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The Story Of Clementine's - How It Became Naughty & Nice
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Tamara Keefe, founder and self-proclaimed "Chief Flavor Temptress" of Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery 

This is an excerpt from an interview with Tamara Keefe, founder of Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery, that was featured on a recent episode of the Chew In The Lou Podcast.  

Joe Prosperi 

What is the story of Clementine's? So, when you're setting out, and one day you wake up and think,  “I'm going to open an ice cream parlor, or a creamery,” you know, what makes you say naughty and nice?

 

Tamara Keefe 

Well, that was just happenstance, actually. So, once I had decided to open Clementine's, and I had started making ice creams for like a bunch of my wholesale restaurant customers before I ever had the shop opened. Kevin Brennan from Brennan's actually approached me one day, and said, “Hey, you know, I want to do something cool and different. I would love to put booze into ice cream to have shakes or just to have a boozy ice cream”. And he goes, “Nobody's ever, you know, I haven't heard anybody talk about that before”. And I said, “Yeah, well, you can't really do it because you can't freeze alcohol”. And that really started the conversation. And it got me thinking. And he's like, “Well, can you just try?” And I was like, “Okay, but you got to give me the booze.”

 

Joe Prosperi 

A key part in the story.

 

Lydia Gwin 

It's great payment.

 

Tamara Keefe 

It was a good trade. And so, he did. And it was in my early days when I was just starting Clementine's. And I'd come from the food industry, and I have all these amazing contacts and friends who were food scientists and chemists. And I kind of just put the word out there. And I said, you know, is this possible? And so, I tried it. I tried starting some things and bunch of friends and I started calling and emailing back and forth. And, you know, coming from the food industry, I had knowledge and access to a lot of technologies that most people don't, and different kinds of ingredients. And I have just enough knowledge in the food science world to make me dangerous, right. And so, we started kind of working with it. And, you know, we'd get on these conference calls, five or six of us have all around the country. And somebody said, what about this? And have you tried this? And can you do this? Can you encapsulate that? Can you, you know, all different kinds of things. And we started just tinkering. And I, luckily, I had access to a local, like food manufacturing facility and pilot plant from the industry that I previously worked at, and all my friends. And so, we started trying things. And one day, we were like, wait a second, it just kind of happened? And we're like, did we just do this? Did we kind of stumble upon something. And so that we did it again, and we kind of started doing it again and again. And as true food scientists, like we were in there, you know, with our lab notebooks like, okay, what happens if we do this? And what happens if we do this? And what if you do it this way, if you put it through this process, you know, and so, like, it took us about six months, but I had this like team of friends who were living vicariously through what I was doing, leaving my corporate job, and starting something new. And there has been no innovation in ice cream since Dippin’ Dots, literally. And so, it was very exciting to be a part of something and to see something come together. And then we were like, Yeah, we're like, we're going to get a patent on this. Like, because we're doing it. Like nobody can put booze in ice cream as much as we can at the levels that we can up to 18% of the recipe. So we go to the attorneys, of course, and we're like, so excited. And the attorneys are like, okay, yeah, we can do this, you can file a patent. Absolutely. But if you do this, then the world will know how you do how you can do this. And we're like, what do you mean, they're like, well, it protects it. But it tells the world how you do it.

 

Joe Prosperi 

It's a Catch 22.

 

Tamara Keefe 

It's a Catch 22. And we were like, oh, and they're like, if this really is that innovation, I would advise you to keep it as a trade secret, and not put it out there and get a patent. 

 

Joe Prosperi 

So, I'm gonna scratch off my next question, which was to ask you the process on how to do it. Is there more to this?

 

Lydia Gwin 

I want to just say that this is total validation. I am constantly made fun of because of how nerdy I am about the science and food. And I want to let you know that this is the moment that it is important for science and everything with food. So, will you do this, will you just explain why alcohol really can't go into ice cream at the levels that you normally can? You don't have to go into any trade secrets. But to explain to the home ice cream maker why it's not possible.

 

Tamara Keefe 

Because it depresses the freezing point of the ice cream, the liquor does, right? So, you have to find a way to freeze the alcohol.

 

Lydia Gwin 

Right, it won't crystallize the way that it needs to and won't become solid. You end up with a slushy really, a milkshake, alcohol slushy. Right?

 

Tamara Keefe 

Yes.

 

Joe Prosperi 

Yeah, that's why mudslides are so popular.

 

Tamara Keefe 

That's right. So, we just decided from that point on, like, okay, we're going to keep this trade secret. And you have to make sure that no part of it is, you know... different parts are produced in different facilities. So, nobody actually knows how you do it. And so, you can work here for whatever and you're never gonna work here. Like, you know, we've set up our manufacturing so that it's a very tightly kept, secret, okay.

