Beau Shell of Athens dreamed of selling ice cream most of his young life. He just didn’t realize it would become so difficult. Actually, “rigorous” is the 14-year-old’s word.
In second grade, he asked his parents for one thing for his eighth birthday: an ice cream push cart. He had bugged his parents for that first cart for eight months before they caved and gave him a patched-together version.
Beau’s been selling ever since. At festivals around the state, University of Georgia football games, corporate meetings in Atlanta, nonprofit fundraisers, sometimes using multiple carts and trailers that family helps staff. He worked nearly 170 events last year, selling treats and giving speeches, winning adult fans of his profitable Lil’ Ice Cream Dude business.
But he had a bigger dream to open his first shop and have enough space to make his own ice cream creations. Last year, hundreds of people contributed to a $21,000 Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign toward the project. It wasn’t nearly enough.
By early this year, Beau and his parents thought they would have to let go of the unfinished store space they had leased.
Instead, people in Athens and elsewhere quietly rallied to their aid. The Lil’ Ice Cream Dude’s Cool World Ice Cream Shop is slated to open Sunday afternoon, Beau’s 15th birthday.
It’s not the work of just Beau. Nor of just his parents and extended family.
“It’s everything from God to our plumber,” mom Vickie Shell said.
Those who learned the story of a polite, quiet kid with remarkable passion offered their services for free or with big discounts.
“I know how hard it is to start a business,” said Michael Hodges, the owner of Athens Blueprint & Copy Shop, who remembered seeing Beau as an elementary school kid selling ice cream at a barbecue event. “This is a boy’s dream, and I’m going to try to help him the very best I can.”
“I grew up as a kid with nothing. He just inspired me, basically.”
Hodges, who has grandkids close to Beau’s age, temporarily covered costs of electrical materials for the ice cream shop. He gave the family extra time to pay him for printing books Beau had written about his venture and was selling to raise money for the store. Hodges gathered others who could help.
Most of the custom flooring was installed for free by Alan Reed, who owns Team Epoxy Floor Coatings in Athens. And after talking about Beau to his Virginia flooring supplier, Reed got a delivery of $2,000 worth of custom-made flooring in the blue and green color scheme of the ice cream shop’s logo.
“I just wanted to help the kid out, somebody being that young that has such a passion about something,” Reed said. “That kid knows more about ice cream than I do about epoxy floors.”
He also was moved when he heard Beau’s older brother, serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan, was sending money home to help.
‘This is the American Dream. He just got it young.’
“I’m really grateful,” Beau said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
He said when he first started his business he had to push himself to talk to customers and to learn how to sell. “Social skills are zero,” he said. (A reporter perceived this to be very much an overstatement.)
From the beginning of his venture, he was thinking of more than just an immediate payoff.
“I wanted something that would last,” Beau said. He said he had wanted to make money to contribute for mission work, buy toys, support his parents and give to his church. He said he also has donated thousands of dollars toward Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“It felt good when I gave, because it felt like I was doing the right thing.”
Beau’s parents said they didn’t try to force him into the business, nor did they to run it all for him, though some operations couldn’t be run by a kid who is still too young for a driver’s license. Rick Shell, who is an electrical motor technician, said they wanted to support his dreams the way some parents back their kids’ athletic endeavors and career hopes.
“This is the American dream. He just got it young,” Beau’s mom said.
Neither she nor her husband had wealth passed down from family, an issue she said is too common among some African-American families. The ice cream shop, she hopes, is a chance for generational wealth that might one day reach her kids’ kids.
Beau knows his age isn’t the only thing that makes him unusual among ice cream business owners. They went to an industry convention a few years ago. His mom said one attendee told them, “Look around. What do you see? A bunch of old white men. We need you.”
Last fall, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named him as the sole national winner of its Young Entrepreneur Achievement Award. Businesses and schools have offered speaking engagements.
‘Failure is part of the success process.’
Vickie Shell was a teacher for 17 years, much of it leading classes about business, marketing and entrepreneurship. She’s learned that understanding the theory of those subjects isn’t the same as living it.
“Beau learned a lot of hard lessons about business early on. We all did,” she said.
“Failure,” said Rick Shell, “is a part of the success process.”
A year ago, Vickie left her teaching job to go work for her son. She had hoped to open the shop by last spring.
They leased space at gracious terms from a warm-hearted landlord, hired a general contractor and had work underway. The costs rose beyond their expectations. Money from family, profits from Beau’s ice cream business and proceeds from the Kickstarter campaign couldn’t keep up with the financial demands, his parents said.
The work stopped for months. The family would pass by the unfinished shop at 1040 Gaines School Road in east Athens nearly every day.
“It was painful,” the mom said. “We didn’t know how to move forward.”
Community giving helped make up the difference. And the Shells and their extended family took on more of the finishing work, painting, fixing walls and creating a waffle cone texture on them.
The menu includes scoop ice cream cones and new additions: shakes, floats, custom-made ice cream sandwiches and ice cream filled “Coolie Pies.”
Working with ice cream hasn’t dulled Beau’s taste for the product. He still craves it, eating some every day.
And he has a grand vision for his venture’s future. “I want to be the big dog. The Chick-fil-A of ice cream.”
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