Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
Just as many businesses across Kansas City were shuttering in mid-March, an iconic St. Joseph landmark was reopening — and met with lines of customers consistently 30 cars long, its new owner said.
“I had a lot of people question us at the time, but I was confident we would be busy,” said Austin Evans, co-owner of Kris And Kate’s Ice Cream, noting he hoped the recently revived business could be an “oasis in the storm” of COVID-19 shutdowns.
“I thought that everybody would be looking for a reason to get out of the house. People get stir crazy and people still want a delicious, frozen treat and they want to get out with their family if they can,” he said.
“It was well-received,” Evans added, laughing.
The retro stylings and small-town-wonder aesthetic of the business — a 20-year-old mainstay in the community that Evans bought with plans to eventually soft serve a reboot to the classic menu — make it a destination for many customers coming from out of town as well, though St. Joseph locals make up a fair share of the sales, he said.
Taking over Kris And Kate’s — known for its seemingly endless dessert combinations and Disney-style pineapple Dole Whip — was a no-brainer for Evans, who also owns the Fit Republic St. Joseph franchise and is co-founder of the meal-prep startup Lean Kitchen, he said. The serial entrepreneur admitted the venture is more rooted in childhood significance than the health and fitness emphasis that has guided his career so far.
“I went there as a kid and I loved it. I mean, what kid doesn’t like the big pink cone [next to the] highway?” said Evans. “I always thought it was a fun business and it’s a really unique business in that — it doesn’t matter if you’re 2 years old or 80 years old, everyone recognizes that pink cone — which is really fun.”
Click here to learn more about Kris And Kate’s Ice Cream and view their menu.
“It’s very different from my other businesses, which are health-based and [about] nutrition and fitness, but it’s a business where we have an opportunity to make people happy. I’ve always wanted it,” he added.
“Nobody’s going to [eat] perfect 100 percent of the time and everyone’s going to want to treat themselves every once in a while,” Evans said. “If I can supply a place with a cool environment and where people travel from sometimes two or three hours away to see it, and it’s fun business — then I want to be part of that. There’s going to be ice cream places either way.”
With full intention to continue exploring different ventures in the next few years, Evans himself is fueled by creating catalysts for growth, he added.
“I love being the driver behind something and seeing it flourish and seeing it grow — testing and trying different things,” Evans said. “I love that in business. Nothing is the same every day and that there’s no ceiling on what you can accomplish. There’s so many aspects to business-making that I wouldn’t change for any career.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.