pivot?
We stick with an idea as long as it’s working, progress is being made and the team feels comfortable with it. An example where we pivoted would be when we were trying to participate and sign-up early for a big food hall coming to St. Louis. The management kept changing the contract and pushing back their timelines and we just didn’t feel they were above board and honest, so we bailed on that project and signed a lease for another store opening in downtown next year.
You come from a corporate background. What was the biggest lesson you took from corporate America that has made you successful as an entrepreneur?
My keen understanding of the interdependencies of a cross functional organization and how they are tied, and dependent on one another for success. Additionally, having been raised in a diverse and culturally aware environment allows me to work with and appreciate all kinds of people. Talent is everywhere if you look.
Clementine’s recently expanded to a second location. Congrats! How did you know you were ready to expand? As other entrepreneurs think about expansion, what questions should they ask themselves first?
The never-ending 4-hour lines out the door every night was a good indicator that we needed another location! Expansion was and is very natural for us. As long as people keep asking us to open more stores and patronizing us then we will continue to do so. Expansion is tough depending on what your goals are. Thinking through the cost to expand, the bench required to execute it, and your personal sacrifices are all important considerations.
You’ve recently received some alternative funding from a program to support woman-owned businesses. Where should other female entrepreneurs look for funding opportunities like this and how can they be most successful when applying?
I am 100% self-funded however I did get accepted into a highly sought-after special program for female entrepreneurs created by Goldman Sachs. Looking for programs that fit with your goals is super important, by the very nature of what you are doing and support your seeking will align you with various programs out there.
A food industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in corporate America, Tamara Keefe, puts both her work and family background to good use, dreaming up all the flavors herself at Clementine’s. All of the small-batch ice cream is handcrafted at their 5,000 square foot state-of-the-art FDA certified ice cream kitchen in St. Louis. Many of the candies, sauces, cakes and cookies that go into the ice cream are also made from scratch, and ingredients are always traceable; but the distinction between Clementine’s and other ice cream shops doesn’t stop there. Known for her exotic food creations, Tamara sources from all over the world, and tapping into local resources. Signature flavors like Tommy’s Toffee Butter Brickle (based on Tamara’s mom’s recipe) and Maple Bourbon (for the adult crowd) contain dairy from local rBst- and hormone-free, grass grazed and pasteurized fed cows, and about 50 percent less sugar than most ice cream, letting the unique flavors shine through. They also have a trade secret process for infusing wine, spirits, and locally brewed beers into their boozy ice cream creations at up to 18%. This all results in ice cream perfection from cow to cone.
Want to meet more incredible women like Tamara? Consider becoming a Brazen Member.