Under the blue sky and brilliant May sunshine there is excitement in the air; it feels a bit as though the State Fair is in town. No, it’s the County Fair! Everyone knows the person in front of them in line, who waves down passersby, for a quick chat and a big hug.
A young boy, perhaps 2 years old, is being entertained by the clinking noises produced by vigorously shaking his mother’s key ring. “Can you look around the corner, to make sure my trunk is down?” she asks a teamster standing nearby. The Toddler has been known to get “handsy” with the key fob, his chubby fingers pressing buttons in a sequence that unlocks all the car doors, and remotely opens the SUV’s hatchback. Today, all is well.
There’s a long line at Cream & Sugar, in Columbus’s Hilltop neighborhood, but the owner and her crew are working fast, elbow-to-elbow, to keep the Coney Dogs together with the slushies and $1 soft serve that was ordered by a young mother of four. Mom is a bit harried; her youngest is tugging at her hand, wanting to go sit with her older siblings. They are sitting in the shade, at patio tables nearby.
The “big kids” seem to be having fun, shouting the punchline of their silly, made-up jokes, laughing at each other, and with each other. I notice there are no cell phones, tablets, or accompanying earbuds at the table.
It’s a very different atmosphere than the one I saw earlier, at a craft brewery in Franklinton, the up and coming arts district. A lone elementary aged boy sat quietly next to his father, engrossed in his iPad, while Dad contemplated where to begin his beer flight. But that’s on the other side of the highway, where high-rise apartments and trendy gallery spaces are going in.
Here, on the top of the hill, there aren’t really sit down restaurants, and the hipster crowd won’t find nightly fire pits and food trucks. No one is struggling with which IPA to order, or whether they are better off going with a flight of IPAs, before committing to a 16 ounces pint.
There are very few fast food chains in the The Hilltop area, surrounding Cream & Sugar, and a noticeable lack of coffee shops, vegan bakeries or “Farm-to-Table” cafés. The lack of technology in the hands of the kids is just a reflection of the income demographic in the area. Families who are struggling to get by have their spirits lifted by a $1 soft serve kid’s cone. I see a chocolate cone pass through the delivery window with candy eyes and a Red Hot nose.
Columbus as a whole is thriving, but property values are way down in the Hilltop, where foreclosed houses are abandoned and boarded up. Not all central Ohio neighborhoods have enjoyed a bounce in home values, as reported in the Columbus Dispatch.
“Linden and the Hilltop, which contain a large share of renters, also were rocked by foreclosures and landlords who were deeply underwater abandoning their rental homes.” (Columbus Dispatch)
The 15 square miles that comprise Hilltop are in need of attention, investment and improvement. However, the size of the depressed neighborhood makes it less conducive to targeted city improvement efforts.
If he needs it, the gentleman who’s still wearing the clothes he slept in – because that’s all the clothing he owns – can take advantage of a “Suspended Coffee,” prepaid by a stranger with a big heart and a few coins to spare.
A sense of connection can be achieved, through a kind gesture such as this. A small sign in the window informs customers of this charitable opportunity. We’ve all felt isolated and alone at one time or another, and this program creates connection.
Suspended Coffees believes that everybody matters and deserves to be cared about.
“A suspended coffee is the advance purchase of a cup of coffee for someone who needs it, no matter why. But it really is about so much more than the coffee. It can provide physical comfort, conversation, a smile or even a laugh, and a sense of belonging. A suspended coffee can change lives, sometimes even save them.” (Suspended Coffees website)
Thousands of cafés around the world are part of the movement. They serve coffee to those in need, of course, but also sweet treats, and even meals. By participating, a small business like Cream & Sugar becomes a hub for the community. Many people seem to not be aware that they are there, and open for business. This is because they stand alone, not clustered with other eateries or businesses.
This cute little ice cream stand, with its bubblegum pink and green branding, offers high quality ingredients, and made-to-order menu items. The owner, Rachel Upton, cares about the community, and wants to give back. Upton told me she has a vision for the neighborhood, and believes her presence there can make a real difference. This is her home. This is where her friends and family come together. This is her Hilltop.
I first heard about Cream & Sugar via a link on social media – the ice cream stand had been vandalized. Upton was at her wit’s end, and frustrated, when she posted to Facebook: “Some days I just want to give up, close the doors!!! I work so hard and sacrifice EVERYTHING for people to just destroy things. That banner costs us $130, some days we don’t even bring in that much in sales.”
She doesn’t believe that the vandals were targeting the building – they ripped the sign without getting close enough to the building to trigger the security system, so there was nothing recorded on camera. Those outside the community have suggested that Upton uproot, and move Cream & Sugar to a more affluent neighborhood. That’s easier said than done. Besides, this is her neighborhood. The community came together, with donations, and the banner was soon replaced.
A company called Identity Systems Inc. is going to make a more durable sign, more resistant to damage. Surplus donations will be used to create custom flower beds for the patio area. Upton is so grateful for the support that came pouring in.
Upton’s goal, in running a business in this depressed part of town, is to impact the people who live there, and join forces to improve the neighborhood. She works hard every day, as an entrepreneur, community leader, and a single mother, of 11 and 13 years olds.
