By Laurie Dunklee
It’s hard to miss Little Man Ice Cream’s giant milk can in Lower Highlands (LoHi), especially in the summertime when a line of people waiting for scoops extends around the block. Owner Paul Tamburello is hoping his new Little Man Creamery on West Colfax will attract similar crowds — for business reasons, of course, but also because selling more ice cream means he can help more food-challenged people around the world.
Little Man’s Scoop for Scoop program donates a scoop of rice or beans, for every scoop of ice cream sold, to food-challenged communities in many countries.
“We focus on Guatemala, Cambodia and Haiti mostly,” said Tamburello. “We hope to do more in Peru and Uganda.”
The new Little Man Creamery, on Colfax and Tennyson, will be Little Man’s production facility as well as a new place for the neighborhood to gather.
“The design is the inside of an ice cream spinner,” said Sarah Smile, administrative assistant for Little Man. “Everything is curved and there are slanted lines to make you feel like you are spinning around. There will be a slide for the kids and adults.”
She said the creamery will have a factory vibe, with visible wires and beams.
“A conveyor belt will run from the customer counter back to the kitchen, to send empty buckets back and receive full ones.”
The 6,300-square-foot space is a late 1940s commercial building that was three separate shotgun units, says Tamburello.
“‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ was my favorite movie growing up, so that reflects in our stores,” said Tamburello, regarding the whimsical renovation. “Retail is changing, and retailers need to step up their game and provide experiences for people. I want people to walk in and say, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and have an amazing fun experience.”
The 2,000-square-foot kitchen will produce 10 times the amount of ice cream that’s currently made in the LoHi Victorian that also houses Little Man’s offices.
“Our kitchen is tiny, and it’s impossible to keep up with demand,” said Smile.
She estimates that the 300 gallons per day produced now will become more like 3,000 gallons — to both sell and generate more donated food for hungry people.
Scoop for Scoop began in 2008 to help communities in need. To date, Little Man has delivered approximately 2.5 million scoops to hungry people in nine countries, through one-time missions following disasters and long-term commitments to build up food resiliency. Little Man employees volunteer their time to deliver the food overseas, or Little Man partners with reputable organizations already engaged on the ground. All goods are purchased in local markets.
Tamburello was inspired to start the program after he volunteered with several international medical relief organizations.
“Seeing how the people lived provided my impetus to help with nutrition. Scoop for Scoop is not a marketing tool; we don’t talk about it a lot, we just do it.”
“Just doing it” came from his parents, who modeled a philanthropic lifestyle, Tamburello said. “My parents were committed to helping others. My mother said that helping is part of who you should be, whether you’re religious or not.”
Tamburello said Little Man is named for his father, who was small in stature but had a big heart.
“He was one of 12 children and he helped support the family once he finished third grade, working alongside his father in the ash pit. He carried the idea of helping people throughout his life.”
Tamburello said his greatest reward is seeing the impact of the program on his young employees.
“When our young ‘scoopers’ go on a mission trip, I see them get engaged and excited. Some of them have become Peace Corps volunteers. They learn that philanthropy isn’t what we do when we’re rich; it’s what we do whether we make $10 an hour or much more than that.”
Smile, a former “scooper,” looks forward to engaging the West Colfax community at the new creamery.
“The kitchen is enclosed in glass, like a microbrewery, where people can watch the process of making ice cream. The spinners will be hung where people can watch us pour in the mixings. When the ice cream is done it goes on a conveyor belt to the freezer.”
As at the LoHi location, the creamery will host dances and other activities. A stage in the front window will showcase swing dances led by live bands. Next year the creamery will install glass garage doors on the north side, looking out onto a patio.
Tamburello hopes for a revitalization of West Colfax as a destination, much as parts of East Colfax have become. Challenges include the lack of parking and pedestrian-friendliness.
“CDOT (the Colorado Division of Transportation) and the city need to allow parking on West Colfax,” Tamburello said. “On East Colfax that was an impetus. Parking helps make it a destination because it slows traffic and provides a buffer between the sidewalk and the cars, making it more pedestrian-friendly.”
In addition to the creamery, slated to open in mid-July, Little Man is rolling out four other locations, including Sweet Cooie’s in Congress Park, a ‘50s-era soda shop that opened in February 2017. Slated for completion in 2018 and 2019 are Constellation in Stapleton, featuring a 70-foot replica wing from a Lockheed Constellation airplane; Churn Ice Cream in Fort Collins, a 22-foot lumber churn bucket; and an as-yet-unnamed store in Park Hill.