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Teen founder of Ice Cream Barn Tripled The Size of his Business in Three Years

By News May 24, 2023 | 7:14 AM

Will Campbell was Sixteen years old when the strange and mysterious illness that became the Covid-19 pandemic began to sweep across the planet. He was still living with his parents and being homeschooled on the family farm on the outskirts of Riverview when businesses across Canada began to suffer under public health restrictions.
And – like many teenagers – he was looking for something to do.

“I really wanted to have something to do during the summer and have a project and I thought, ‘Why not start a business?’” Campbell explains in an interview with Huddle.

After all, his parents, Dr. Margaret Dunnett and Frank Campbell had both done it. The couple owns and operates the Coverdale Veterinary Hospital on Pinewood Road in Riverview.

“They started probably about 15 or 20 years ago to build the practice … and I learned a lot about what to do from them,” Campbell says.

With the money he had saved mowing lawns over the previous three years, Campbell rented out an old shed with a few freezers. It had previously served as an ice cream counter in Riverview, just down the street from his mother’s veterinary practice.

With start-up costs amounting to about $8,000, the teenage entrepreneur launched The Ice Cream Barn in May that year.

“The first summer, we had seven employees and most of them were part-timers,” says Campbell. “All of them were students.”

The arrival of the coronavirus dramatically changed the business climate in New Brunswick in 2020.

With Canada’s borders largely closed, interprovincial travel reduced to a crawl, air travel grounded, and fear gripping many Canadians, restaurants across the country suffered from the lockdowns and then social-distancing requirements when they re-opened. Dining room capacities plummeted.

The food service industry, until then projected to grow to over $100 billion, was hard hit.

“In the span of a few months the industry was shattered, seeing a devastating drop in sales in March and April,” notes a Restaurants Canada report on business during the first year of the pandemic.

Roy Little, then interim president of the national restaurant industry organization, noted in that report, The Next Normal? Foodservice Facts 2020, that the industry was going to have to rebuild itself from scratch.

“It was a great time to start because there was nothing else to do and it gave people a chance to get out of their houses,” says Campbell.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, agrees.

With the limitations on restaurant dining rooms and other forms of entertainment during the pandemic, Canadians were hungry for any reason to get out and enjoy themselves.

The Ice Cream Barn filled that need with about three dozen flavours of Scotsburn and Chapman’s ice cream – and other delicious treats. And sales boomed.

Within weeks, the fledging business was breaking even. Then, it began to turn a profit.

“In the summer, you can probably pretty much print money with an ice cream counter,” says Charlebois.

A privately held company, The Ice Cream Barn is not required to divulge either its revenues or profits. But it has rapidly expanded. During its first summer in operation, the ice cream takeout business was able to meet the public health guidelines by enforcing social distancing as people waited to get their ice cream.

By the next summer, Campbell was already in a position to grow his operation.

“There was a very old ice cream stand in the Salisbury area and the people who had it didn’t want to be in the cream business anymore,” says Campbell.

That shed was more than twice the size of his existing location on Pinewood Road. Campbell bought it, had it moved to 633 Salisbury Road in Moncton, fixed it up, and used the extra room for more equipment and storage space.

He also doubled his staff to 15 employees.

“There was a learning curve because managing one location is nothing like managing two,” says Campbell. “You’ve got to double everything, keep track of inventory, schedule the employees, and you’ve got to have a good team.”

Then, in mid-2021, Campbell expanded yet again with an ice cream trailer. The yellow, mobile ice cream shop is festooned with The Ice Cream Barn logo and, of course, its menu.

“It’s easily our biggest purchase but it’s well worth it because we get to take it to different events and bring our ice cream right to them. We serve ice cream, slushies, popcorn and pop and candy,” says Campbell.

That trailer has already expanded The Ice Cream Barn’s reach north to Miramichi and east to Nova Scotia.

During the winter months, The Ice Cream Barn opens to offer hot chocolates, closing only for about four months spread out over the autumn and spring to make the switch from hot cocoas to the frozen treats.

Popular enough to draw the patronage of Riverview Mayor Andrew J. LeBlanc, The Ice Cream Barn has also, unfortunately, caught the eye of thieves.

In mid-November last year, an as-yet-at-large thief or thieves broke and crawled through a window at the business’ Pinewood Road location, stole roughly $450 in goods and equipment, and caused a significant amount of damage.

“They caused more in damages than what they stole,” says Campbell. “I was devastated. It was a weird feeling and it was hard for me to wrap my head around it.”

In the aftermath of that break-in, the now-20-year-old entrepreneur struggled for a few weeks to schedule enough hours for his staff, some of whom could not work due to the damage caused by the incident. He also gradually came to terms with the theft.

Now, he’s looking ahead to celebrating Riverview’s 50th anniversary with a petting zoo at The Ice Cream Barn’s Riverview location on June 24 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“We’re in the business of making memories by providing a fun, family environment where everybody can come … and leave with a smile on their face. When you pull up to work and there’s a line-up and everyone is telling you how good everything is, that’s a pretty good feeling.”

James Risdon is a Huddle Today Contributor, a content-sharing partner of Acadia Broadcasting Corporation 


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