Passion for Your Work Matters
Founder and owner of Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery, Tamara Keefe talks about recognizing and following your true passion and her subsequent transition from corporate executive to a successful ice cream shop owner.
“SUCCESSFUL” YET MISERABLE
I was doing really well in corporate America and exceeding where I thought I would ever get to in my life, but I found that the higher you go, the more lonely it is. You don’t own your life anymore, and I didn’t own mine. I’d get a phone call on Thursday saying, “I need this presentation done, and I need you in Singapore by Tuesday.” I was that single professional female with no kids, who took every assignment. I climbed up the ladder and did really well. I reached a point where I was just really sad and miserable. I was always on the road. I lived in a big house I was never at. I never saw my friends and family.
One day I just kind of had a breakdown about my unhappiness in front of a bunch of friends while vacationing in the Ozarks. One of my best friends turned to me and told me to “just quit!” I explained that I could not just walk away from what I had achieved. I reached a high level in the professional world. I come from a very lower middle class family, and I’m the only one who went to college and earned two master’s degrees.
My friend laughed and said “No Tamara, not quit like that! You need to open an ice cream shop. Your ice cream is amazing, and you’re always making it for friends and coworkers. That is your passion – go do that!” My friends proceeded to tell me that instead of making other companies rich, I should use my life experience and background to make myself happy. I thought “the worst thing that could happen is I fail.”
WHERE TO START
The first thing was putting together my business plan and financials. Within two weeks of my epiphany, I had put together my business plan and quit the day after receiving my bonus check.
I cashed out my 401k and I put it all into the new business. I’m really glad that I did, because I’ve been able to build my business thus far without investors or loans. I still have complete control of my own little world.
There were so many hidden costs and everyone else’s timeline is not your timeline. Whether it’s opening a new location or negotiating something, everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you think it will. Plan for that so you are not so surprised. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you are halfway there and run out of money. If you know this going in, you will be a little bit more prepared.
WORKING FOR YOURSELF
I used to work 60-70 hours a week, but that was for someone else and I was always tired and exhausted. One of the quotes I love is, “if you don’t go pursue your own dream, someone else is going to hire you to pursue theirs.”
I don’t think there’s much balance, but I’m passionate and love what I’m doing. It doesn’t feel like work. I love it because I’m building something in my own little world, so to speak.
I believe in what I am doing, and so far the response has been amazing.
Human capital is something I don’t think a lot of people who are starting a small business think about. I came from the corporate world where the people I managed were working 20 hours a day and all motivated by the same types of things. Going into the restaurant world you are dealing with a different kind of human capital that I was never really exposed to before.
I make sure that it’s an environment that people want to be in. I’ve had to eat a lot of humble pie and adjust the way I work with people.
I grew up in a very economically modest home. After church every Sunday, I would ask my mom if we could go out and get ice cream with the other families that were. She would always have a reason we needed to get home, but I finally realized, it was because we couldn’t afford it. When an old-fashioned ice cream crank was available at a yard sale for $2 she bought it. We started making our own homemade ice cream each week.
It wasn’t long when the other families learned of our homemade approach and they wanted to come to our house for ice cream! I could see what an economic equalizer ice cream had become and brought together people that otherwise would not have crossed paths.
It gave me great joy to see both the president and janitor of my former company in our shop with their families, both enjoying ice cream, and their kids playing together. Again, ice cream had become a wonderful equalizer. That is a big part of why I keep going today. The “why” for me is a deeply ingrained appreciation for the joy of ice cream and its impact when shared across diverse groups of people in a community.
We have mastered the art of freezing alcohol, so you will continue to see additional “naughty” flavors coming out. We also have plans to expand to four new locations by next summer in SOHA, Midtown, Clayton and Maplewood.
Please come visit us at 1637 S. 18th Street in Lafayette Square, St. Louis, MO. We are in an obscure location on a dead-end street, so don’t follow our lead on where to place a retail store, but we have been able to make it work for us.
Tamara’s recommended reading, “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker.