Sometimes all it takes for a new business is a little creativity. For a great example, look no further than John Heckler and his unique idea for Ennis’ newest ice cream and burger shop.
Ennis Sugar High quietly opened its doors on May 10 and was quickly swamped with business, but Heckler and his fellow business owners couldn’t be happier.
“It was insane,” Heckler said. “It was like drinking from a fire hose.”
When you walk into Ennis Sugar High, the person who takes your order or flips your burger won’t be an employee; they’ll be an owner.
When Heckler bought the old Madison Creamery building, he was cultivating an idea that was shared with him by Ennis resident Terry Jenkins. Turns out local teachers had talked for a couple of years about trying to pool money to buy the Madison Creamery and run it during the summer months when they weren’t teaching.
Heckler instantly thought it was a great idea and went to see Tim Combs, owner of First Madison Valley Bank. Combs agreed and Heckler bought the building, even before he approached the teachers.
In his mind, Heckler knew his commitment to the project would be demonstrated with his purchase and remodel of the old building.
Once reconstruction was underway, he got word out to the teachers and held a meeting.
Wendy McKitrick is a teacher and had daydreamed about the idea of teachers running the ice cream and burger restaurant. When she heard about Heckler’s idea, she was shocked.
“My first thought was it’s too good to be true,” McKitrick said.
Eventually, a group of teachers and other school employees signed on and together with Heckler and his family formed Ennis Soft Serve Operations LLC. All told there are 16 members and a four-member board of directors: Heckler, McKitrick, Tami Jenkins and Melinda Legg.
Rather than salaries, the people who work get a portion of the profits and by extension have a vested interest in seeing the business succeed.
“I wanted to teach the teachers that entrepreneurship and capitalism are not four letter words,” Heckler said. “It’s good for the community; it’s good for them.”
Along with forming ESSO, the teachers and Heckler also wanted to do something to give back to the community. So they all decided to devote three percent of their net profits to a community fund. Along with this, they keep a donation jug on the front counter where you’d expect to see a tip jar. All the money collected in the donation jug goes toward the community fund.
In about 40 days, they’ve already set aside more than $3,000, Jenkins said.
The money will go to community groups or people through a simple application process. Already the group has donated $500 to the Madison Valley Manor and about $140 to the Madison Valley Public Library, Legg said.
“Anybody can come and apply for the money,” Jenkins said.
Applications are available at Sugar High.
Though all the teachers liked the idea of giving some of their money back to the community, they had different motivations for the venture.
For Legg, she wanted to demonstrate the community spirit that surrounds the school and to push back somewhat against the controversy in the community during past few years over the new school.
“It breaks my heart this community has been divided over the new school,” she said.
For McKitrick, it was a simple way to give back to a community she adores.
“We live here for a reason,” she said. “To be able to do this … make a little extra money in the summer and give back to the place we love is just awesome.”
For all of them, the last six weeks have been exciting. Business has been great and exceeded expectations.
“The community response to this place has been incredible,” Heckler said.
The business will be open for the summer season, but they still don’t know when they’ll close for the winter.
But between now and then the crew will be serving up the best soft serve ice cream in town, Jenkins said.
And her favorite part – seeing a little girl light up when she get a cone covered in rainbow sprinkles.
“You do this for one reason – rainbow sprinkles,” Jenkins laughed.