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Making Waves in the Community Means Sweet Success

Season 2: Episode 36


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Sundae Scoop is an ice cream shop and community gathering place in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Sibs and Philip Harrell opened the doors in 2021, bringing diverse flavors and a fun environment for people to come together and try something new. Yelp Elite Aneesa P. shares her first time at the business and what was so memorable about the entire experience. She drove pretty far to enjoy some ice cream, but the Sundae Scoop team made it well worth the trip.

On the Yelp Blog: Get the Harrells’ top five tips for making a customer’s day.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Behind the Review features conversations with business owners and customers who wrote one of their Yelp reviews. In our discussions, we talk about lessons they’ve learned that can be used by other businesses to improve their own reviews and their bottom line.

This week, we’re gonna talk about ice cream with the owners of Sundae Scoop in Virginia Beach, Sibs and Philip Harrell. They opened their community creamery, as they call it, in 2021, another entrepreneurial endeavor born during the pandemic.

First, we’ll hear from Yelp Elite Aneesa P, who reviewed Sundae Scoop after her first visit. But that definitely wasn’t her last. After seeing so many people she knew rave about the ice cream shop on social media, she had to check it out herself.

ANEESA: Essentially what kind of drew me to going into Sunday Scoop was I saw a lot of people actually reviewing it on Instagram. And it was people, really who I trust. I trust their reviews and things like that. And really, they were just talking about how they had over 18 different flavors. This was a new business coming into Virginia Beach. And even though at that time, I lived about an hour away, I was like, okay! I love ice cream, and you don’t want to drive an hour for ordinary ice cream. And the way that they made it sound was like, you’ve got to try this place. So that is something that really drew me into wanting to go to this business.

And also hearing that it was a Black-owned business. That’s definitely something, one, I want to support local, of course, being a part of Yelp Elite. That’s something we utilize our voice for, but also being able to see somebody like me to be in the industry in different spaces where you don’t normally see them at.

I was like, let me go, because I also want to be able to check this place out. And I also want to be able to use my voice if I do have a great experience. And if I do think that the ice cream is really good – being able to tell other people around me as well, too.

EMILY: Aneesa is a fantastic reviewer, and has the same motivations most reviewers have—if they find something they love, they want to share it, especially if that means supporting a favorite small business. Let’s listen to her review:

ANEESA: I’m an ice cream all year kind of girl, but the way this weather was hitting us with 90 degrees, it was definitely time to indulge. I saw Sunday Scoop come across my IG feed a few times, and I had to check it out. I arrived a little after they opened on a Thursday. Mr. Phil and his wife own this ice cream shop.

Mr. Phil greeted me, and I let him know I was gluten intolerant. He gave me a few flavors to try, like cinnamon coffee, lemon raspberry, and vanilla. They were all delicious. I decided to go with the lemon raspberry as it was quite refreshing and I normally go for a more savory flavor. He gave me a raspberry drizzle to put on top and whoa, it was good before, but that drizzle made it out of this world.

The decor was fun and aesthetically pleasing. There were some nice murals along with old school arcade games, portraits along the walls and nicely carved tables. I love that this is a Black-owned family business. To hear how they host community events here is awesome. I can’t wait to come back and enjoy more flavors.

And then I’ve got the beautiful picture of the lemon raspberry with that raspberry drizzle on top. I will say that was awesome. He gave me the scoop. I thought that was it. And then I saw him concocting something in the back. I wasn’t sure what he was doing. He was like, you’ve got to put this on top. I said, okay. I put the drizzle on top and I was like, “Oh, you’re right. This is what makes the whole ice cream.”

EMILY: Aneesa posted some awesome photos of her lemon raspberry ice cream, and the custom tables at Sundae Scoop alongside her review. That’s a great strategy, because reviews with photos make a bigger impact, especially in the restaurant or food service space. You should have photos of your own on your Yelp page, but the more that reviewers post, the more it benefits you.

