Winnipeg ice cream shop switches to subscription model to keep sales from melting away

Chaeban Ice Cream switched to a subscription model in order to survive after being forced to close for COVID-19.

Ice cream shop owners adapted business model to pandemic times by delivering treats to peoples' doors

The owner of Winnipeg's Chaeban Ice Cream is thanking hundreds of new subscribers for supporting a new business model, created in hope of surviving the pandemic. (Chaeban Ice Cream/Instagram)

A Winnipeg ice cream shop is serving up cool treats at customers' doorsteps in order to stay in business.

Last month Winnipeg's Chaeban Ice Cream switched to a subscription service model after being forced to close because of COVID-19 public health restrictions.

The federal wage subsidy and small business loan program originally kept the two-and-a-half year old business alive. The Syrian family who owns the South Osborne shop hopes a new business model will allow their ice cream parlour to survive.

"If we didn't do anything, our business would've gone under," Joseph Chaeban, who owns the shop along with his wife Zainab Ali and partner Darryl Stewart, told host Nadia Kidwai during an interview on CBC's Up To Speed.

Along with traditional ice cream, the shop serves vegan and non-dairy products, and has come up with unconventional styles such as an Arab-inspired maamoul cookie ice cream with dates, almonds and spices.

In 2018, less than a year after opening at the former location of the popular Banana Boat, an ice cream shop that was demolished two years prior, the young ice cream parlour was named Foodie of the Year by Western Living Magazine.

In late April the local business started the "Ice Cream Club" — a monthly subscription-based service that costs $20 a month for two pints of ice cream delivered to your doorstep or curbside in the city. Hopeful customers can register online to specify the number of pints and choose from a selection of around 12 to 14 flavours for monthly distribution.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, online and in person, Chaeban said. The owners estimated at least 150 subscribers were needed to make it work. In the first couple hours of launching the service, they had reached 100 subscribers, and within two days they hit 400.

As of Monday afternoon, Chaeban said there are over 1,300 subscribers, and he hopes they can make it to 2,000.

"It means people are behind us and we can start building on," he said.

Chaeban's partner came up with the idea as a way to stay open and offset the losses they had since the global spread of the novel coronavirus and provincial public health orders forced non-essential businesses to close or adapt to bans on large gatherings and strict physical distancing measures.

The owners had to create a new system, set up the software and hired technical support.

"We try to do everything right where we have the right things in place just in case something does happen and it gets out of our control," Chaeban said.

Now delivering treats and cheer

That influx of support has allowed them to re-hire half their staff, with nine out of 18 employees back on the payroll to fulfill up to 100 delivery orders per day, Chaeban said.

Manitoba farmers supply the milk products so they can make as much ice cream as required to fill orders, and Chaeban said his crew manufactures the ice cream in-house, so they can sustain large volumes.

Customers are notified when their order is on the way, and confirm that someone will be able to receive it before it melts.

"It doesn't matter if they are children or adults, they're so excited," Chaeban said, adding that delivery drivers have been greeted with thrilled recipients who are smiling and jumping up and down at the door.

Products can also be found at local businesses such as St. Leon Gardens and the Bothwell Cheese Shop in St. Boniface.

"We're just excited that we're still here, to be honest," Chaeban said.

"If the wage subsidy does go away, we can sustain our company and not worry about folding."

With files from Aviva Jacob