Meryl Hillerson

 
 Photography By: Sarah Der

Photography By: Sarah Der

Meryl Hillerson

Pastry Chef & Co-Owner, Charm School

311 W Broad Street | Richmond

charmschoolrva.com

 

 

Class is in Session

 

I grew up in Santa Cruz, and I was a florist there before entering the world of pastry and baking. I took an evening course at Tante Marie’s Cooking School while working at a bakery in the morning. It was intense, but you learn more by doing in this field. I visited Richmond twice at the coaxing of several friends, including Charm School co-owner, Alex. I loved it! I do miss sunsets over open water and authentic Mexican food, though. When I see lettuce in burritos here, that is just not right.

 

The Arts District is a great location for Charm School. We have had a lot of built-in support from our neighbors and friends, and of course First Fridays. We have a five-year lease with the option to extend to ten. The consistent lease helps justify the cost of everything. The financial investment is what worried me the most. Alex and I saved for a decade and took out an SBA loan. You have to understand, I paid off my college loans in five years, so going back into debt was just nerve-wrecking.

 

We originally envisioned a Neapolitan color scheme for the shop. However, we wanted to deviate from the color pink because it was associated with Quirk Galleries, the prior occupant. The book wallpaper was the first visual element that Alex and I agreed on. It had a subtle green tone, and then we found matching chairs. The mint green hue is neutral and easy to pair with vintage items. I see the world in mint green now.

 

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Growing up, I was deprived of sugar. I thought frozen yogurt was ice cream. Now, I eat ice cream every day, and floats are my favorite. Sunday is my dedicated float day. For a perfect float, I put the soda in first, then gently float three mini scoops (ice cube size) into the soda. It’s so good that whip cream isn’t even necessary.

 

 

One of our popular flavors is cereal milk. People like familiar flavors that evoke memories, are easily palatable, and can be complemented by hot fudge and whip cream. Cereal milk is a flavor that does all of that, while also being a little outside of the box.

 

We have taken the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course twice. It is essentially a semester’s worth of food science knowledge in seven days. We believe in continuous learning because it keeps us up-to-date with the latest food technology, regulations, and it gives us a sense of community. Alex and I talked about ice cream together for nearly six years before starting our business. It is wonderful to get to discuss ice cream with other people in the industry who are all over the U.S. During our first trip to Penn State, we were in lease negotiations and were focused on opening a scoop shop. So, we had the opportunity to get feedback about our ideas, in addition to advice on purchasing equipment, shop design, and even ice cream compositions. This year, it was our turn to share what we do. We explained that we are transparent about our process at Charm School. We have a glass window so you see the rhythm we have established in terms of production, equipment, and staffing.

 

Now, we are working on what’s next and learning how to diversify and expand the brand. My advice for people who want to have a bakery or ice cream business is: work in it first. Cooking and baking at home is very different from commercial kitchen production. If you start a business like this, you have to do it because you are passionate, and not so much for the money.

 

 

 

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Charm SchoolKya Carter