When a business owner is also the operator, as was the case when Aneesa visited, customers don’t often realize they are interacting with the owner. Phil made a great connection with Aneesa, giving her a lot of background information about the store, himself, and the business. In addition, he made some great suggestions for her ice cream choice.

That personal attention made a big impression on Aneesa.

ANEESA: When I first went to Sundae Scoops, I will say that I was somebody who does like a treat myself. So I plan out a day of the week where I’m like, okay, I’m gonna try these different places. It was kind of a hard week for work. So I was like ice cream. I need dessert. Let me plan out to go drive over here this day.

So I saw that they opened up at 12 PM. So I got there exactly at 12. I was like, when the doors open, I want to be that first customer walking through the door. I wasn’t really familiar with the area. So when I pulled up, I was like, “Oh, it looks a little bit smaller than what I had expected.” But let me go inside anyway, just see what’s going on in the inside. So as soon as I entered in, Mr. Phil, who is the business owner, he greeted me. He said, hi, welcome. And then I immediately started like taking my phone out and taking pictures and just taking videos saying, oh, it’s cool in here.

I will say that, I told him, I said, “Hey I’m gluten intolerant. What flavors do you have that I would be able to try?” So right off the bat I wanted to narrow it down. So I wasn’t looking at everything, but I knew what I was able to munch on and decide from there.

So he gave me samples, which I was appreciative of. He was like, okay, sample this, sample this, sample this. I tried the samples. I kind of went for a flavor that I didn’t normally usually go for. Normally I’m like a vanilla, cookies and cream, but I went for lemon raspberry. Very, which is not something that I normally do.

And also something that was interesting – when I was taking a video of the different ice cream flavors, he lifted up the glass over it. He said, “Oh, do that again.” He was like, “that wasn’t a good shot. Do it again without the glass over it.” Most business owners would not do that. So I was like, oh, okay, really engaging.

He didn’t know who I was, where I was from, what I was doing. I didn’t say, “oh, I’m a part of Yelp Elite, I’m going to do a review.” It was just like, oh, let me take this glass off so that you can get a better video. And I was like, Okay! Thank you.

So it was pretty, engaging. From there he was like, “well, have you been here before?”

I said, no, he started going into, this is a family owned business. My kids helped me create these different ice cream flavors, which I thought was awesome. He was like, me and my wife, we came up with this idea, explaining the certain murals that they had on the wall, specifically the wave, he was like, this resonates with my favorite song that I have. And just told me the lines of it. And I was like, wow. So I felt like we really connected in that sense of he wasn’t just here’s your ice cream, go. He was like, Hey, I want to let you know behind the scenes, the story of how I came up with this idea.

I wasn’t just getting the experience of the ice cream. I was also getting to know the business owner as well. Which really just made me feel a little bit more connected to the business as a whole.

EMILY: To most of us, this might seem like a really special interaction with a customer, maybe even a one-off situation. But for Philip and his wife Sibs, this is more of an everyday occurrence. That kind of personal touch is often out of reach for small business owners, who are also worrying about inventory, revenue, human resources, and all the other day-to-day tasks in running a business. Like the simple things – stocking spoons and napkins.

But when you can take that approach, it really resonates with the customers. It made a huge impact on Aneesa, who then shared that with other Yelp readers. Philip says for him, and for his wife Sibs, it just comes naturally.

SIBS: I think that’s an important part of us being able to distinguish ourselves as being a small business, a local business and an owner-operated business. It’s important for us, for the customers to feel as though we have our finger in every part of the business so that it feels genuine. First impressions make a huge difference. So we place a great emphasis on customer service within the shop. But if you can’t even get the person to your shop, then what’s the point? We definitely appreciate every single customer who comes into the shop and spends their hard earned money. And we want them to feel as though it was worth not just their money, but their time as well.

So part of that responsiveness is a comfort. It’s to make them feel safe. If it is a safety concern, Hey, I have this allergy. I have that allergy. Is this something that you’ll be able to accommodate before I make the trip over there only to be served disappointment. So it’s really important to be able to engage with those customers before they get to the shop.

