Emily Phillips just poured Reisling into a batch of fresh strawberry sorbet.
Not much has changed in the last 28 years since she began selling her mom’s homemade ice cream out of her shiny red wagon. There may not have been any Reisling involved but each batch was made with the freshest ingredients available and with love straight from her kitchen in North Carolina. The then 5-year-old dreamed of making it beyond her neighborhood customer base and saving up enough piggy bank money to start her own ice cream business.
Today, with a degree from The Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts and 11 years of restaurant experience, Phillips can proudly call herself owner of Red Wagon Creamery, an ice cream truck located in Eugene, Oregon. It’s her sense of childlike wonder that has led to some of her most popular ice cream creations like smoked salted caramel and Saturday morning, a flavor her husband and business manager, Stuart, created by soaking Fruity Pebbles in milk and using it as a base for their ice cream. Red Wagon Creamery only use the freshest local and organic ingredients to make their ice cream, including chocolate and vanilla from Eugene’s own Euphoria Chocolate Company and Singing Dog Vanilla.
It sounds fun, but ice cream is a serious business. In this economy, starting up a business can be risky. However, selling this delicious dessert appears to be a recession proof business for the ambitious couple. According to Emily, “People want to eat ice cream when they’re happy and when they’re depressed. Plus, it’s an affordable indulgence.” A single scoop is $2.75, a double scoop is $4, and pints are $7.25.
Together, this married couple knows how to churn out a successful line of creamy and decadent ice cream. Separately, the two couldn’t be more different. Emily grew up in a military family, moving all over the U.S. as well as overseas to South Korea. Stuart spent his childhood in Mississippi and attended Ole Miss. While Emily was attending culinary school and perfecting her craft, Stuart studied and practiced law and even became a Russian linguist for the Army.
What do a chef who dreams of ice cream and a Southern lawyer have in common? The Internet. The two came together thanks to the world of online dating. Both Emily’s father and sister met their significant others through the Internet, leading Emily to try it out a few years ago. She kept the family tradition alive and the two married last November. Although ice cream wasn’t the main dessert served at their wedding, they did celebrate with a zombie-covered cake.
With Stuart’s daughter joining the new ice cream loving family, the now 10-year-old has a great palette when it comes to distinguishing flavors. She recently tried a savory batch of ice cream called delta breakfast, which is made with buttered grits and candied maple bacon. Stuart proudly says, “She took one bite without knowing anything about it and yells ‘Is that bacon?’”
Until recently, Emily was a manager at one of the local Bagel Spheres in town and Stuart worked as a project manager for an IT company. Together, they assessed their finances and took a chance to start a company that was really, as Emily says, “just an idea.” She realized it was more than that after almost forgetting to drop off the bagel shop’s daily deposit more than once. Daydreaming of ice cream flavors on her drive to the bank started to take precedence and she knew it was time to make a major change.
Luckily, Stuart’s background as a lawyer came in handy when it was time to secure a license and fill out the paperwork needed to start a business (and gain his title as “marketing dude”). The next step? Finding a space to test out batches of ice cream and create their now five signature flavors including vanilla, sweet cream, heart of chocolate, frozen goat (coffee), and smoked salted caramel. Thankfully, the newlyweds found a commercial kitchen space to rent out in West Eugene. Because they only make 4 gallons of ice cream a day, they have a precise schedule of which flavors to make on certain days. Once a flavor is created, it goes into a walk-in freezer, along with the rest of the stock. When it’s time to load up the red wagon for business, the containers are transferred, guaranteeing their customers the freshest scoops of ice cream and sorbet.
Red Wagon Creamery has always been a dream of Emily’s but it’s also been a great way for the couple to spend time together as a family. Of course, there are always pros and cons to working with your other half. “Stuart needs clear directions. I keep forgetting he doesn’t come from a food service background. I’ve realized that what’s obvious for me may not be obvious for him,” Emily says.
Stuart adds, “I’ll wake up and realize I didn’t buy all the chocolate we need for the week.”
“That’s when you realize how important inventory sheets are,” she replies.
The laid back entrepreneurs are happy to put on their Red Wagon t-shirts, and for Stuart, his latest favorite hat, in order to brighten up someone’s day. Seeing their customers’ reactions is what makes it all worthwhile, they say. After trying the flavorful smoked salted caramel, one man just kept chanting “sh*t” over and over again. “That’s all he could get out!” Stuart says.
The little girl from the South sure has come a long way since pulling her little red wagon down the street. Her thoughts on making ice cream are still the same: use the best, local, and most organic ingredients available (well, minus the Fruity Pebbles) and always test out a flavor, no matter how crazy it is. The 5-year-old girl who was once making ice cream with her mom, is now trucking throughout Eugene with her husband, in hopes of establishing the best artisan ice cream company out there. The ultimate goal of having a Red Wagon Creamery store and selling pints in grocery stores seems like a reality more and more every day.
To learn more about Red Wagon Creamery (like where they’ll be stationed in the neighborhood or to see pictures of who eats their yummy ice cream) check out their website. You can also officially “like” them on their Red Wagon Creamery Facebook page and see what others have to say:
Already craving a pint? Try their delivery service option for $9/pint by calling 541-337-0780.