 

Lydia Gwin 

It's like the Coca Cola recipe. Right?

 

Joe Prosperi 

So, I know you have delicious ice cream, because I've eaten it many a time. But this is not a story that I knew. So, like, how many employees know the secret?

 

Tamara Keefe 

Only two.

 

Joe Prosperi 

Stop it. So, like, there are people that are making ice cream that don't know how, to start to finish how it works?

 

Tamara Keefe 

Correct.

 

Joe Prosperi 

That is fascinating to me. I love that.

 

Tamara Keefe 

Because people are fallible, right. I mean, we've caught employees trying to steal recipes. And, you know... 

 

Joe Prosperi 

You're like the Willy Wonka of the ice cream.

 

Tamara Keefe 

I guess, I don't know. Like, you know, 

 

Joe Prosperi 

Who's your Slugworth? I want to know!

 

Tamara Keefe 

We've, seen a lot. And so, in the early days, we had to, like set up and take precautions to have, you know, certain things are made in certain facilities by someone else you know, other parts of the process we make in our kitchen. So, yeah.

 

Joe Prosperi 

My mind is blown. I mean, there's like espionage here. Like we're gonna have to have  offline stories that are not that are not on the record. 

 

Tamara Keefe 

Oh, I've got good ones.

 

Lydia Gwin 

Juicy. It's a whole book, right? The memoirs will be coming out sooner than later.

 

Joe Prosperi 

I'm sure you do. I mean, that's fascinating.

 

Lydia Gwin 

But I think it's important to share that the ice cream has always been in your life is like a deep rooted like luxury and it's one of your favorite things. So, you didn't just one day wake up and decide oh, I want to make ice cream and I want to make ice cream, with alcohol in it. Like it has been something laced in throughout your journey.

 

Tamara Keefe 

Yes, yes. Ever since I've been a child. You know, how I came to ice cream; I was a little girl. And I come from pretty humble beginnings and a large, very large family. And one summer when I was about seven or eight years old after church, I heard other kids talk about going for ice cream. And immediately I ran up to my mom and I tugged on her dress, and I'm like, hey, do we get to go out for ice cream? And she was like, No, honey, I'm sorry. We can't. Well, the ostentatious you know, and like never, always persistent person that I am as a kid... Every Sunday, when I heard kids talk about ice cream, I'd go back to my mom, “Do we get to go for ice cream?” And the answer was always no. Well, you don't know that you're not supposed to make your parents feel bad for being poor, right? Because as a kid, you don't know you're poor. You just know that other kids get to do something and that you don't. Right. And so, one Sunday, we were driving home from church, and we stopped at a garage sale. And my mom found the old hand crank ice cream, you know, you know for $2. And she bought it and we got home, and she said, Okay, go change your clothes, do your chores, and everybody come back to the kitchen. Now we're going to make ice cream. And so, we did we started to make an ice cream after church because that's how we could afford to do it with a family of 10. Right. And we just started making it every Sunday. And eventually well, let me back up. So, we were like a small army. So, I have four older brothers, it was me my parents and my grandparents, right? So, we were like that family at church that really didn't get invited to people's houses very often. Because who's going to invite an army, right? 

 

Lydia Gwin 

The fleet of people that come. 

 

Tamara Keefe 

The fleet of people, right? So, we were kind of like that family over here, right? My dad was always fixing stuff on the church. And my mom was cooking for the old ladies. So, like our family was loved. But no, I wouldn't say popular. We were kind of like over there. And we didn't really have any money. And, you know, on Thanksgiving, there was groceries that always showed up on our front step. So, you know, we were kind of like over there. Well, that summer, as people started hearing that we were making homemade ice cream, all these families started asking if they could come to our house to make ice cream. And so, as a little girl, right? And so, one family, you know, our family couldn't afford, so one family would bring the milk another family would bring the cream and somebody else would bring something else. And so, we went from like being this family over here to being like, the most popular family like in the church, right? 

 

Joe Prosperi 

Via ice cream.

