Executive Chef & Co-Owner
Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwiches
I have been a chef most of my life. My last job was at Greenleaf’s Pool Room in the John Marshall building. I made ice cream sandwiches as a dessert for customers. People liked them so much that my husband and I started taking them to the South of the James Farmers Market. The response was big, so I started working on the packaging and placing them in markets. My husband, Xavier Meers, is also a chef, and he started going one by one to small, local delis and markets, such as Ellwood Thompson’s. Business kept growing and growing, so we both left our jobs and started working with a distributor, Performance Food Group. They helped us expand throughout Virginia, providing a huge boost so that we were able to get more employees, take part in pop-ups and events, and collaborate with local businesses, such as Hardywood Brewery, Sugar Shack Donuts, and Union Market, to create exclusive small-batch flavors. Changing up flavors is what keeps our customers interested.
We have worked in the space adjacent to Ginger Juice’s production facility and Westbury Apothecary for over a year. It has been such a busy year here that we actually need more space with fewer time restrictions in order to produce more. Within the next year, we are looking to relocate.
We had storefront shop dreams in the beginning. However, we learned our product is great for stores and restaurants, so our market is more production-based. It’s a learning process. In the future, we would like to have a small area for customers to pick up their orders, but our main focus is getting our product out to multiple locations where customers can easily access it.
There is so much to learn when first starting out. Going into production is very different from being a chef at a restaurant. It has been really helpful to talk to people who have more experience. We have good relationships with Gelati Celesti and King of Pops, and we ask for a lot of advice. Richmond is a very supportive community in that way. Also, my dad has been an avid supporter. When we started out, he did all the packaging. We wouldn’t be here without my dad.
If you are new to this business, there is a lot to learn. Here are a few things that have been important for Nightingale:
We have been successful by keeping our quality a priority, no matter how big we get. There are always shortcuts you can take, but don’t sacrifice your quality.
Put yourself out there; don’t wait for someone to discover you. Knock on as many doors as you can. Some will say no, but there are one or two people who will say yes. That gives you a starting point for opening up new opportunities.
Work your butt off.
Hannah’s Favorite Ice Cream Sandwich Flavor: I love the Earl Grey Lavender collaboration with Hummingbird Gardens. It’s made from a steeped Earl Grey tea and lavender cream that is paired with a chocolate cookie. It’s a grown-up dessert with depth.