Questions for Reasons To Be Cheerful

QuestionsForLiving interview with Wade Rubinstein owner of Reasons to Be Cheerful in Concord, MA. Wade’s interview, September 11, 2013 discusses his questions for creating delicious ice cream, leading a successful business, and supporting the community through commerce.

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QuestionsForLiving: Were there specific questions that you were asking that led you to create Reasons to be Cheerful?

Wade Rubinstein: I wanted to spend time on something that would make a positive difference in the world and specifically within my community. In my previous profession, as a systems engineer, this sense of purpose was lost on me.  I was in telecom, so the job was ultimately about communications, but the interaction with the final consumer was very distant. However, with ice cream the interaction and the feedback is instantaneous. You get the smiles and you get great feedback in the community. We provided ice cream to the Willard Elementary School Ice Cream Social on Sunday.  We’re providing ice cream to the Thoreau Elementary School Social this coming Sunday.  We’re providing ice cream for the Stone Soup Dinner this coming Sunday night. All these events are bringing joy. They are being done for charity to build community, so I feel that ice cream is a little bit like the glue that is making the world a better place. We are employing kids in the community. For most of these kids, it's their first job. We're teaching responsibility and leadership.

Reflecting on my day I ask "Was I successful?" and "Was there a positive outcome to the activities that we participated in?". It just give me a good feeling in my heart that I have done something good to improve the world. The fundamental question is "Why am I here?" and I want to make the world a better place and this is my way of doing it.

Education is another path which I explored. I thought that teaching would have the same kind of result for me, because I could teach critical thinking skills and provide knowledge. However, at Reasons To Be Cheerful I get to do that as well by giving kids their first job and teaching them valuable skills. So one of my fundamental questions in life is "How can I make the world a better place today?".


QFL: What were the questions that led you to want to specifically open an ice cream shop and make ice cream yourself?

Rubinstein: That question was "What do I want to do with my life?" I was at a point in my life where I had worked in high technology and really wanted to get off that cycle and start doing something different.  I had been in high technology for 20 years.  I enjoyed my career.  I made lots of great friends.  I’d seen the world but I wanted to do something different, and as I was saying to earlier, it’s a boom and bust industry. Once you run that cycle a bunch of times, it can be very exhausting.

In the past the companies I worked for, and I really loved, were start-up companies.  However, working for a start-up takes a tremendous amount of time and energy.  The jobs were all consuming.  So I started asking "What am I going to do with my life?" 

I looked at my wife and I said, “I want to spend more time with my family; I want to be home.”  I didn’t want to travel as much.  So I stopped my engineering work and I chose a new career in education.  I received my master’s in education and I taught public school for a couple years, but then I realized that being in front of a room of 25 kids for eight hours a day takes a really special person. I could do it, however I didn’t really love it as much as I was hoping I would love it. When I realized that teaching wasn’t for me, I stepped back and asked again, "What do I really want to do with my life?" 

I always had a positive association with food and the idea of a café had always been a dream and it evoked pleasant memories.  When I traveled, I’d always check out the restaurants and cafes.  My wife and I love to go to little cafes and bakeries.  I’ve also always loved ice cream.  I had a passion for ice cream; my whole family loves ice cream.  My mom and dad in particular had passions for ice cream.  We always ate a lot of ice cream as a kid every day. I actually stumbled across an ice cream shop called Sweet Escapes in Truro, MA (link on Yelp: on the day it opened. This is probably five years now, and I just remembered seeing the joy and pride of the owner as she was literally opening the door that day welcoming people into her shop, scooping this wonderful product that was delicious and innovative, and it was like an epiphany.  A light bulb went off and I said, you know, I’ve dreamt about a café.  I was thinking bakery, and I actually decided, “OK, I want to open a bakery.”  To learn about baking, I went to work as a baker because I had to experience it firsthand.  During this time, I was working for a medical software company during the day, and I was baking at night.

I would get into work at the bakery at three in the morning, and then work from three in the morning to eight and then I’d go start my other day.  So I did that for a year. I loved baking but I hated the hours. If you own a bakery, you have you have got to work all night, if you want fresh bread in the morning. So that wasn’t going to be sustainable and that also wasn’t the life I was looking for.  So the bakery where I was working was right across from Rancatore’s, an ice cream shop in Lexington, MA. One day, I had a discussion with a baker I was working with, and we were dreaming about food. He said, “You know, why not open an ice cream shop?. Then as I thought about it more I asked "Really, what is ice cream?”  Ice cream is cream, milk, and sugar.

