Our Story

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History of Izzy’s

Owners Lara Hammel and Jeff Sommers were born and raised in Minnesota. They met as students at Hamline University in St. Paul, close to the Minnesota State Fair where Jeff ran his parents’ sausage stand for 12 years. After graduating, Lara attended law school at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, and Jeff taught language arts to middle school students in the Minneapolis Public Schools. They married, and moved to Michigan, where Lara practiced law and Jeff pursued an MFA degree at the University of Michigan.

Lara and Jeff in the St. Paul Ice Cream Cafe, circa 2005.

They moved back to St. Paul and had two children, Anda and Ora. Jeff returned to teaching in the Minneapolis Public Schools, and Lara clerked for a judge in Hennepin County. Although both had promising careers, Lara and Jeff wanted to open their own business.

After many late night discussions, Jeff and Lara agreed on opening an ice cream shop.  They had admired Grand Old Creamery in St. Paul and a shop named Captain Frosty’s in Michigan. They both had a passion for ice cream– Jeff had even given out ice cream cones at his art opening in Ann Arbor instead of the usual cheese and crackers. Ice cream was the perfect fit.

Lara found a space to rent on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul a few blocks away from their Merriam Park home, and they believed the location was destined for greatness.

Jeff and Lara initially wanted to ease into business and explored buying into a couple local ice cream operations, but their offers were rejected. So very quickly Lara and Jeff immersed themselves in the art, ice cream making. They flew to North Carolina to learn from Italian gelato experts; they shadowed ice cream shop owners and picked their brains; they sought out advice from ice cream consultants; and read all the books on ice cream they could get their hands on.

They made small batches of ice cream inside the retail shop’s modest kitchen. They consistently worked to improve quality and refined their techniques guided by the belief that customers know the difference between mediocre and marvelous. Flavors were only offered if they were excellent. They worked hard to find the best cream, the best chocolate, the best fruit, the best vanilla, the best nuts, and the best of all the hundreds of ingredients they use in their roughly 150 flavors.

Today, Izzy’s is a St. Paul institution that provides memorable experiences for thousands of visitors every year. With more than a hundred flavors to choose from customers can explore the unique combinations of fresh fruits like peaches and blackberries, local ingredients like Summit Oatmeal Stout and Wild Country maple syrup, and ingredients from around the world like Dutch-processed cocoa and Bourbon vanilla. Whether it’s the smell of a waffle cone cooking as you enter the shop or the variety of samples you enjoy before finally deciding on a flavor, in every visit, you’ll experience an Izzy.

 

Izzy’s — “A Thinking Company”

As Jeff and Lara continued to grow as entrepreneurs, they continually challenged themselves to improve their products and their business processes. Considering issues like sustainability led them to consider using alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power, and in June 2004, Izzy’s began raising funds for an 8 kilowatt solar project. By fall 2005, Izzy’s was using solar power for a third of its energy needs.

Jeff and Lara’s hard work and unique approach to business attracted attention at a national level. In May 2005, Reader’s Digest designated Izzy’s the Best Ice Cream Shop in the Country, and in the 2006 Izzy’s was featured on national television on the Food Network’s Throw Down with Bobby Flay.

The RFID-powered Flavor Up! system sends customers a message when their favorite flavors are available.

Jeff’s interest in applying technology to improve customer service led him develop the Flavor Up! system that sends customers a message when their favorite flavors are available. In a similar quest for doing things the “right way,” Izzy’s invested in a innovative and sustainable cleaning system that reduced their chemical waste to zero.

Jeff and Lara think big and think differently. They believe that a business has an obligation to the community that supports it, and they encourage staff to participate in all kinds of community service, from environmental causes to issues linked to K-12 education. As an organization, Izzy’s meticulously considers how the business’ interacts with and impacts customers, neighbors, employees, suppliers, and the world.