Sweet Endeavor

July 2018 View more

It wouldn’t be summer without ice cream, and Kimberly Yates wouldn’t be where she is today without her love of the sweet treat. After graduating college, Yates turned her passion for ice cream into a thriving business—despite a sluggish economy and little experience. Today, her childhood nickname, Kimmer, is synonymous with the creamy indulgence in Wheaton, St. Charles and Elmhurst. Naperville magazine recently caught up with Yates to get the scoop on how she
and her husband Isaac turned her dream into reality.

Ice cream has been a lifelong passion of yours. Tell us how Kimmer’s came to be.
I started working at Baskin Robbins when I was 16 and fell in love with ice cream and the friendly, happy atmosphere. Even if people weren’t happy when they came in, they were when they left, and it just kind of stuck. I worked in ice cream shops throughout high school and college. During my senior year, I realized all the business plans I was writing for my entrepreneurial classes were about ice cream. That’s all I knew. Our professors always encouraged us to do what we knew and loved, so after I graduated I decided to give it a go. I got a loan from my family and purchased Gramp’s Frozen Custard in St. Charles, a west suburban favorite since 1999. Thanks to my strong support network, I was able to stay open and eventually become profitable.

Since opening in 2010, you’ve added locations in Wheaton and Elmhurst. What inspired you to expand?
I always planned on opening multiple locations until I realized how hard it was to have just one. But, frankly,
I like a challenge and wanted to see if we could do it.

After opening the Wheaton location, Isaac left his IT job to run that store full time and manage operations. Without him, there is no way we’d be able to grow. Since all of our sites have been ice cream shops before, some of our customers have been coming their whole lives. I like that history and being a part of families’ memories.

How do you come up with ideas for the flavors and what are some customer favorites?
After I graduated, I traveled to New Jersey to learn old-school ice cream- making methods. I took that knowledge and started upgrading and modifying the recipes we purchased from Gramp’s. Now, we have a lead ice cream maker who experiments and creates new flavors all the time.

Sometimes we even get ideas from our customers. At our birthday parties, kids get to make their own ice cream flavors and actually come up with really good ideas. Some of our most popular flavors right now are caramel with sea salt,
Parent Trap (vanilla ice cream with a peanut butter ribbon and Oreos) and Aztec hot chocolate.

What do you enjoy most about being a business owner?
I love getting to know our customers—that’s the coolest. I love hiring, mentoring and developing staff. For a lot of them, it’s their first job. That part was challenging when I first started, because I was 22 hiring 18- and 19-year-olds, but now I love that aspect. I also really enjoy participating in community activities.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to open his or her own business?
Don’t take no for an answer. If you really believe in an idea, go for it, regardless of what anyone says. As long as you believe in it, you’ll give it your all and that’s what it takes. Always be curious and ask questions. And the biggest thing: be nice. Being nice to people is key to building good relationships.