By Ingrid Schnader
Ever since Big Spoon Creamery owners Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara started their ice cream company, they have wanted to open a storefront in Homewood, they said.
By the end of this year or early 2019, they’ll finally be able to do that.
Big Spoon’s second storefront will be at 929 Oxmoor Road in Homewood, in a space that previously housed Sprout & Pour.
The ice cream will still be made at the Avondale location. The Homewood location will have all the same flavors and a little more seating.
“We know we have a really large following in the Over the Mountain area,” Ryan O’Hara said. “So we’re excited to be able to offer a location where they can come more often or have a more easily accessible place.”
The culinary duo met in 2010, when they both were working at Bottega, Geri-Martha as a pastry chef and Ryan O’Hara as a savory chef. After they got married in 2014, they decided to try out an idea that had been on their minds for a while – to open up an ice cream shop.
“We sort of naively thought we weren’t starting a business,” Ryan O’Hara said. “We thought we were starting a side project. We thought, ‘Let’s just kind of play around with this idea for a while and gauge some interest and have some fun with it. And maybe eventually, sometime, it will turn into a business.’”
They were selling ice cream out of their driveway and at pop-up shops for the next few months. The early days of entrepreneurship were difficult, they said.
“We worked seven days a week, and we were probably up working (at) 6 a.m.,” Ryan O’Hara said. “Most of the time we weren’t finishing until 10 p.m. or after. We had a lot of times, it was 2, 3, or 4 in the morning. I remember multiple occasions where one of us just never went home, just worked through the night and kept going.”
Geri-Martha said she remembers a time she had to do that. Nick Saban wanted ice cream sandwiches for the A-Day post-game party at his house, and he hired Big Spoon Creamery to fill the order.
“We just had a bunch of other stuff going on,” she said. “I worked from 6 a.m. one morning to noon the next day straight, without meals or sitting down.”
For a lot of people in the early days of entrepreneurship, Ryan O’Hara said, hiring a team is out of the budget.
“When opportunities come your way and growth comes your way, it’s just like, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but we’ll figure out a way.’”
Forging a Club
By November 2014, the couple knew they had to find a way to get their name out in the community when it was too cold to do pop-up shops. They started an ice cream club, and for $16 a month, members could get two pints of ice cream delivered to their office or home.
“It was super cheap for what you got,” Geri-Martha O’Hara said. “We weren’t so much worried about trying to make money off of it, we just wanted to get our name out there and our product out there.”
The club was a hit. The O’Hara’s started out with 13 members that November, and they ended the club a year and a half later with 250 members.
“It was so personal,” Ryan O’Hara said. “It was us coming to people’s houses with ice cream. I think people felt this personal connection. And now, when we’ve gotten bigger, I think a lot of those people still feel a personal connection to our business and are still very loyal, and we still see them all the time.”
Geri-Martha O’Hara agrees. “We think of ice cream club members as family,” she said. “They’re really close to our hearts.”
The couple spent every Sunday during that year and a half driving around Birmingham delivering ice cream to the ice cream club members. Although the route was difficult, it helped get their company’s name out in the community.
“We had a ton of ice cream club members in Homewood,” Ryan O’Hara said, “and we’ve already heard from several of them that they’re so excited, because they used to get those deliveries, and they don’t anymore, so they’re excited to have us in their neighborhood.”
Both Geri-Martha and Ryan O’Hara say they love seeing their original customers.
“I always get really excited when I hear people say ‘I came when it was in your driveway,’ or ‘I was an ice cream club member,’ because I feel like those people are the original people,” Ryan O’Hara said. “They were there when we were nobody.”
Although they don’t have a set number of stores in mind, Ryan O’Hara said he thinks the company will continue to grow in the future.
“We’re always interested in growth and creating new opportunities for team members,” he said, “and also getting to make an impact in a positive way in more communities.”