 

Tamara Keefe 

Yeah, yeah. And it was. And so, as a little girl, ice cream, like changed my life. It changed my whole sense of community. It was like, this ice cream cone just like made my life great. And so literally, as a kid, my association with ice cream and the passion for it, and what we did and how it made me feel and all our new friends and we got invited to parties. Like it just changed my whole sense of community. And so that has just always stayed with me. We always made ice cream as a family up until my mom passed away together. And then I carried the torch and it's just, it's always just been with me, it's in my soul. It's part of like who I am and bringing people together and the memories that you make with each other. It's just, it's so real. And guess what, if you're holding an ice cream cone, you're not holding the phone in your hand. Right? Like ice cream is like the thing that like whether you're with your family or your kids or your first day and guess what ice cream is always like, it's like also like a class like, it doesn't matter if you're the CFO or you're the janitor, you can afford to take your kids out for ice cream, you may not be able to take your family out to dinner and a movie and all this stuff. But like, everyone can afford to take their kids out for ice cream.

 

Lydia Gwin 

And we all react the same when it falls off the cone. We all have that same deep pitted like "ugh" right?

 

Tamara Keefe 

The difference is that Clementine's will replace it. But like ice cream comes from this like place deep inside me of like love and compassion, and kindness and generosity of spirit and community and being together. And that's just something that has always stayed with me my whole life. And I never thought I'd end up in ice cream. I never thought about opening my own ice cream shop. It was just something that was my hobby and my passion that I carried with me, you know, and I just happened to end up in the working in the food industry. Right? And so, I happen to understand food safety and traceability and, you know, all these very technical things that you have to know and understand and how to produce a product at a large scale safely. Right and how do you do that? And I happen to work in marketing and brand and strategy and that's what I did for 25 years so I happen to be in the food industry, work in marketing and brand and have this love of ice cream. So, after about 20 years in corporate America being fed up deciding what I wanted to do next, it just kind of came up.

 

Lydia Gwin 

All three of those powers combined created the dynasty.

 

Tamara Keefe 

And it's you know, people are like, Oh, my gosh, you're so successful. I'm like, Yeah, but I had to like to take all those years of education and all those years in corporate America and running businesses, you know, to get me to here. Like I couldn't have done this 20 years ago.

 

Joe Prosperi 

Well, you said it took a nationwide effort of your friends on calls. Like this is not one person making small batch ice cream, this is a well-researched, well thought out method of great minds in the food industry coming together to create an amazing product. That does not happen overnight, it does not happen quickly, it does not happen cheaply, does not happen easily. You know and so you've got the ice cream. You've got you've got the process down. The magical process that you will not divulge to me on this podcast.

 

Tamara Keefe 

Or ever.

 

Lydia Gwin 

It's not left to you in any will.

 

Joe Prosperi 

And so, you've got your shop, and you're successful, and people are buying it, people are loving it. You've got great things. You've got Gooey Butter ice cream, that has actual real chunks of Gooey Butter cake and thank gosh, that I will always appreciate actually eating it and being like, “Oh, it doesn't just taste like Gooey Butter cake, like it actually has real Gooey Butter cake in it”. How do you get from a shop in St. Louis, Missouri to making ice cream? Which there's ice cream shops all over the place and all over the country. How do you get from that to Oprah's Favorite Things, to last month you were on CBS This Morning to Food and Wine Magazine? Where does that jump? That doesn't just happen.  I mean, I make delicious food, I cook all the time. But Oprah's not sitting on my front porch waiting to taste it. You know, like, what, what goes into that? Like, how does that happen? 

 

Tamara Keefe 

Well, it's really good PR and marketing. You know, we've invested in good marketing since the beginning. And it costs time and money. And we've hired really good and amazing publicist, and PR firms that have been out there knocking on these doors, you know, and we've been sending ice cream to people for five and six years, right? It's expensive, it's time consuming. It's the product, it's the follow up. It's been a lot of hard work to get there. But it's we're so proud. Because, you know, in my own way, I'm putting St. Louis on the map nationally in the food scene, in ice cream. Like, like, I can do what I can like...

 

Joe Prosperi 

We love you for that by the way.

 

Tamara Keefe 

Thank you, thank you. But like, I'm super like, proud to be here because I could not have followed my dreams if I didn't live in St. Louis. Like literally, if I was in any other city in the world, Clementine's would not be what it is today, because of the city of St. Louis and the people who have supported me. And how we support our independent businesses and restaurants like St. Louis is like, it's a super magical place to be able to, like follow your dreams and have something be accessible and to try it. I don't know I digress. But like, I'm super proud.

 

Joe Prosperi 

It's so good to hear that about a city that has its problems, but to hear that there are so many good things that can come out of St. Louis, and that there are people willing to support that and do that. And hear someone say that. So empathetically is moving. 

 

Lydia Gwin 

Well not only that, but I think on the national level too. Because I think so often, we hear the reports, we see the list of most dangerous city, right? And we're on it, but there's a lot more when you pull behind the curtains and see how beautiful our city is to help the communities.

 

Listen to the entire episode