A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

At 17, she’s on her way to realizing a little girl’s dream — owning an ice cream business, going to UK

By David Kubota
NKyTribune reporter

As a little girl, Taylor Cook, 17, of Frankfort, had always dreamed of one day owning her own ice cream business, and she also always dreamed of going to the University of Kentucky.

When she reached high school, as a member of the Future Farmers of America, she was required to complete a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) throughout her high school experience. Seeing an opportunity, Cook seized it and was going to both complete her SAE and achieve her dream of operating her own ice cream business.

Taylor Cook and her ice cream truck. (Photos provided)

She was also following in her father’s footsteps. He is the owner of his own pallet company. While knowledgeable and willing to offer his advice, Cook’s father largely placed the responsibility of the business on her shoulders.

Cook began to seek out those who were knowledgeable in the industry.

“I have to give a lot of credit to the people at Chancey’s Farm they gave me tips in the beginning and helped me out a lot,” Cook said.

In June 2016, Cook opened her very own ice cream trailer at the Summer Concert Series in downtown Frankfort. She was naturally nervous as it was a big make-or-break moment for her business.

“I was nervous that we wouldn’t go through all the ice cream, but I was busy the entire night,” Cook said. “We were there from 6-11 and the only time I got a break was around 10:30.”

After her first major breakthrough, Cook began selling her home-made ice cream to her local community in Frankfort and Central Kentucky. She sells her ice cream from a food truck and frequents farmer’s markets, church events, concerts, and fundraisers. Some local restaurants have also picked up her product.

Dipping ice cream

Taylor Belle’s Ice Cream, named after Taylor and her sister Annabelle, also became Kentucky Proud certified. Being recognized as Kentucky Proud would open an opportunity for the ice cream to reach major retailers.

Recently, the University of Kentucky has been attempting to source their food from local organizations, businesses, and farms. Carolyn Gahn, the Sustainability Manager for UK Dining, puts the university on track to locally source $1.8 million worth of food this year.

In the fall of 2017, Cook reached out to Gahn about her ice cream.

“I originally had no idea she was only 17, so that was kind of a shock, but she definitely knew what she was doing,” Gahn said.

Cook brought Gahn samples to try when they first met, Gahn loved the ice cream and Taylor Belle’s ice cream being a local product made it an obvious choice for UK. Gahn also thinks that Cook’s story may contribute to sales.

“I think the local story resonates with students,” Gahn said. “I think it’s a great success story for other students to hear.”

UK began selling Taylor Belle ice cream during the spring semester of 2018 in their dining facility, Champion’s Kitchen, located in the new student center. The University uses around 125 gallons of Cook’s ice cream per month and serves nine of her 14 flavors.

“Every week a truck comes and picks up the ice cream,” Cook said. “In January it was about five tubs a week but now it’s about 30 tubs.”

Gahn also hopes for Cook’s ice cream to expand beyond Champion’s Kitchen in the near future.

“We also want to start selling her ice cream at special events, especially during the summer,” Gahn said.

Making ice cream

Taylor Belle’s Ice Cream has seen quite a success at UK and while they haven’t finalized the menus for this coming fall semester, the ice cream will be included.

Cook is now finishing up her junior year of high school and juggles time between going to school and running her business. In a co-op program, Cook attends class until twelve Monday-Friday and then runs her business. She says that being a young entrepreneur doesn’t interfere with her social life.

“Since I’m the owner I’m able to budget my time, I’m able to hang out with my friends and go to my sister’s softball games,” Cook said.

Taylor’s younger sister, Annabelle, frequently helps out with the business and works every event alongside Taylor. When Cook begins to attend college she is hopeful that her sister will be able to take over more responsibility for the business. Taylor still plans to own it herself.

When reflecting on her experience as a young entrepreneur, Cook says its taught her valuable lessons about being responsible.

“There are things you wouldn’t think about, like for any food business, sanitation is a huge deal and that’s just a part of the business I’ve had to learn,” Cook said.

Cook plans to go to BCTC for two years, due to its affordability and location. She would be able to split time between college and continuing to operate her business.

After BCTC, Cook plans to attend the University of Kentucky, in no small part due to the success of Taylor Belle’s Ice Cream.

David Kubota is an intern at NKyTribune and a student at the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media. Contact him at david@nkytrib.com

Ice cream anyone?

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