Then I started the think about the merits of making ice cream. I love ice cream. It’s shelf stable in the sense that, with its holding temperature, it lasts longer than bread. So I would not have to make it all night to serve it in the morning.  I could make it the day before, or even a week before.  You know, you want to turn the product around so it stays fresh, but you do not need to prepare it at three in the morning.  Then I asked myself “Why not ice cream?”.

I asked again “What do I want to do with my life?” and ice cream came to mind as a great opportunity to create something that I really love. As I thought about it more, I realized that my community in Concord, MA, had no ice cream shop in West Concord. Bedford Farms is on Thoreau St. in downtown Concord, but there was no ice cream shop in West Concord.  So I started to talk to people in the community, and several people I talked with said, “I had thought of starting an ice cream shop in West Concord” or  “I would love to open an ice cream shop.”  I talked to many people who said that this is their dream as well. In fact a task force in Concord had done, a survey of what people wanted in the community and the number one thing people wanted in West Concord was ice cream; that was number one on the list.

Things seem to happen for a reason and the pieces were coming together.  I was thinking about ice cream, the community was thinking about ice cream.  I shared this dream with my wife, and since we could share this dream together about a place for food, a café, it seemed like a logical thing to do.  Opening Reasons to be Cheerful was high risk.  It was totally different from what I had done in the past, but by then I had been thinking about it, dreaming about it for many years.  And, you know, sometimes you just have to fulfill your dreams and Reasons to be Cheerful was my opportunity to fulfill my dream.


QFL:  What questions do you ask for making and creating your own really delicious ice cream and the different flavors?

Rubinstein: Ice cream, like I said earlier, is cream, milk and sugar.  So if you think about that, it’s a painter's pallet. To create a new color, you add flavors to that pallet.  I was going for bold flavors.  My favorite ice cream growing up was Toscanini’s, which is an ice cream shop in Cambridge on Main Street.  And what differentiated them was they had flavors that were just knock your socks off, really amazing and creative flavors.  And they would essentially meld different flavors together.  For my chocolate ice cream, I want the chocolate to be pronounced.  I don’t want after taste and I don’t want other flavors to interfere. I want pure flavor.

So I started with fundamental flavors, and I sought out really good ingredients.  I tasted a dozen different vanillas and ended up saying, "You know what, I can’t decide between these vanillas.  I’m going to blend my own."  I blend an Indonesian vanilla and a Madagascar vanilla, and it was a cold pressed vanilla.  I love these two vanillas.  I put that vanilla as a base in everything we do.  Chocolate, I really wanted a dark chocolate so I use a French cocoa, and I use a Belgium bar chocolate.  I melt the chocolate down so I have a really amazing chocolate ice cream.  I’m not about opening up a can of guck and pouring it into my ice cream.  I’m about using pure ingredients.  In my coffee ice cream, I don’t use an extract.  I use real coffee, and I sought out great coffee.  So there’s a coffee shop in Sudbury called Karma Coffee  where I buy my coffee. David Conboy, the owner of Karma Coffee has the same passion for coffee as I have for ice cream.  He’s a roaster and it’s amazing coffee and I source my coffee from him - that’s the base of my coffee ice cream.  So to put that into questions, they might be:

- How can I create great flavors?

- What ingredients do I need to make these flavors phenomenal?

What combinations of ingredients are complimentary to each other? That’s a question I ask myself all the time. 

Once I have my pallet, I ask: “How can I build upon that pallet and expand it?” And that’s really what I'm doing with new flavors. For example, yesterday I made an amazing coconut ice cream.  My original coconut ice cream was OK. Then I asked, “How can I improve the coconut?”  I discovered that toasting the coconut helps bring the flavor out of the coconut.  So then the questions are well “What more can I add to this coconut?" and "What compliments coconut?” I thought there is the Mounds Bar and there’s the Almond Joy.  So, I put toasted, roasted almonds in the coconut.  That was awesome! people love that flavor. Then rum and coconut seemed to be a great combination. I mean certainly putting pineapple into coconut is another thing I could do.  I keep finding complimentary flavors that work well together and see how they do in ice cream.  And that’s kind of logical.  So once you’ve got a base, you can expand upon that base and take it into different directions.  So another question I ask when creating new flavors is “What flavors are complementary with each other?”  When I think of a flavor, I ask “What best represents that flavor, whether it’s coffee, rum or vanilla?” I trust my pallet and then ultimately if it sells, people validate my pallet and the flavor is adopted as one our flavors.

