Taking inspiration from his grandmother Connie’s love of cultural exploration, and a semester spent as a teaching assistant in Italy, Jason Minter founded Connie’s Affogato, an ice cream truck for adults. The affogato, consisting of freshly brewed espresso poured over locally produced gelato or ice cream, is a traditional Italian treat that Jason looks forward to introducing to Clevelanders.
Jason is also part of JumpStart’s Core City: Cleveland Impact program, an intensive business assistance program designed to support the development and growth of businesses located within some of Cleveland’s most underserved neighborhoods.
We had an opportunity to chat with him about turning his dream into a reality overnight and how he is taking a forward-thinking approach to navigating obstacles that accompany entrepreneurship.
What inspired you to create your business? Where did the idea come from?
While living in Austin two and a half years ago, I dreamt of riding a bike around while wearing a seersucker suit and selling Choco Tacos and Push Up popsicles. It was always just kind of a funny idea.
I brought the idea up a year and a half ago at a dinner party where I was serving affogatos at my place in Tremont. I was just joking with my friends, but they thought it was a great idea. The next morning I started writing the business plan, and the rest is history.
How did you connect with the Core City: Cleveland program, and what do you think so far?
I connected with the Core City program about six months ago when JumpStart was doing monthly evening sessions. They event programming was really high quality, and I was learning a lot about marketing and the different parts of a business.
Once I entered the Impact cohort, things really intensified. I’ve been really impressed by the level of experience and the professionalism of the JumpStart team members that have been involved in the Core City Impact program. I can see why JumpStart is a premier business support organization.
What are your future plans for your business?
In 2016, we plan to launch as the mobile storefront, and that should happen in the next couple of weeks. Our biggest barrier is capacity. Because we have a mobile storefront, it’s so small that I can only keep two tubs of ice cream on me without restocking somehow. Once I identified that as a limiting factor, I started to find solutions for increasing that capacity.
For future growth, I’m leaning toward a new business model which I’m calling a pocket shop–similar to a pocket park. I want to develop an outdoor space that’s not being heated, not being cooled, but does have storage and access to water and refrigeration–allowing me to increase the capacity of Connie’s. What’s exciting about this is the idea of activating a space that is too small or odd shaped to be used for a traditional, buildable site.
Are there any unique challenges you feel you’ve had to face as an African American entrepreneur?
As an African American entrepreneur, you have to navigate perceptions of your business. A lot of times, when you walk into the room, people don’t know your background and you can kind of see it in their face whether they believe in you or not. And I’ve definitely had that experience, where you wonder if you’d be taken more seriously if you had a different look.
Obviously, access to capital is a huge issue for most African American business owners. One of the biggest advantages or disadvantages to anyone is your network and the ability to leverage that network to benefit your business or your community. As an African American entrepreneur, it’s challenging to connect with the right individuals to help move the vision forward.
We ask all the entrepreneurs we speak with to give us examples of failure or setbacks they experienced. Anything come to mind for you?
As I mentioned, the pocket park concept is essentially driven by the projected failure of handling the capacity piece, and not being able to transform Connie’s from a hobby into a business that pays the bills.
In the beginning, I had the concept, I started moving forward with it, did the building out and then I realized that regardless of doing all this work, it’s just not going to go anywhere until I handle the capacity. It was a failure point, but overcoming that is finding the ways to keep the concept and keep bringing the affogato to the people, but doing it in a way that can elevate the product to something that is sustainable as a business model.
Watch Jason’s elevator pitch for Connie’s Affogato below. To learn more about the Core City: Cleveland program, click here.