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In a corporate world pushing to go big, Zsa’s Ice Cream chose to go small – and local
Business

In a corporate world pushing to go big, Zsa’s Ice Cream chose to go small – and local

Businesses are often pushed to go big and expand. Zsa’s Ice Cream in Mount Airy chose a different path – and found surprising benefits.

In 2011, Danielle Jowdy started selling her homemade, “seriously from scratch” ice cream at farmer’s markets and Co-ops. Zsa’s Ice Cream quickly became a fan favorite as Jowdy started attending events, soon purchasing an ice cream truck.

As the popularity of Zsa’s Ice Cream grew between 2013 and 2019, Zsa’s had also established around 50 wholesale accounts with grocery stores. At the time, it seemed like an indicator of a successful small business. Jowdy described the business owner’s dilemma. “Even though it might not be the best thing to do, it’s familiar so you keep doing it. That’s what the wholesale business was.”

Customers wanted to be able to visit a physical shop, which led to Jowdy selling the ice cream truck and opening the Mount Airy location on Germantown Ave in December 2018. During this transition into a scoop shop, Jowdy continued to sell wholesale.

With the demand from wholesale and a brand-new shop, Zsa’s was going smoothly into 2020. As Jowdy explained, “We were getting to know what it’s like to be a real ice cream shop. And then of course, the pandemic hit.”

Like so many businesses, staffing the shop safely became a problem, which made keeping up with demand from wholesale business difficult. In March of 2020, Jowdy made the decision to use the shop for pre-order and pick-up.

Hard decisions among pandemic troubles

She also made the hard decision to roll-back selling wholesale to grocery stores, despite an exploding demand. “All these orders coming in from the grocery stores, but the problem was that we didn’t have staff to fill them,” shared Jowdy. “But they weren’t going to make us the margin that we needed to survive.”

Moving away from wholesale allowed Jowdy to work with the smaller staff available to her due to COVID.

Wholesale wasn’t what it was as cracked up to be as a small business. As Jowdy explained, “you constantly have to go into each store and make sure that your product is being displayed correctly.” There’s also competing with recognized brands. “As soon as corporate says, [the store] needs to stock with these national brands, the little guys get relegated to the very bottom shelf.”

However, the benefits of cutting the wholesale market were becoming quickly obvious to Jowdy. Sales exploded: local sales in Philly were larger in one week than they were in a month of the previous year.

Jowdy also recognized the creative freedom she had once again, being able to introduce interesting, limited flavors. She also created deeper relationships within her community.

When she was offered leftover cake from the Frosted Fox Cake Shop next door to Zsa’s Ice Cream, Jowdy relished being able to accept it and experiment. She would never have been able to create a flavor when focusing on wholesale.    

we mainly want to sell to our community and do what’s going to bring us the most joy, you put in so many hours, you put in your blood, sweat and tears to a business week, you gotta get some joy out of it.”

Danielle Jowdy, Owner of Zsa’s Ice Cream

“My heart has always been in running an ice cream shop because when you have an ice cream shop and you create customers directly…we mainly want to sell to our community and do what’s going to bring us the most joy, you put in so many hours, you put in your blood, sweat and tears to a business week, you gotta get some joy out of it.”

The shop is currently open Thursdays through Sunday but Jowdy hopes to extend these hours.

She still hopes to grow the business, potentially open another location. But, she’ll most likely never return to wholesale in corporate grocery stores.


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Sophia Healy is an editorial intern with Green Philly. She is a writer and environmentalist from South Philadelphia and a graduate of Temple University. She enjoys exploring the nature of Philly and discovering the many opportunities the city has to offer. View all posts by Sophia Healy

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