Once they get there to be able to delight them still with our great customer service so that they come back because for any small business or any business, in fact, it’s the return customer that makes the difference. So we definitely want to make sure that our customers feel valued and they want to come back.

PHILIP: At the end of the day, the greatest resource that any business has is human resources. That’s the people who work for us, work with us, and it’s also the customers walking in the door. At the end of the day, the fastest thing that we can do as a business is say hi. And it means something. We found that one of the first things a lot of businesses automate are their generic responses back to someone inquiring online about them.

There are very few Facebook, Instagram, Google, Yelp, or any kind of touch points that someone can interact with us, that’s not going to get a response. Because it’s easy. It’s just a conversation and most of the customers understand that, hey, if Anissa walked in and there was a line out the door, then chances are that’s probably not gonna happen, depending. But if we have a moment to give, then it’s our moment to give. We have that opportunity to engage with our customers. Then we’re going to engage. I mean, why not? Like, it’s easy. It’s words.

So it’s also something that’s very important to me to instill upon the younger employees that we have working with us as well. They need to understand how important quality time is. They need to understand that their time is important and that when they walk into a restaurant that they deserve an element of customer service, rather than take your food and go. Like, no, they’re more important than that because they chose to spend their time.

SIBS: And it’s so easy to make someone’s day. Most of the time when people come into an ice cream shop, whether it’s our ice cream shop or anybody’s ice cream shop, it doesn’t take much to turn their day around when they’re having a horrible day.

So what is it to me or him or our staff to just say something nice, have a genuine engaging conversation with them. When it’s nothing but two seconds out of your day, people treat it like being nice, you have to take something away from you to give to somebody else. And it’s not like that. It’s just, it’s so easy.

EMILY: Phil’s a natural host, and thrives in those personal interactions with Sundae Scoop customers. And that’s a huge added benefit to the business. Not only does it create great customer experiences, but it’s allowed Philip & Sibs to have an impact beyond the walls of their shop. They’re a community gathering place! And that was their goal from the beginning. Being a place that the community loves, and feels welcome and accepted. And in many ways, that starts with the layout of the shop.

PHILIP: I mean, at the end of the day, being in the community is kind of what an ice cream shop is about. It’s one of those places where, it’s not necessarily a coffee shop where you would go for yourself to just get that time where a student would go or hang out. It’s where a family can come, it’s where a family can come and just spend that time together because nowadays, we’re all trapped in our phones – for the most part. One of the things that I noticed on a regular basis is very few phones are out. People come in, they’ll take their pictures of the ice cream and then they’ll all sit and chat about what they got.

Ice cream is the one thing where everyone can be different, but everyone’s okay with it. You know, if you like mint, You like mint. You’re a mint person. If you like pistachio, you’re a pistachio person. Vanilla people don’t understand chocolate people. And it’s one of those things where families make up a community.

I mean, a community is nothing more than a collection of different kinds of families and different kinds of cultures and people who are together. Well, in our ice cream shop, we can represent every culture that’s in our area. That’s where the ube ice cream comes from, or a coquito, or rum raisin. Each one of those is gonna respond or touch something in someone that they remember from their childhood.

As far as the community events, we’ve been to every elementary school in our area for ice cream socials. We’ve also been in partner with a lot of small businesses because they took the risk too. They took that leap of faith. So if someone like myself or my wife can come along and help them on their journey, well, that’s all the better because it’s building a stronger community.

A lot of the cliches that we hear growing up, it takes a village to raise a child. Well, all of our businesses are just children to us. So it’s going to take that village to help strengthen them.

EMILY: It wouldn’t be a Behind the Review episode without talking about reviews. They can be that double-edged sword in business. The great reviews make you feel great, as a business owner. The negative reviews…well, they hurt. They can, if you let them, really get you down.

