Maraline “Mimi” Olson opened Screamin’ Mimi’s ice cream shop in Sebastopol in 1995 on Sebastopol Avenue. at the juncture of Highway 116 from Petaluma and Bodega Highway from Santa Rosa. “I did everything myself, painted the walls, chairs and tables,” Olson said.
“People would stop to tell me what a bad location it was. We would joke about it,” she said.
But she held to her long-term branding vision, and the location turned out to be brilliant, visible at one of the town’s busiest intersections where hundreds of drivers see her sign.
“At that point this was a dead corner. But as far as ice cream goes, you want more exposure. You want people to see it. People will drive to get ice cream,” she said. “I didn’t have to be on Main Street.”
She wrote a business plan before opening the shop.
“My estimates were within $500 of what I thought I was going to do” in the first year, she said.“It has grown a lot. There was never a time when we were down.”
The small corner shop pulls in revenue exceeding $1 million a year, she said, with 28 employees, mostly part-time, open about 12 hours every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Screamin’ Mimi’s rotates through nearly 200 recipes to arrive at a daily selection of 16 flavors of ice cream and four sorbets. “The front right corner (of the freezer) is always going to be a mint flavor” out of about 10 minty options, Olson said.
Five flavors never change: vanilla, Deep-dark Secret (chocolate), Galaxy (chocolate chip), strawberry (local berries) and Mimi’s Mud, the most popular flavor with coffee, chocolate chips, cookies and fudge. That flavor accounts for nearly a third of the shop’s overall sales. “Besides our location, it’s the reason we’re still open after 24 years,” she said. “That’s our signature flavor.”
She developed Mud at her house before opening the store. “We have changed nothing,” she said. “That’s my breakfast ice cream,” she said, in lieu of morning coffee. “One little scoop, real caffeine, real coffee. People who eat ice cream for breakfast are more mentally alert,” she said, citing a study in Japan. Olson draws on local ingredients. “We take what’s available, what’s fresh,” she said, particularly fruit in season. “I make what I feel like making.”
Using a coconut base, she is developing new sorbet flavors, such as orange blended with coconut, “a creamy orange sorbet,” she said. With ice cream, she recently developed a double-burnt caramel. Last year she made Pretzella — chocolate-covered pretzels in a caramel-chocolate-chip ice cream.
“We put way more vanilla than anybody in their right mind,” she said, chuckling, “especially when vanilla is $700 a gallon. Our chocolate is much darker than you’ll find anywhere else. It needs as much chocolate as possible. I am a chocolate lover.”
One flavor she calls White Tiger, a Grand Marnier ice cream with candied orange rinds and fudge. “We put a sign up. Usually we have to take the sign down the same day,” she said. “It sells fast, crazy.” Scarcity of some flavors whets demand.
Sugar drops the freezing temperature of ice cream, and Olson leans toward lower sugar content. “You add a lot of chocolate and a lot of sugar, you are going to make a milkshake” that won’t freeze hard, she said.