Five of the sweetest words you’ll hear during these scorching summer days are: “let’s go for ice cream”.
One local ice cream parlour is slinging scoops at a breakneck pace during the dog days of summer. Four All Ice Cream launched their second location in Uptown Waterloo earlier this year. Every day, eager customers line the sidewalk on Willis Way as they indulge in one of summer’s signature treats.
Ajoa Mintah is the owner of Four All, and on their busiest summer days, they send over 500 scoops of ice cream out the door.
“It’s been incredible. It’s been really, really good,” Mintah said. “I remember there used to be an ice cream store in uptown, I think they closed in 2009, and there was a bit of a gap and something that the community needed. We’ve got people that come in all the time, and it’s pretty steady business for us right now.”
Mintah got into the ice cream business in 2016 when she incorporated Four All as an official business. She spent the next year getting the company ready for distribution and retail, and Four All launched their factory location in Kitchener in May 2017.
Prior to diving head first into the food sector, Mintah knew she wanted to work for herself. She attended “ice cream school” at the University of Guelph for a food science course covering the intricacies of ice cream.
“For me, ice cream is an intersection between my education — I’m a chemical engineer by my education — and also doing something that I love. I love ice cream,” Mintah said. “I love that living in Waterloo Region, ten minutes in any direction, I’m at a farm. It was a way to marry what I studied at school and what I love to do, which is create.”
While the inspiration for Four All’s ice cream flavours can sometimes come at random, the process behind creating each flavour is a methodical approach. Mintah takes each potential flavour through the prototype phase to see which ones are viable for retail.
“I start off every single ice cream formulation with an excel spreadsheet,” Mintah said. “That’s just because ice cream is a very careful balance of a lot of different ingredients. You’ve got sugar, you’ve got water, you’ve got fat, you’ve got solids; whatever your base is and however you’re achieving that flavour, you have to respect certain rules to have something that works at the end.”
Despite what the inner child in everyone might think, throwing every candy or concoction into an ice cream doesn’t always work from a flavour perspective, but also from a chemical perspective.
As it’s a bit of a trial and error process, it can sometimes take a few weeks for Four All to perfect a particular ice cream flavour, while other flavours might come together in a few hours.
Salted caramel is one of the more popular flavours on Four All’s menu this summer, and while some customers can’t pinpoint why they enjoy that particular flavour, Mintah has a deep understanding of what makes that flavour combination taste so good.
“We almost burn the caramel when we’re making it because we want it to have that bitter note, otherwise for me, it’s too sweet,” Mintah said. “I know we’ve done it right when it tastes a little bit burnt. I know it’s wrong when it just tastes like sweet sugar to me. That’s one that people really gravitate to.
“A lot of people are like: ‘I don’t know why I like it so much.’ And I’m like: ‘I know why you like it so much.’ There are a lot of flavour layers in there.”
Four All opened their Uptown Waterloo location back in early March, but due to COVID-19, it forced them to close up shop just a few weeks afterwards. The store then re-opened in early June to the delight of anxious ice cream fans.
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for the business as it allowed Mintah to be mindful of what was important to her company, and how she strategically deployed her time and resources amid the shutdown.
“When it first happened, it actually forced us to slow down,” Mintah said. “We just launched the business, and we were getting ready for the busiest summer ever. It forced me to slow down and stop and go: ‘What are you doing? What’s necessary and what’s not necessary?’”
Although their retail location in Uptown Waterloo was closed for over two months, there wasn’t much downtime for Four All during the pandemic. The first quarter of the year is typically a slow time for the ice cream business, but online sales picked up and kept Four All busy through the first phase of the shutdown.
After three years in business in Waterloo Region, Mintah looks back to the opening day of her Kitchener location as a watershed moment for her business. As customers lined up around the building at Four All’s factory on Whitney Place, it was true validation for all the hard work and research Mintah poured into her company.“I was of the opinion that KW appreciates small business and KW appreciates craft food, but I didn’t realize to what extent. And really realizing that nothing like us exists, and this is something people are looking for.”