But there’s a way to make sure you are working with your reviews – both positive and negative – to make your business better. They provide great insight into the parts of your business you can’t see. Let you know things you maybe didn’t know, and double down on things you’re doing really well. As a business owner, you’re very inside the product, and often miss the things that customers see. Sibs and Philip read every review, and take into consideration every suggestion made by customers.

SIBS: We love reviews. We love honest reviews. We don’t pay for reviews. We’ve never invited anybody over to come give a positive review. Because we want whoever is reviewing it to give us their honest review. No matter how offended we might be, or hurt because of course the bad reviews do hurt. Because like he said, the business is like our child and it’s like somebody telling you that your child is unattractive or behaving badly. Of course, you’re going to take that personally.

But what I love about them is that normally when people leave a negative review, they go into great detail about why the experience wasn’t positive for them. And for us as a business that is growing – a business that we basically formulated from scratch. Therefore, we’re learning on a daily basis. Those reviews give us actionable items of things that we can improve upon.

One of our very first negative reviews from Yelp was an older gentleman whose daughter and son-in-law had come in and they loved Sunday Scoop. So they had hyped it up. So his expectations were extremely high and he loved everything about it, but he left a bad review because we had our menu on a TV and it was a rotating screen.

So his frustration was he couldn’t tell what was on the menu. He wanted to pick a menu item. He couldn’t pick a menu item because it was rotating too fast. And that was something that we were able to, in our mind, we’re like, “Oh, we look at the menu every day. We know what’s on the menu.” So it wasn’t even a thought for us, but we were able to immediately print out the menu laminated and put it right there the same day, bam fixed.

So things like that, I really appreciate. On the other side of the coin, the positive reviews, we really, really love those. And we use those when we’re hiring new scoopers, because we show them the reviews. We tell them like, please read those thoroughly and make notes of what the positive points are, because we’re going to ask those during your interview, because those are the things that we want you to do. So when people are saying that, “when I walked in, I was immediately greeted.” Are you that kind of person that’s going to have that peppy attitude when the door opens and that bell chimes? Are you going to say hello immediately? Because if you’re not. This might not be a good fit for you.

So it goes both ways, you know we’re using the negative reviews on things that we can immediately improve and the positive reviews to show our staff like hey look, you’ve got a positive review. This person gave you a shout out by name! They loved the experience that they had with you specifically. And that makes them feel so good because they’re young kids, they’re very self conscious, they’re constantly questioning themselves. So it feels really good when people give them their big ups and they name them.

PHILIP: Overwhelmingly across the internet, we probably have somewhere over 500 reviews. There’s maybe six bad ones, maybe. And they’re all in the same order when it comes to the positive reviews. It’s “the place was very clean, the customer service was great and their ice cream was good.” And they’re all in that order. And it’s part of our mantra when we hire people as well, or even just remind them. Be nice, be clean and be present. Know where you are, and know why these people are here. They’re here for a good time. The ice cream is going to take care of itself, you don’t have to worry about that.

What you do have to worry about is making sure the shop stays clean, and making sure you’re presenting the best version of yourself. There is no script, there is no, “I want people to behave a certain way.” I just want them to understand that what they say and who they are, it matters. So empowering them to just be the best version of themselves is what we’re aiming after.

One of our employees, one of our friends, Erika – is mentioned across our reviews on a regular basis because her energy is just top notch. And people don’t even have to say her by name. We’ll know if somebody reads an Erika review. So it’s bringing everyone else, and ourselves as well, up to that standard of “Hey, how can we be like Erica?” Or a version of that.

And we like having such an eclectic group of individuals as well, because people are going to see themselves when they walk into our shop. You’re not just going to see a Black-owned business owner. We hire across the entire spectrum of whatever somebody could be or how they identify or who they are. And it’s refreshing to see people come in and just kind of going to have that, ‘these people get me.’

EMILY: Aneesa mentioned calling ahead to make sure Sundae Scoop had gluten free options. For people with allergies or intolerances, dining out can be tricky, and the more information they have ahead of time, the better their experience will be.

