Molly Moon celebrates 10 years of ice cream and activism
It’s a rare sight these days. Molly Moon Neitzel behind the counter, scooping ice cream at her shop, Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. Her once tiny business has ballooned into eight shops and a deal with Jet Blue, who serves her ice cream in first class.
Molly Moon’s is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A decade ago, I interviewed Neitzel right after her first shop opened in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. At that time, there was only one homemade ice cream shop in the city, at West Seattle’s Husky Deli.
“There were a few Ben & Jerry’s and a Baskin Robbins. So I did some research and I learned that Seattleites eat a ton of ice cream,” Neitzel said. “We’re like the third or fourth most ice cream eating city in the nation. But most people were buying it at the grocery store. So I thought there was real opportunity.”
Before becoming an ice cream CEO, Neitzel worked in politics, non-profits and activism. But she was looking to transition. She had sweet memories of working at ice cream shops in high school and college.
With artisan ice cream shops like Salt & Straw, Frankie & Jo’s and Bluebird scattered around the city, we’ve become accustomed to seeing flavors like gingered golden milk and ras el hanout and pickled rose petal jam on menus. But what was the ice cream flavor landscape like 10 years ago?
“I think it was just starting when I opened in 2008. I definitely wasn’t the first person in the country to have salted caramel, but I was the first in Seattle. But I also think Seattleites were really used to that flavor because Fran’s had those chocolates. Balsamic strawberry I don’t think anyone had really heard of in Seattle. Honey lavender was really blowing people’s minds in the summer of 2008. Now those seem kind of tame.”
When Molly Moon’s opened in Wallingford, there were lines around the block all summer long. And it didn’t take long for other sugar toothed entrepreneurs to see that a huge niche was being filled.
“I think the last time I counted there were 32 ‘homemade ice cream shops’ in Seattle and there was just maybe one when I opened.”
A lot of the original flavors are still on the menu, but one was recently retired.
“Earlier this year we took our least selling flavor off the always menu, maple walnut. Mostly people who were alive during World War II were ordering maple walnut. So we had a nice retirement party. We got a sheet cake and we decorated it and we gave out free sheet cake with your scoops of maple walnut.”
Molly Moon and activism
While ice cream is fun and cheery, Neitzel continues to be an activist and says as a business owner her impact is even stronger. Here are some causes she’s worked closely on:
“Paid sick time. We worked hard on that ordinance in Seattle and got that passed. The next one was minimum wage in Seattle. Then we took minimum wage increases and sick time to the state level. We put it on the ballot in 2016 and we won that initiative so now every worker in the State of Washington doesn’t have to come to work and make your sandwich if they’re sick. Last year I worked on paid family leave and it finally passed in Olympia and now everybody in the state is going to get paid family leave starting next year. Moms and dads and caretakers of all kinds. The next thing I’m kind of working on, we haven’t really won the battle on yet, is closing the gender pay gap.”
Neitzel says she’s thankful her business is still thriving, having opened at the start of the recession.
“Ice cream is actually a very recession proof business. People, when maybe they can’t go on vacation, or can’t buy their kids a new bike, they’re more likely to treat their family to little things and ice cream is a good, all around, everybody in the family likes it treat.”
You can see photos of Neitzel and me, in her adorable Capitol Hill studio, on my Instagram.