Generations of Southern Store Owners Support Each Other

Sweet Ritual from Austin, TX and The Bluebird Cafe from New Orleans, LA

Amelia and Valerie in their Store Sweet Ritual in Austin Texas. Photo by Jon Bolden

A few years ago in Austin, Texas, two motivated ice-cream enthusiasts saw an opportunity to claim their stake in the neighborhood.

"The name Sweet Ritual came out of the idea that ice cream is a ritual that marks the important days in your life," shares Valerie Ward, one of the co-owners.

A series of coincidences stemming from their mutual loves of vintage fashion, dainty crafts, and cooperative living brought Amelia and Valerie together as friends.

"It was on a garage sale excursion for vintage table linens to use for embroidered graffiti that we discovered our mutual love for ice cream and entrepreneurship," remembers Valerie, "Amelia said she wanted to take the recipe she had developed for the cafe and start her own business, and I offered to be her business partner."

This ice cream shop would have a twist, and would be Austin's first all-vegan ice cream parlor. Valerie & Amelia would be able to market to a growing vegan community, but still had their work cut out for them. Just when they were searching for support, Sally Roberts was looking for a way to give back.

Sally and the Bluebird Cafe family celebrate many memorable years of business

For 21 years, Sally owned and operated a popular neighborhood breakfast place in New Orleans, The Bluebird Cafe.

"When I opened The Bluebird, I was a single mother and had a startup," shares Sally, "I did everything, the finances, the hiring, the marketing, the cooking."

Sally had also run a successful business under the most challenging circumstances. She gave birth to her daughter in the first year of business, endured countless business cycles, and weathered Hurricane Katrina.

"I came from depression era parents that never let us forget that your fortunes can change in a heartbeat, and that wisdom served me well in Katrina," shares Sally, "That was a very difficult time in New Orleans and it was for me as well. I hope nobody needs mentoring for that reason, but I see that with Hurricane Sandy they probably do now."

Though green to business, Valerie & Amelia were motivated, creative, and tech-savvy. They ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $3,000, an important part of the total capital they needed to open shop, and paid unexpected dividends in the form of a base of supportive community investors.

They also looked to the internet to connect with somebody who had walked in their shoes before. It was on MicroMentor that they met Sally.

Sally reminisces, "When I joined Micromentor, I thought, 'Somebody else is going to have to learn this as they go along. If I could just share what I had learned, maybe that would help them endure and succeed.'"

The three women spoke about all aspects of running a business, and major goals included obtaining financing and finding a location.

Sally Roberts, Owner of the Bluebird Cafe

"Sally was amazing," Valerie says, "She was so supportive of us, and believed in our idea. It was so nice to have another woman business owner to talk to."

Sally recognized the importance of being both realistic and positive in a mentoring relationship, "I was a more sobering influence than I think they would like, but I didn't ever want to curtail their enthusiasm because as an entrepreneur, that's what you have."

After much searching and consulting with Sally, Valerie & Amelia found a space. Today, Sweet Ritual has been welcomed by the Austin community. Sales are stronger than ever, and the business employs 5 people. Valerie & Amelia need less help now, but still reach out to Sally when they have questions about important business decisions.

"Now we're able to be supportive of other small businesses in Austin, which has been really nice," Valerie tells us, "Austin is a great place for small businesses. People here like supporting businesses with character."

Next Steps: