When you walk into one of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream shops, the smell of waffle cone overwhelms you in the best kind of way. The stores are a light turquoise color with the cutest logo of Molly’s pup Parker Posey licking an ice cream cone. People of all ages, from young children to their grandparents, gather at Molly Moon’s and wait in the long lines that form down the block. Molly Moon’s is more than just an ice cream shop; it is a community gathering spot where locals and visitors from afar travel to get a taste of Molly’s delicious ice cream. With flavors such as Honey Lavender, Earl Grey, Salted Caramel, Maple Walnut, and Melted Chocolate, to name a few, it’s no wonder why Molly Moon’s is so beloved.
As big fans of Molly Moon’s ice cream, we were thrilled to talk to the woman behind the cone, Molly Moon Neitzel. In six years, Molly Moon’s has grown to six shops around the Seattle area. You can even get her ice cream at Hello Robin Cookies for some seriously good ice cream cookie sandwiches. Not only is Molly a savvy businesswoman, but having worked at an ice cream shop all through college in Montana, she is also a skilled ice cream maker. While she originally wanted to be a political reporter and journalist, Molly’s career path changed when she moved to Seattle and noticed a lack of ice cream shops and community gathering spots. She is proof that you never know where life will take you.
If you want to run your own ice cream shop, business, or just love ice cream, Molly has great advice and tips that she has learned over the years. We’re definitely inspired by her and all that she has accomplished.
How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?
A unique quality about youth is that you have far less to lose. That was a really big driving factor for me to start a business young and just go for it. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, I didn’t own a house, I had nothing to lose. I had an $800 dollar a month apartment and a puppy, and I wasn’t going to lose her if I lose a business. That has been pretty defining for me.
You majored in Journalism at the University of Montana – Missoula. How did you determine what to study?
Since I was in 3rd grade, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be a political reporter for television or radio, so that’s what I went to school for. I wanted to be Gwen Ifill.
What was your first job out of college?
Out of college, I was a fundraising event coordinator at University of Washington Medicine. We raised money for all the medical research and the Medical School, and UW Neighborhood Clinic, Harborview Medical Center, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. I planned fundraising events for Harborview’s uncompensated care program, breast cancer research, and some Alzheimer’s research.
You spent time as a Founding Executive Director at Music for America. What did your role there entail?
I helped to start the organization with a bunch of other people in their early- to mid- twenties. I managed the people in the programs, partnered with bands to register their fans to vote, and then educated those people on political issues that might mobilize them to vote, and then we did a lot of voter turnout work. We brainstormed ideas about how to execute the mission and accomplish the programs and manage the people. 50% of my job was fundraising to pay to keep the organization going.
You went from music and politics to ice cream. In 2008, you opened Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. What inspired you to start an artisan ice cream company?
I really went from ice cream to music and politics back to ice cream. My job all through college was at an ice cream shop. I worked at the Big Dipper in Missoula. I worked there for three and a half years. I was a scooper at first, then I was an ice cream maker, and I helped manage the shop a bit. I had seen all of the ways to run an ice cream shop, and I knew how to make ice cream.
When I wanted to leave Music for America because fundraising is hard and I was burnt out, I decided to come back to Seattle. I was talking to my mom on the phone wondering what to do with my life, and she said, “Why don’t you just open an ice cream shop? Then you can be your own boss and do it the way you want to do it.” That sounded good to me and I ran with that idea. I wrote my business plan, found investors, and took those steps.
What have been the greatest challenges in running your company?
Well – knock on wood! – I don’t feel like I’ve had a lot of crazy challenges. We’ve had the normal challenges that a lot of small business have. You grow a lot and then you have to work with having more employees and make them feel taken care of. The people part can be tough. The biggest challenge for me personally has been juggling the business when it competes with personal life. That has been challenging for me as a business owner, and it’s something that people who want to own their own business should really think about. A business is like a child and it’s going to suck all of your energy and compete with everything else in your life.
Your experience at Big Dipper Ice Cream gave you experience running an ice cream shop, but what have you learned from Molly Moon’s about how to run an ice cream company?
I have a lot of small business owners in my family. My dad is a General Contractor and I watched him run his small business. My grandparents owned a saloon that was the central gathering place for politicians, lawyers, and professionals in our small town in Idaho.
One thing that I’ve learned from Molly Moon’s is that instead of cutting costs, it’s wiser to increase sales. Figure out how to make more money rather than skimping on things. That feels better for your customer, feels way better for your employees, and it keeps you in a positive and optimistic mentality. When you get focused on cutting costs, you can get really negative.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned from being an entrepreneur?
I think that risk is really good. I’ve followed my gut and have taken risks. Know that you can fix mistakes and everything works out, but not taking risks is boring and stagnant and as likely to make you fail.
What does a day in your life look like?
I wake up with my one-year-old sometime between 5:30am and 7:30am. We hang out as a family for 30 minutes, then we get ready and start our days. Many days I’ll stop by our new shop on 19th and Mercer, which is inside a cookie shop called Hello Robin that is owned by a dear girlfriend of mine. I’ll check in on Robin, get a coffee or a scone, chat with her about the day, and get to work around 10:00am. Most days I have about six or seven meetings, and I am here until 5:00pm. My days are packed with talking and thinking, and I hardly have time to get to email. I’m often in bed at 8:30pm.
What should a teenager or young adult who wants to have their own ice cream shop and run their own business do now to set themselves up for success?
Work in an ice cream shop. Get practical experience and ask to do different jobs within the same company to get perspective. I was a scooper, but I also made ice cream and learned how to write the schedule for the employee shifts. If you’ve only been a scooper or in the kitchen or in the IT department, you won’t know the full picture. Learn how to look at things from different angles.
What motivates you?
Now what motivates me is being the breadwinner for my family. When I started, what motivated me was not having a boss, being able to do something where I could have my own politics. I paid for health insurance right away for people who worked for me and everything is compostable. That was very motivating for me, to be in charge of our role in the community at large.
Another big motivation for starting Molly Moon’s was what I experienced when I moved to Seattle in 2001. There were no ice cream shops and I never saw people under 21 or over 40 years old. I went months without seeing people from another generation. It was shocking to me. I thought, if Seattle had a cool ice cream shop, maybe there would be a place where multiple generations would gather at once. That was a big thing for me, and I think that we’ve accomplished that. I think all of our six shops are multi-generational.
What are your ice cream making tips?
Don’t let anything thaw and then refreeze – that makes it icy. Pair flavors together that you think are good in savory dishes. If you’re using an ice cream machine that has a frozen bowl, make sure to freeze it more than eight hours. Make sure it’s super cold. The best texture you’re going to get is from that freezing element being the coldest is can possibly be.
If you could enjoy an afternoon eating ice cream with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and what kind of ice cream would you make?
Madeleine Albright and I feel like she would like Maple Walnut because people from her generation usually like Maple Walnut, but maybe she would be a Salted Caramel and Hot Fudge girl.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
My 15-year-old self was pretty cool. I was such a hippie, but I don’t regret that. It was good to express myself that way. I am still pretty true to who I was at that age. I would say keep being true to yourself and your ideas. Keep being willing to speak your mind. As a kid you can feel tampered down or that you should fit in and be quiet, and I didn’t really feel that way as a teenager. I was okay with standing out and speaking my mind. I’m still that way, and I’m proud of that.