I really appreciate customer feedback and ask customers to write down their experiences.  I also participate in social networking so ask customers for feedback from social networking on Facebook, Yelp, Google+, and Trip Advisor.  The social network sites are helpful because you can get a lot of unsolicited feedback. For Reasons to be Cheerful it has been very positive.  There hasn’t been any negatives. I always go out of my way to ask the customer “How is your experience?”  

Questions for Reasons To Be Cheerful's the four values

The mission here is to put a smile on every customer’s face.  That mission is what motivates me.  It’s literally my mission statement.  That’s our job.

There are four things that I came up with for our primary values at Reasons to Be Cheerful and I ask questions around those values. The four values include: safety, customer satisfaction, product, and portion control.

In terms of safety, the questions I ask is “How can I make this a safe environment for my employees and my customers?” So I have policies around safety because I’m new to food, and there is a whole food code that you’ve got to pay attention to.  So “What am I doing in my practices to live up to that code?” and then “How do I convey that information to my employees so they can keep our customers safe with food allergies and all those types of things?” and "What am I doing to keep my customers safe and my employees safe?"

Maintaining a safe environment for the employees and customers involves a lot of training so another question I ask is How can I best train my employees?We put a lot of energy into training. 

The next value is the customer experience which requires outstanding service. You know, the saying that “The customer’s always right.”  I convey that to my employees and I want customer service to be 100% satisfactory. I frequently ask the customers, “How was your experience?”, “How is the ice cream" and "How is our service?”  I go out of my way to ask, and I try to convey that idea to my employees as well. For the experience is very important.  If the experience is positive for the customer the chances are they’ll be back a dozen times in a year.  Over the course of 10 years, they’ll be here a hundred times. It’s a multiplier.  I constantly ask, “Are we doing right by our customers?” Reasons To Be Cheerful is customer focused, and we do get great positive feedback and occasionally we get negative feedback.  And we have to turn that around and make a positive out of it. 

Reasons to Be Cheerful’s third value is product.  I want the product to be phenomenal.  I want my employees and customers to love the product and promote the product. So we have to make the product as good as it can be, and that means we’re not cutting corners.  Here the questions are “How can we make this product good?” and then “How can we make it better?”  I’m always looking at the product.  We create formulations for everything we do so there’s, the last thing is portion, but it also means consistency that the product needs to be consistent from one experience to the next.  Along with asking "How can we make the product better?" We also ask, "How can we make the experience consistent for the customer?"

We want the customer experience to be consistent so that if  he or she comes back and says, “I remember your ginger ice cream being good” and they order it a second time, I want it to be just be as good if not better.  You can’t please everybody, you know.  During the time when I was planning the business, we talked to people about favorite flavors.  One woman said to me, “Oh I love maple walnut!  It’s my favorite flavor but don’t put too many walnuts in there.”  Then I remember a week later talking to another customer, and asking “What’s your favorite flavor?”  and she said “Oh, I love maple walnut but I love lots of walnuts!” Ultimately, I have to trust my pallet first then incorporate customer feedback and create a balance to provide a high quality ice cream and flavor because each person has their own opinion of what makes a good ice cream.

Part of having a consistent experience is portion control which is the fourth value.  When I scoop a kiddy ice cream or when I make a frappe, it’s going to be the same as when one of our employees scoops a kiddy cone or makes a frappe. This is for inventory and profitability but it is also so the customer knows what to expect. The service size is generous but it is also consistent.

We formulate everything, both the back of the shop and the front of the shop.  However, if a customer wants to tweak it, the customer can tweak it to his/her desire.  Our kiddies are two scoops of ice cream and the customer can choose each of the two flavors.


QFL:  Reasons to be Cheerful has a very unique feel that also incorporates a sense of community and art work. Are their questions that you asked for creating a special physical environment or space?

Rubinstein:  Part of our mission is to create an environment where everyone is welcome.  That’s really important to me.  And my other passion is I love music and I love art.  I love performing arts. As a side project, I produce music concerts.  In creating Reasons To Be Cheerful, I wanted a place that was not just ice cream, but it was also a place for performing and visual arts. In this community, being out here in the suburbs, there aren’t many places that kids can congregate and feel truly welcome and feel it’s their place. 

I think that is quite true for lots of different people but kids in particular in this community. There’s no community center for the kids.  There’s no youth center so I wanted that for children of all ages, and I wanted to create that environment and ice cream is very much experiential.  So it’s more than just the product, it is about creating the experience.  The question I ask is, “How can I create a unique and positive experience?” So we do have live music here.  We have an open mike every Wednesday night.  We have a “cocoa house” which is an open mike for the kids. So I routinely ask “How do I create that experience and get people to feel that they have an ownership stake in my shop?”  And the kids and the community really do, whether it’s the artist whose art hangs on the wall.

