Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream had not been open a full week before it was drawing lines of customers that wrapped around two corners of

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Best Recession-Resistant Entrepreneurial Venture

Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream

Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream had not been open a full week before it was drawing lines of customers that wrapped around two corners of the block for several hours at a time. Within this first week, the slim little gourmet-ice-cream shop even had return customers. They ran out of every flavor every day, so owner Molly Moon Neitzel stayed up until 3 a.m. every night making more.

"Immediately, I needed five more staff," she says, widening her eyes as if still shocked at her business' lightning-quick success. But all one needs to do is peek in the shop windows to see she was more prepared than most.

Some folks in Seattle may be familiar with the name Molly Moon Neitzel. In 2003 she became the founding executive director of Music for America, a nonprofit devoted to engaging young people in politics by setting up partnerships with the music community (i.e., voter registration booths at concerts, etc.). Over the years, Music for America registered 4,000 people to vote. During that time, Neitzel had always promised she would step down as executive director if the Democrats started winning elections. The recent political shift in the U.S. was proof enough for her.

Plenty of entrepreneurs enter politics. Pete Coors comes to mind, as do Harry Truman, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, and, yes, George W. Bush. But why would someone with one hand in politics and the other in music give it all up for...ice cream? As Neitzel explains, she and ice cream go way back. During college in Missoula, Mont., she worked at a shop called The Big Dipper. "It was run by this punk DIY guy named John," she says. "But what I always loved about it was that it was like this community gathering place."

Neitzel's philosophy on ice cream and community is that it doesn't matter what age you are or what social or economic class you fit into, the chance that you'll find common ground over ice cream is extraordinarily high. The owner of The Big Dipper had often ribbed Neitzel about how she should open a satellite Big Dipper somewhere else in Montana. But Neitzel's goal then was to be involved in politics. In 2001, she married the drummer for her favorite band, they moved to Seattle, and she put ice cream behind her.

Neitzel is from Boise originally. But to look at the aesthetics of her shop, it's obvious she knows what Seattleites crave. There's that mix of rustic and chic that reeks of New Seattle. Sleek pine stumps take the place of chairs; the smooth counter is made of reclaimed pine; the chalk menu board boasts handwritten flavors; the building's original 1926 support beams run up and down the walls. And this is to say nothing of the flavors, mostly quirky tastebud-zingers like "honey lavender," "Thai iced tea," and "balsamic strawberry." When you notice even smaller details, such as the compostable bowls and ice cream spoons and the eye-catching logo, it's hard to believe she never went to business school. She puts one in mind of another local business icon: Linda Derschang of Linda's Tavern fame.

"I actually called Linda," says Neitzel. "We met up for coffee and I spent about two hours showing her my business plan." Derschang was impressed then and certainly is now. She's currently using Neitzel's vanilla-bean ice cream in the Guinness-rhubarb float at her restaurant Smith. Neitzel says her ice cream will likely be on the menus of a few more city restaurants come fall. Meanwhile, Neitzel's looking to expand to a second location or a handful of portable ice-cream trucks.

In these times of gloom-and-doom economic forecasts, a success like Molly Moon's is refreshing, to say the least. But Neitzel knew exactly what she was doing. "Ice cream is pretty much a recession-proof business," she says. "And it's one of the cheapest things you can do in Seattle at night."—Brian J. Barr

 
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