She spent almost 2 years learning as much as she could about ice cream, but admits that she still made a lot of mistakes along the way, when doors opened in 2014. She is drawn to the Hilltop, and has a vision for the future of the neighborhood. There is a real need there, for good, quality food! The ice cream and hotdog stand is in Central Hilltop, sitting at the top of the hill.
It was critically important to Upton that she serve a quality product – she feels that the people in the surrounding community deserve that. The soft serve is 10% butterfat, thick and creamy; it’s the highest butterfat content that can go through the soft serve machine. The hand dipped premium ice cream, which is 14% butterfat, comes from Madison, Wisconsin. You’ll find Heath candy bars, Oreo and Dole products on the menu.
This local, family owned business strives to work closely with other Ohio small businesses. Serving a high quality, locally sourced product is more expensive, so profit margins are smaller. Upton says it’s worth it, to be able to serve coffees that are roasted by hand, every day, by Central Ohio-based Stauf’s Coffee Roasters.
“Our profile method of roasting coffee in small batches allows us to concentrate on the best roast and flavor profile for each varietal and origin. You will not experience coffees of higher quality, consistency, or freshness. . . We are Columbus’ first micro roaster and we’ll always provide you with the best coffee available.” (Stauf’s website)
The stand serves Falters hot dogs, which originate from the Southside of Columbus. The fifth generation of Falters to run the business has had to adapt to a lot of change in the meat market. Upton supports this small business model, by sharing their product with her customer base.
Shredded chicken comes from Roots Poultry, in Fremont, OH, and Ballreich’s “marcelled” potato chips, originating in Tiffin, OH are on the menu. Marcelled means wavy, and the descriptor comes from the popular ladies’ wavy hairstyle of the 1920s, when the company opened for business. (Ballreich website)
Cream & Sugar offers up catering services, to beat the summer heat, with full service, including a sundae station, or serve-it-yourself, drop-off service. There is truly something for everyone, including this part-time vegan. When it’s available, Cream & Sugar serves Dole’s pineapple vegan soft serve, the stuff used to make Tiki floats at Walt Disney World.
“Made with no artificial colors, fat-free, dairy-free, and low-calorie, DOLE® Soft Serve brings the fresh taste of fruit to a fun treat designed to keep health-conscious customers happy.” (Dole website)
I wonder what on earth is in the Dole soft serve. I can always turn to the chocolate Frozen Bananas – completely dairy free, I’m told, due to using a special coating chocolate!
Oreo chunks are vegan, but don’t fret! There is every opportunity to sprinkle them on top of that 14% buttermilk cream, turned into a hand-dipped vanilla sundae. The ice cream is then smothered in a cascade of chocolate syrup, which competes with the maraschino cherry, for real estate up top.
Cream & Sugar opened its doors in August of 2014, offering takeaway banana splits, hearty sandwiches, and that “County Fair” spirit. The outdoor seating allows families to sit back and enjoy their treats, as the evening winds down.
The 1st Sunday of every month, from 12 – 2p, a dedicated group of volunteers gathers to clean up Sullivant Ave., where Cream & Sugar sits, one bag of trash at a time. They are rewarded with much more than the T-shirt and free cone that they receive. They are rewarded with a sense of community, the sense of a place worth taking care of, a place that’s a treat to visit. (Note: the May clean-up will take place this Sunday, May 13th.)
Cream & Sugar will be part of the 2nd Annual Franklinton Bike Fest, on Friday June 8th, hosted by Franklinton Cycleworks and Franklinton Urban Empowerment Lab (FUEL). It’s promoted as a celebration of cycling and healthy living on Columbus’s westside. FUEL is a community development corporation made up of residents, local business owners, area non-profits, and other groups focused on revitalization.
Upton will fit right in!
This year she added the $1 kids cone, realizing that it could further strip her profits . . . or it could bring in lots of new business, while indulging families who otherwise could not afford to stop by for a treat. Let’s hope it’s the latter!
Cream & Sugar is located at 2185 Sullivant Ave, in Columbus, Ohio. It is accessible on COTA bus line #6, and open from 2pm – 9pm every day.
Oh, and be sure to check out the local artwork featured on the drive-thru side of the building, “Step By Step Up Starez” by artist Brian Marcus, part of ‘For the Common Good’, 2017.
Join me on my next adventure!
Cream & Sugar on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CreamNSugarshop/
Stauf’s Coffee Roasters: https://www.staufs.com/
Ballreich’s Chips: https://www.ballreich.com/
Dole Soft Serve: http://www.dolesoftserve.com/
Root’s Poultry: https://www.rootspoultry.com/
Falters Fine Meats: http://faltersmeats.com/product/hot-dogs/
Identity Systems, Inc.: https://www.identitysystemsinc.com/
Suspended Coffees: http://suspendedcoffees.com/
Columbus Dispatch – Jan 7, 2017: “Not all central Ohio neighborhoods enjoy bounce in home values”: http://www.dispatch.com/entertainmentlife/20170127/not-all-central-ohio-neighborhoods-enjoy-bounce-in-home-values