Even people with food allergies can forget to ask sometimes, to be honest. And business owners in general, unless they maybe have a personal connection, or have a customer who brought that to their attention, might not think to label their food for allergens. And I’m guessing many don’t think of that as a marketing feature, but it really is. The more information customers have, the more likely they are to visit the shop, especially with a novelty place like ice cream.

EMILY: Knowing Sundae Scoop was a Black-owned business was so important to Aneesa that she mentioned it in her review, specifically, to make sure others knew that it was a minority-owned business.

ANEESA:  I definitely love supporting Black-owned businesses. I will say that we’ve seen a lot of Black-owned businesses that come about that are great, but they don’t get the support that they need. And then we see them closed down and that’s where everybody’s like, ‘oh, man, I really love this place.’

But at the end of the day. Did you go and support? Did you write reviews about this place? Did you tell other people to go here? I think that’s really important. That was something where I had never been to a Black-owned ice cream shop. I was like, I want to be able to go so that I can say, Oh, this is the kind of ice cream that they serve. It’s not just ordinary ice cream. Even if you live an hour plus away, like I did, I still think that is definitely worth the drive.

So I think it’s 1 thing for business owners to obviously be here, but for them to be able to also support other local businesses, I think is a big thing too. We all have to support each other, not bring each other down, not say, oh, I’m the only 1 who wants to be in this space. So I really like that. And again, as somebody who is a black woman, definitely in my professional career, I work in veterinary medicine. You don’t see a lot of black women who are in veterinary medicine. So that kind of did make me think, because we did talk about that as well too.

I was like, “Oh, it’s really awesome that you’re owning like an ice cream shop.” And he’s like, “I know, you don’t really see a lot of people who look like me who do this.” And I said, “Yeah, that resonates with me too, because it’s also same thing in my professional field. You don’t see a lot of people who look like me, and they don’t believe me when I tell them I work with animals.”

That’s really important to me to be able to just let everybody know, hey, we can own all of these spaces, and also be able to be successful as well.

EMILY: Seeing someone who looked like her in a successful role, especially one where you haven’t historically had many minority owners, was powerful both as a consumer and a community member. Philip and Sibs understand the impact that they have on their community just by being themselves.

PHILIP: It’s funny because my wife is South African. And just culturally, like we look at things a little bit different. Because, in South Africa, there’s just a predominantly way more Black people. Whereas here, I think we’re like 25% of the population, if that. I think as Black people, we put a lot of money into a bunch of different industries that we don’t benefit directly from, ice cream being one of them.

There ain’t that many of us. We’re a unicorn. I’m off the top of my head, I know we have Cosmic Creamery down in Houston, a Black-owned business who I shadowed. When I was opening up the ice cream shop, we went down to Houston and worked for them for a weekend because they had just started. So we were saying, “Hey, can we do this?”

You have Ruby Scoops up in Richmond. And then you have Sugar Hill Creamery in New York, and then you have Kaju in Baltimore, right? Aside from them, I know there’s not too many other ones. Sweet Stacks in Atlanta, maybe? But here I am naming about five or six different ice cream shops across the country. There’s not enough of us out there!

And for our children and other children to walk in and see that, hey, we can expect good customer service. Because that’s one of the things that people just don’t expect to get from a Black-owned business, for us to be able to deliver that on a consistent basis and for that to be part of our brand. It’s important for us to go ahead and hold up that standard and make sure that we’re doing our part as well to ensure that you’re going to see more Black-owned ice cream shops pop up.

I can’t not be Black. That’s who I am. It’s part of who I am. So this is the best way I can deliver it to you. And it also just teaches the people around us again, our employees and the people in our community that like, hey, at the end of the day, we’re all the same. Everyone likes ice cream.

