A homemade treat made for neighborhood kids has become a growing dessert concept in California that chief operating officer Jim Ryan expects the rest of the country to be screaming for in the next decade.
Screaming as in, “We all scream for ice cream.” But not just ice cream. Cookies, too.
CREAM is a fast-growing ice cream sandwich concept dreamed up in the thick of the recession. Ryan says 30–40 new CREAM stores will open in 2015, and by the end of 2016, there could be as many as 150 stores squishing cold premium ice cream between warm, fresh-baked cookies.
“We have a pretty aggressive schedule ahead of us,” he says. “But we want to do it through smart growth rather than growth for growth’s sake. Our plan is to find the right operators and have the personnel behind our development. Corporate needs to support those who have taken a chance with this company. We need to create the foundational base.”
Ryan says CREAM operators don’t need a deep restaurant background; rather, they must be passionate about the CREAM product and also put a value on family, since the business began with a family. The brand originated with Wafa Shamieh making cookies for her son, Gus, and daughter, Tagreed. “She’d come up with crazy cookie recipes, and the neighborhood kids became her R&D team, though she didn’t know it at the time,” Ryan says. “Then she started whipping up ice cream, too, and it became a neighborhood favorite. There was never any idea of commercializing it.”
FOUNDER & CEO: Jimmy Shamieh
COO: Jim Ryan
HQ: Millbrae, California
Year started: 2010
Annual Sales: Undisclosed
Total units: 10
Franchise Units: 8
But in 2008 and 2009, when the economy slumped and family patriarch Jimmy Shamieh found his consulting work drying up, the family sat around the table discussing what they could do. They remembered how much neighbors loved the ice cream sandwiches, and went on to open the first CREAM near the University of California, Berkeley campus in 2010. Today, Jimmy Shamieh is the CEO of CREAM, Wafa is head of product development, Tagreed is general manager of the original store in Berkeley, and Gus is working toward a law degree.
“When it started, Mr. and Mrs. Shamieh would work the day shift and Tag and Gus would work the evening shift,” Ryan says. Other employees had to soon be hired because the family was working until 2 a.m. trying to keep up with the demand for cookies. Back then, the cookies were baked at the Shamieh home and reheated at the store.
“With lines forming around the corner, interest grew and franchisee requests started coming in,” Ryan says. “Franchise documents were created, and we started franchising efforts in 2012.”
Ryan says that to scale the concept for consistency and operational ease, CREAM has taken its proprietary recipes for ice cream and cookies and outsourced them to co-packers and manufacturers.
The CREAM menu consists of about 10 varieties of cookies and 20 flavors of ice cream that can be combined into countless sandwich creations. For more variety, guests can choose from 15 toppings. There are also ice cream tacos, sundaes, milkshakes, malts, and floats.
“We sell the most of the traditional combinations, like chocolate chip cookies with French vanilla ice cream or double chocolate chip cookies with mint chocolate chip ice cream,” Ryan says.
CREAM also rotates seasonal ice cream flavors, like pumpkin in the fall, eggnog for the holidays, lemon in spring, and peach in summer. And there are always options for those with dietary restrictions, including a selection of gluten-free cookies, vegan cookies, and soy ice cream.
“We are really inclusive,” Ryan says. “If someone who has a gluten-free diet comes in, we can make sure they are happy.”
The name CREAM is an acronym for Cookies Rule Everything Around Me, a nod to Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 hip-hop hit, “C.R.E.A.M.” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me). CREAM’s connection with music goes beyond the name. “We really want to be involved with pop culture and pop music, so for the staff it’s a fun place to go,” Ryan says. “There’s a lot of action and noise in our stores, and the music is a little loud. We want to make sure the atmosphere is fun, lively, and youthful.”
Ryan says to ensure good customer service and fast throughput, CREAM locations “staff pretty heavily,” with eight to 10 staff members working each shift. Fast throughput is important because a typical CREAM store is 1,000–2,000 square feet with little or no seating. “Our business model is a line out the door,” Ryan says. “We don’t have seats. We’re a stop on the way home.”
The price of an ice cream sandwich at CREAM, $2.99, has been standardized across the chain, eliminating the once-offered cash discount price of $2.50 at all but the original store.
“We have interest in moving customers away from cash and into different payment solutions, such as Apple Pay, PayPal, and others,” Ryan says. “At this [$2.99] price point, our price value proposition is still amazing considering that we serve a super premium product.”