I was looking for a space where I could, do it all.  When I found this building, I really fell in love with it.  It had character and reminded me very much of Cape Cod being an old Victorian.  It has this neat back room with barn board on the walls, with a recessed area which we can use for events like for the coffee house and parties.  It has a front porch which just seemed like a welcoming cool place to hangout.  It has the ramp which is handicapped accessible, but kids also love that ramp -running up and down.  So when it’s grooving, the space has a really cool energy to it.  That was part of the vision, too. I wanted to create a place for the community and to give something back to the community.  And we do that so I think one of the questions was and still is, How can I use this shop to make the world a better place or help the community?”

We’re giving the artist exposure.  They are very cool people and great artists. I’ve learned that I what to help people do what they love. I’m trying to phrase it as a question... I believe the question I ask myself is “How can I use this space to help other people fulfill their dreams?”. The next art show is provided by a woman that’s coming back into watercolors, and she is just so excited about this opportunity.  She’s excited about all aspects of it from creating the promotional material to bringing her friends and family into my shop to expose her art.  So it really is a great feeling to me.

QFL:  What are the questions that you would advise other people, who are entrepreneurs, to ask themselves when they are getting started with a new business venture?  What questions do entrepreneurs need to ask themselves to be successful in starting a specialty shop or cafe?

Rubinstein:  There are a lot of questions. I would suggest they ask themselves, specifically:

What’s my underlining motivation? 

Why do I want this business? 

What do I want to get out of this?

Do I need this business for income, self-actualization,  or another purposes? 

Can I afford to do this? Because if you’re undercapitalized, you’re going to fail.

So if you’re going to make that leap then ask “Do I know what I’m doing?”

My father would always tell me, “Don’t attempt something unless you know what you’re doing and certainly on the scale where you’re changing your life.”  Did I know exactly what I was doing getting into this?  No.  However, once I figured out what I wanted to do, I figured out what I needed to know by talking to people. So another question was “Who do I need to talk to?” And I talked to other ice cream makers and shop owners.  I talked to other food, people in the food business.  People shared their business plans with me.  People invited me into their shops, let me make ice cream side by side with them.  It’s that kind of industry.  It’s not the industry I came from, and it’s a very open in terms of sharing information.  So I asked "What do I need to know?" and "Who do I need to speak with to get that information?" I read books but it’s, you know, it’s often, going to the source and getting that information is so critical, especially talking to other people in this business.  And I talked to other ice cream makers and they said, "Look, these are the 10 things that you need to look out for when you’re going into this business", and they were right.  And they were things I never would have figured out unless I asked, “What do I need to know?”

I sometimes think to myself, “Well, it’s ice cream, how complicated can it be?”  But making ice cream does actually get complicated and it’s very involved. There are many different parts to the business. You have to know the production side of the business, the marketing side, the bookkeeping / finances, and the human resources.  It’s a small business.  You’re doing it all. You have to wear all those hats, and you’re not going to like all those hats.  So you need to find someone to help you do it. That’s another lesson and which has several key questions including: “Which hats do I want to wear?" and "What hats am I not willing to wear?”, “Can I find the help to do it and can I afford the help to do it?”  I have to build that additional help into my business model.  For example, I do not enjoy the bookkeeping as much as the other aspects of the business like creating new flavors.  I do it every day, but I need to bring a bookkeeper in here once a week to keep it right - I definitely need that bookkeeper.

I also don’t have the artistic ability to do my own artwork so I need a graphic designer to help me with my presentation and advertising.  Even if you have the ability to do it all on your own, as a business owner you’re not going to succeed if you try to do everything by yourself. We operate three shifts a day.  I can’t be here three shifts a day seven days a week, so some of the questions I ask myself are “Where am I going to find the help?”, “What type of help do I need?”, “What do I need to pay that help?” Given the commitment required, one of the most important questions that I would suggest people ask is “Will the business fit the life that you want? As the owner, the success of the business relies on you and it takes a 110% effort.


QFL: What questions do you think people should or could ask themselves to make the world a happier and healthier place?

Rubinstein: I think the fundamental question that I like to ask myself, and I think everybody could or should ask themselves everyday is "How can I make the world a better place?" I guess the other question is "Why are we here?". I think I’m here particularly to make the world a better place, and my way of doing that, at least in this community, is through the ice cream store.  I ask myself that question throughout my life, in how I try to interact with other people, how I like to interact with my family and wanting to do something meaningful.  This store is a little way of doing something meaningful. 

For more information, Wade Rubinstein can be contacted at:

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