Paul McCullough and Ryan Vogelgesang didn’t let the pandemic stop them from making ice cream. They’ve increased production of their brand You Betcha Ice Cream and continue to sell at pop-up locations, in collaboration with other Grand Forks businesses.
McCullough started You Betcha in January 2020, after making ice cream in his parents' kitchen for a few years. Friends and supporters urged him to get out of that kitchen and into a commercial one, which he found at the downtown coffee shop The Ember. When The Ember closed in March, he worked out a deal with Freedom Church, which owns the location, to continue working.
“Luckily, we've been able to use the space,” McCullough said, between selling pints of blueberry pancake ice cream at a pop-up event at running footwear and apparel store See Dick Run, on the evening of Jan. 6. “The church staff has been really helpful in allowing us to use the kitchen.”
A steady stream of customers entered the store that night to buy ice cream and browse through shoes and other running gear. Some were quick to get in, grab a few pints and head out, while others took their time. Everyone made at least some time to chat.
“I’m here for my fix,” said Kaylee Cusack, when it was her turn in line.
“I’m a fan of his work,” said Jeff Bakke, another customer, who came to the running goods shop with his wife Becca to stock up on the sweet treat.
Vogelgesang got on board when McCullough asked him for help managing You Betcha’s social media presence. The business partners met each other while working together in a retail store a few years ago. He’s a fulltime student at UND working on a master's degree in business administration. He also helps make the ice cream, when he can.
“He talked about the ice cream dream before, and I always kind of thought it was intriguing and interesting,” Vogelgesang said. “I always offered my support, and essentially he reached out and asked if I'd be willing to help him.”
And business has been good. The pandemic, McCullough said, has refocused people's eyes on local business. The pop-up events often sell out. They hold those events because they can’t sell out of The Ember location. Over the summer, it was available on Wednesday’s at Bully Brew Coffee, which helped grow their customer base. You Betcha Ice Cream is otherwise only available at the Brick and Barley craft beer pub.
But the pop-up shops aren’t just a medium to sell ice cream. It’s a way to work collaboratively with other local businesses and drive traffic into their stores, including Persephone’s Floral and See Dick Run.
Richard Dafoe, who owns See Dick Run, said he had “no reservations” when McCullough asked to hold an evening sale in his store. Dafoe was McCullough’s cross country coach at Red River High School.
“When he approached me I said ‘100%, let's do it,’” Dafoe said.
McCullough and Vogelgesang intend to find a location of their own, but that will have to be a future endeavor. McCullough works for the city, and Vogelgesang also works, in addition to studying. The business will need to grow beyond what it is to support its own location.
For now, they are happy to work on eclectic new flavors, such as blueberry pancake. They also sell vanilla, almond bark and cookies and cream.
“After a year and a half of being an operational business, we finally did chocolate,” McCullough said.