After Katey Evans and Jo Ellen Algier spent months planning a unique business called The Frozen Farmer, a banker told them the late restaurateur Matt Haley had the exact same idea before he died in a motorcycle collision in Nepal last August.
“She said if we weren’t going to act on this, somebody else would,” Evans said. “The fact that Matt Haley had been so successful in everything that he did made us think we might have a really viable idea.”
Either way, the mother-and-daughter entrepreneurs were moving forward. They had already attended Ice Cream University. They were shopping for a food truck with a custom wrap. They had partnered with a nutritionist. They were hunting for a commercial kitchen to lease.
The Frozen Farmer, which will open in two Bridgeville locations this month, will turn farm-fresh fruits and vegetables into sorbets, smoothies, juices, popsicles, and crème ices with no added sugar.
“I’ve always seen the demand for a healthy, refreshing treat that people can grab and go,” said Evans, who runs the produce stand at Evans Farms in Bridgeville. “They want their watermelon cut up and to go.”
“This is a sweet treat that’s also healthy. As a new mother of two, I wanted a healthy treat for my kids,” Evans said. “It’s a lactose-free, gluten-free, fat-free, all-natural product that we can make using our own local produce.”
They will have five signature juices, but will juice to order for customers.
Evans and Algier will stick with local in-season fruits and vegetables except for a few tropical offerings. Evans’ husband, Kevin, has accounted for the new business in their farm’s planting schedule, so there will be extra fruit and vegetables.
Their motto: “We’re the coolest in the field.”
The business idea had its roots in the sorbets Algier concocted whenever there were strawberries that were a little too soft to sell at her daughter’s and son-in-law’s Evans Farms produce stand. The sorbet is so popular, one young girl wanted it instead of a birthday cake.
Still, dishing frozen treats to strangers takes permits and workplaces and planning — and a stint at Ice Cream University, a culinary school in West Orange, N.J. That’s where they learned that their original idea of making the products in their new $78,000 food truck wouldn’t fly.
Plan B is a commercial kitchen and retail shop at Heritage Shores, a well-appointed 450-home, 55-plus golf course community that will be larger than the core town of Bridgeville when it grows to its planned size of 1,800 homes. The treats will be made there and sold to residents from a lakefront shop with a custom awning.
Their $78,000 food truck with a farm-to-fender motif will be parked at Evans Farms on Seashore Highway, just serving treats and juices.
“For the beach traffic, we’ll have the food truck. They will be drawn to the farm because they don’t see this every day,” said Evans, who has a marketing degree. “Local people will be drawn to the Heritage Shores location because it’s got such an upscale feel there. It almost feels like you’re in a very luxurious resort area because of everything they’ve done with their landscaping and the atmosphere.”
The Frozen Farmer solves a problem all farmers face: “It gives us another avenue to do something with the produce that we don’t sell. We’ll be freezing a lot of strawberries. If you get a really wet year like we had last year, you’ve got a nightmare on your hands with the low-lying vine fruit,” Evans said. “For sorbet, we want the soft strawberries because they have the highest sugar content. The best kind of produce to use in smoothies, sorbets, and popsicles is ripe fruit.”
It solves a dilemma for the health-conscious consumer with a sweet tooth: With a nutritionist helping Algier formulate her recipes, consumers can have the best of both worlds.
It may preemptively solve a quandary that’s still two decades away for the Evans family: “Farming has changed so dramatically from what our great-grandfathers knew to what our children will know,” Evans said. “We’re trying to establish a business where, if our daughters want to be accountants, they’ll have a job here. If they want to be farmers in the field, they’ll have a job here. And if they want to do retail, they’ll have a job here.”
And it hit the sweet spot for Heritage Shores, an active-lifestyle community that had an open spot execs wanted to fill with a health-conscious retailer: “It’s a healthier approach to the sweet treats that everybody wants,” said Dorothy Harper, a vice president for Brookdale Residential, the developer of Heritage Shores. “Our need and the product they can provide made a perfect match. “
Scott Kammerer, who was a partner with Matt Haley in Highwater Management, said he never talked with Haley about a frozen treats business, but it sounds like the kind of venture Haley would have explored.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Kammerer, whose first job was at a roadside fruit stand. “Part of the entrepreneurial spirit of America is to start a business that will solve a problem and the solution will benefit multiple people.”