by Gord McIntosh
Vegan ice cream enthusiasts enjoying a frozen treat at No Udder Ice Cream in Cambridge.
Starting a business that sells plant-based ice cream in the middle of dairy country in Southwestern Ontario takes entrepreneurial skill, luck, timing, and maybe a scoop or two of chutzpah.
But Emily Dwornikieiwez, proud co-owner of No Udder Ice Cream in downtown Cambridge with her new husband, Darren Drouillard, also knows that a start-up in today’s main street business environment needs another ingredient to grow — digital technology.
That’s why she contacted Digital Main Street (DMS), a program funded by the Ontario government and delivered by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association that grew out of a successful pilot project by the Toronto Association of BIAs and the City of Toronto. DMS provides main street small businesses with digital transformation grants, training and advice to help them prosper in the new digital economy.
Dwornikieiwez is also co-owner of a hot yoga studio in Cambridge. She heard about the digital transformation grants from a studio member who told her several clients in the health food sector had been successful in getting a grant.
Now No Udder is moving into a second phase of growth in its second year.
Dwornikieiwez has been a business owner eight years. A year ago, the plant-based food trend didn’t look as strong as it does now. She started No Udder Ice Cream as a seasonal pop-up store while she got the feel of the market. That’s the entrepreneurial skill part.
A funny thing happened on the way to the grand opening. She got a call from the Daily Mail, a leading British newspaper. At first Dwornikieiwez thought there was a mixup between Cambridge, Ont., and Cambridge, England.
Apparently, a vegan Facebook group got wind of her plans for No Udder Ice Cream and complained on social media that they weren’t vegan enough. The whole brouhaha went viral and provided some very handy pre-opening buzz to the new business. That’s luck like no other (or is it like no udder?), as she would find out on opening night.
“It goes to show that no press is bad press,” she told a local journalist at the time. “On our opening night we had 400 people lined up out the door. We got early exposure that, as a small business, we never could have generated any other way.”
And, oh yes, the No Udder menu is 100 per cent vegan. “We make the ice cream ourselves. Coconut milk is the base. We dream up new flavours. We ask the community what they like.”
Mint chocolate chip and mango are popular.
Since that opening, No Udder has moved from its first pop-up location in an old smoothie bar to a downtown parlour. And there has been no pushback about the dairy-free products in the middle of dairy country.
In fact, demand has been well beyond what was anticipated. Customers have been coming from Toronto and London, both an hour drive away. “We haven’t received a lot of flack from people on the fact that we’re not a dairy-based product. We have been even more blown away by the response.”
Timing and audacity have paid off. But Dwornikieiwez and her spouse are looking to the future.
First of all, they signed on with Uber Eats. That will mean a boost of 20 per cent in sales.
And they are introducing online ordering which will mean another 20 per cent growth. With the help of their Digital Main Street digital transformation grant, they will be building an online store where customers can choose and pay for what they want and then pick up at the store all year long.
“It gives us an opportunity to reach beyond downtown Cambridge,’’ says Dwornikieiwez. “It wouldn’t have been possible at this stage of development without receiving the digital transformation grant from Digital Main Street.
Parlour ice cream, dairy or non-dairy, is usually a summer seasonal product. Last year, No Udder shut down at the end of October and reopened in June. Now they will stay open through the winter serving online customers.
The co-owners are also looking at adding year-round online wholesale ordering for grocery store distribution — further proof that bricks and digital can go together like chocolate and mint (non-dairy, of course) with key ingredients from Digital Main Street.