EMILY: A common hurdle that business owners encounter is the fear of the unknown. A fear of failure! And it can be a bigger obstacle for minority business owners. That’s why it’s important to Philip and Sibs that they reach out to others in their community and share as much knowledge as they can.

SIBS: There’s a fear in the Black community to bet on yourself because we don’t know who to talk to, who to reach out to, where the resources are. And that fear keeps a lot of people from either pursuing their dreams, or it keeps their dreams very small and very contained, because they don’t know how to take that and scale it up and take it to the next level.

PHILIP: Yeah. I always encourage people just to join something. You gotta find something bigger than yourself. And then when you’re joining these things, some of them need to be exclusive. Just in the sense of like Black Brand, they target black owned businesses. Because you want to talk to people who look like you. The last thing you want as a woman is a man telling you how to run a woman-owned business. They may have some good advice, but at the end of the day, they’re not you. And they don’t understand exactly what you’re going through.

So you find that “Black club” essentially that you can be a part of, but you also have to be inclusive as well because you do need that outside perspective of your business. So you’ll find something like the Small Business Development Center. Every city has one of those – they are completely free and they’ll put you in touch and walk you through those steps as well.

You have to find people who look like you, and you have to find people who don’t look like you. And you need to be able to use that advice from all of them and put it together. Because you, you don’t want to take anyone’s one word as being, you know, this is the gospel. This is how it’s done. You gotta see like, hey, I heard this from this place. Is that true? We have the nobleman group out here. That’s part of that as well. B & I. There are tons of networking groups, tons of Facebook groups. Alignable is another one. We’re going to start doing catering or more catering. So we hooked up with a show brides, which is a bridal expo show.

These are things like we’re married, they’re married, they’re going to get married. So let’s do a thing. So just as a small business owner, finding every different aspect of yourself, every different way that somebody can identify you. You go find more people who can identify with the same thing and make it make sense together.

EMILY: One of the things that struck Aneesa about Sundae Scoop was the decor, particularly this large mural on the wall – of a wave. She thought it was an odd choice for an ice cream shop, so she asked Philip about it. And as it turns out, it’s representative of the heart and soul of Philip and Sibs, and the community they’re building.

PHILIP: So first, that wave that Anissa was talking about, that’s in there. Extremely weird to some, however, the shop was just built out by us. We have tons of pictures out there of our kids painting the walls, us laying the floor. We didn’t have the money for the contractors. It was a gamble. The day before opening, when all the money was spent and the die is cast, I’m in the kitchen, ugly crying, like I’m having a whole moment to myself because it’s like, what have I done? I’ve gambled our family’s future on this.

And it doesn’t have to work. But that wave was a reminder. It’s from an artist, Tobe Nwigwe, him and his wife. They are rappers and there’s a line in there where it says “don’t just ride the wave, We create it.” And this is our way of creating our own waves. This is our way of just making our own path and making sure that we’re going to be okay.

Because at the end of the day, no matter what you do or where you are, your time is important and how you use it and how you choose to spend it and what you choose to leave behind is up to you. No one else can write that path for you. You choose and we do our best to inspire other small business owners or other people who have ideas to move forward with them.

I know for a fact that Sundae Scoop is responsible for getting at least five different veterans their disabilities compensation that they didn’t think they were entitled to. But by me being part of a disabled veteran association, I was able to give them the resources. I know for a fact that we’ve helped at least three other businesses open up and get off the ground. One of them is a veteran who decided to open up a salsa business, Azteca salsa. He just decided to move forward. So he’s at farmer’s markets now. And he said, thank you. We have small bakeries who have decided they wanted to open up because they see what we’re doing and they know that they can.

And they also know that we’re a resource that can point them in the right direction and hook them up with the right people. You walk into our shop, you will see other small businesses in there, either in our ice cream or the cake book that’s displayed from “Casey’s Must Have” because she is a young lady who decided that she wants to bake goods and she’s trying to find a way to do so.

At the end of the day, just be good, support each other and help each other where you can, and I can almost promise you that it’s going to come back your way.

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