Wild Cow Creamery makes all-natural ice cream from scratch. Each small batch is made with simple, high-quality ingredients and add-ins are mixed in by hand. Their shop in Belfast and stand on the Bangor waterfront are local summer staples. The pandemic hit just as business owners Sarah Wilder and Ryan Cowan were getting ready for the upcoming season.
“Having the scoop locations open seasonally worked in our favor in the beginning,” said Sarah. “We weren’t hit mid-stride like some businesses were, so we were able to take some time to observe the first few weeks of the pandemic play out and get an idea of what the summer options looked like.”
The options looked dire. Selling ice cream in Maine means trying to make the bulk of your revenue over the course of just two to three months. News reports and local authorities were signaling a confusing mix of evolving guidelines and information. Although one thing was becoming clear: if there was going to be any ice cream season, it would be severely limited.
“We were in a nightmare of uncertainty,” remembers Sarah. “Even if we were allowed to open, we didn’t know if we should open. We didn’t know if the greater obligation lay with employing our workers, or keeping them out of harm’s way. Should we provide summer ice cream experiences for our customers who wanted it, or encourage them to stay home? The federal government started to roll out some relief options, but it was unclear which was the right path for us. That’s when we decided to call Ann.”
For years, Sarah and Ryan had worked with the SBDC and Ann McAlhany, a CEI Business Advisor, to explore expansions, review financials, create business plans, and much more. They had already been scouring the Internet for information and attending many of the SBDC webinars. Ann answered their questions and helped guide them as new information was made available. She kept them informed and helped them apply for multiple pandemic assistance grants and loans.
“We always call Ann when we’re toying with some big decisions and need a sounding board,” said Ryan. “She listens to the options we’re considering, adds options she thinks might be helpful, and then usually asks us a series of questions that end up being pivotal. In this case, we had a lot of concerns with the different Covid funding options and Ann helped us narrow down the best strategy to fit our particular situation and that’s pretty much what we’ve been playing out since the start of the pandemic.”
After sorting out some critical supply chain issues, converting their Belfast location to a walk-up window, and checking the comfort level of their employees, Wild Cow Creamery opened their locations at the end of June 2020 in an effort to keep their business afloat and make what revenue they could. Despite the effort, sales for the year were down more than sixty percent.
“In some ways we were impressed with how many customers there were during 2020, but it was still unsustainable. I honestly don’t know how a small business like ours, both self-employed owners, could survive something like this pandemic without some kind of financial help, even if it’s simply access to a loan like the EIDL, which we wouldn’t have been able to obtain under normal circumstances,” said Sarah.
With Ann’s guidance, Wild Cow Creamery received relief funds from multiple programs including the advance and loan from the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) as well as a grant from SBA’s Restaurant Relief Fund (RRF).
“Once we received the EIDL loan from the SBA we knew we would be able to make it through 2020, even though it meant that we had taken on a significant amount of debt to do so,” said Sarah. “Now that we were fortunate enough to receive RRF funding, which closes the gap in our 2020 lost revenue, we are confident we’ll be able to sustain our employees through the 2021 season even though sales aren’t back to pre-pandemic levels yet. The RRF is what really makes our business able to come out the other side of the pandemic without suffocating debt. I hope the fund is able to be replenished quickly for the other small businesses that applied because there are a lot of them out there equally impacted and just as deserving.”
“Overall, the feeling of support from all levels, including Belfast and Bangor local governments, and the SBA at local and federal levels, has been a relief throughout the pandemic. It has been difficult to navigate for so many reasons, but the effort put forth to make sure small businesses aren’t left out to dry is hugely appreciated. And just in general, we encourage anyone starting a business to make the Maine SBDC your first stop. Their consulting is free and in addition to funding opportunities, there are so many things they can help you plan for and think about. Our business couldn’t have made it through the pandemic without the Maine SBDC.”
You can find Wild Cow Creamery ice cream on the Belfast Harbor Walk located at 31B Front Street or on the Bangor Waterfront located at 88 Front Street. You can also find their ice cream pints in select Hannaford locations as well as Tiller & Rye in Brewer.
For more information visit their website or Facebook: