The Urban Collective – Growing Ice Cream and Dreams in Quinte
Urban Collective’s Success Proves Nice Folks Can Finish First
Demonstrating a remarkable adaptiveness, entrepreneurial acumen and impeccable sense of timing, Tim Hennig and his life and business partner Sharon Huckle have built the Urban Collective brand into an inspirational success story in the Bay of Quinte region.
At present, the brand represents Urban Catering and the newly-acquired Urban Hall, as well as the Nice Ice Baby scoop shop in Wellington and the former Nice Ice Baby Café in Belleville, which will soon evolve into the Urban Bistro. Down the road, the couple hopes to add even more emphasis on their Nice Ice Baby brand of ice cream but opening what is being called the Urban Creamery.
A Family Business
The Urban Collective started as a restaurant in Belleville nearly two decades ago called the Urban Herb, which was a local hot spot for five years and received praise in 4 editions of the publication “Where To Eat In Canada”. But after the birth of their second child, Huckle wanted to return to her career in hairstyling, and opened The Cat’s Meow Salon and Spa in the former restaurant space at 20 Victoria Avenue, while Tim focused on the catering aspect of the business. This allowed them a better work-life balance.
According to Urban Collective spokesperson Shawneen Fenton, the couple have continually adapted to the changing nature of their business ventures and family values. “They closed down the restaurant to open the salon, but Tim still wanted to be in the food industry, so he started Urban Herb Catering and bought a food truck. In keeping with the brand they had built, they named it Urban Herb on the Curb and it operated as a traditional food truck for one season.
With the popularity of having food trucks at weddings and other events, they found themselves too busy with the rapidly expanding catering business to continue with the food truck model but continue to use it at events as a mobile kitchen. As of this past September, they have taken over the lease at the old Greek Banquet Hall and have rebranded it as Urban Hall, so they could expand their repertoire and generate revenue from hosting as well as catering at outside events,” Fenton explained. Now that their sons are 18 and 14 and working with them in all aspects of their businesses, it has allowed them to focus on expanding their brand, without compromising family time.
Two Scoops And A Dream
With an eye on the sweeter side of life, two years ago Hennig chose to attend the intensive Ice Cream Short Course at Penn State University with the desire to start making his own artisan ice cream. He bought an ice cream machine, then a truck, which naturally led to the need to find a space to start making ice cream. Remarkably, the building beside their salon and catering kitchen on Victoria Avenue came up for sale, having been vacant for a number of years. “I had just said that day”, said Sharon Huckle, “I wish that building beside us would come up for sale and bam, there it was, the for sale sign. It was obviously meant to be”. The partners started work immediately to start up the production facility and a cafe. In the midst of it, Sharon’s salon client approached them about opening a scoop shop in Wellington and so they opened their second location a month before their first. Now they have two Nice Ice Baby Ice Cream outlets, one in Belleville and one in Prince Edward County with plans for a third food outlet and a new larger production facility that can accommodate wholesale and retail ice cream sales.
“The location in Belleville is currently a year-round café where we sell handmade sandwiches, soups, salads and sweets. Now we are looking to up the ante on that by offering a fresh new made-to-order bistro menu, Ontario wine and craft beer and of course our famous artisan ice cream. To do that, we had to put a hole through the wall of the former catering kitchen at 24 Victoria Avenue into 26 Victoria and after a few more improvements inside and out, will fully rebrand the place calling it Urban Bistro”, says Hennig.
Fenton said it is the combination of the business smarts, work ethic and attitude of Tim and Sharon that has propelled the Urban Collective to such success over the years.
“They are very smart people, and to be honest, seeing how they work together and how they work with their staff, it really just all goes with their motto of being nice, everything they do is based on being nice. So that means being nice to everyone in the community, being nice to every person who gets a haircut at the salon, being nice to everyone who helps with the café, being nice to employees. All of the growth and success is based on word of mouth. Belleville is still kind of a small town and having a reputation for being nice and for being good people gets around,” she said.
Challenges Lead To Changes
Like any food service business, and one with such seasonal components as catering and ice cream, there have been challenges for Tim and Sharon over the years, but nothing that hasn’t been overcome through perseverance, planning and a positive attitude.
“Selling ice cream in the winter in Belleville isn’t that easy [the Wellington Nice Ice Baby is open May through September]. So that’s definitely a challenge, but then we came up with the bistro concept which should solve that issue and it’s going to show people that we have so much more to offer other than just ice cream. Another challenge that was dealt with early on was having just the Urban Herb on the Curb truck and then people wanting full-on catering. That meant Tim had to go in a different direction with the catering, which worked out great,” Fenton explained, adding that when all operations are going full tilt, there are about 30 people working at the various Urban Collective endeavours.
“Finding staff can be a challenge because we are a catering business and having casual staff is a unique situation. We need casual staff for the catering functions, but we also need people we can count on, so they need to be available for a lot of different odd shifts. And we also need to have more staff in the summer because of Nice Ice Baby, so making sure we have a full complement of trained staff each year is a bit of a challenge, but we’ve been pretty lucky so far in hiring really great people.”
Another, albeit lesser, challenge was revitalizing the new Urban Hall at 70 Harder Dr. in Belleville, to spruce up its kitchen, washroom facilities and overall décor and ambiance. They have many more improvements planned but are pacing themselves as they keep up with the day to day operations and multiple projects in the works. Again, balance among the busyness is key. “This summer we’re looking at having it booked every weekend and probably a couple of times during the week as well. We’re doing a lot of the renovations in between when we have the hall booked, to make sure we can keep it open and running. It’s already becoming quite a popular place, because we can hold 257 people” said Fenton.
Partners In The Community
When Tim and Sharon needed advice and funding help, they worked closely with the folks at the Trenval Business Development Corporation, who also helped promote each of the new projects coming forth from their fertile entrepreneurial imaginations. “Trenval has been a tremendous support with all our projects, as have our raving fans who have watched in anticipation as we have dived head first into one new project after another”, muses Huckle.
The couple’s longer-term vision, according to Fenton, is to see Urban Collective grow and prosper, and the Nice Ice Baby Ice Cream brand become something that folks can get at other restaurants as well as retail outlets. “A lot of people coming up from Toronto see the ice cream as something that could easily be offered there. I know they want to further it as a retail brand and get it into stores, because that’s something that could really go far because it’s an actual product and an actual brand. The creamery, once it opens, would just be the starting point for that expansion of the product line,” Fenton said.
Now the couple is looking at creative ways to make the funding for that project to happen, including a boisterous crowdfunding campaign which really aims to get the community involved. “We owe our past and present success to our community. We have always known this and have seen it as our responsibility to be grateful for that support and generous in our reciprocity”, says Huckle. In the past 18 years the couple has donated more than $450,000 to local charities, averaging about $25,000 per year in donations, not to mention countless hours at fundraising events and on local committees. Their GoFundMe campaign to raise $200,000 for the new ice cream facility launches March 26th and offers an array of rewards for sponsors who pledge their support for the project. Huckle says, “We hope people will see all the good we’ve done as serial entrepreneurs: creating jobs, restoring heritage buildings, revitalizing our downtown, forging connections with other local businesses and help support us to move forward in our goals to make the Bay of Quinte region a really nice, really sweet place to be.”
For more information on the Urban Collective, visit www.theurbandcollective.ca