BIRMINGHAM – Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara began Big Spoon Creamery in 2015 with an ice cream cart. “It was essentially a glorified lemonade stand in our driveway,” said Ryan. Since April of this year, they have operated their own store in the MAKEbhm building in the Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham.
Their rapid expansion from humble beginnings earned the O’Haras and Big Spoon Creamery the title of Alabama’s 2017 Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year. The Alabama Retail Association honored the couple and their business today at the 2017 Retail Day Luncheon in Birmingham, which is held in cooperation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business.
The Retailer of the Year judges praised the O’Haras for their cart-to-truck-to-brick-and-mortar expansion.
“In 2010, we crossed paths working at a restaurant in town called Bottega,” Ryan said, explaining how the couple met. “She was a pastry chef, and I was more on the savory side.” By 2014, they were married. “All that while, we were dreaming of an ice cream shop,” he said.
After the success of their driveway and cart sales, by spring of 2016, they launched an ice cream truck, which they bought with cash. The truck “really allowed us to increase our business in terms of volume,” said Ryan.
Now, “there are regularly lines out the door and across the front of the building, and at any given time of day, but particularly in the evenings there are dozens of people in the courtyard eating Sammies and playing corn hole,” Bruce Lanier, executive director of MAKEbhm LLC, wrote in a recommendation for his tenants.
Laura Boyles with the Birmingham Business Alliance, which nominated the O’Haras for the award, said, “They have just grown so fast. We love how they have taken a product that has been around forever, but they’ve completely made it their own.”
Jim Watkins of Steel City Pops, the 2015 Emerging Retailer of the Year, wrote in a letter of recommendation for the O’Haras, “It has been such a joy watching their business grow from a small vending cart to a large food truck and now to their first brick-and-mortar store. I love that they work hard every day to source the finest ingredients and create the finest products.”
Pardis and Frank Stitt of the Highlands Bar and Grill also wrote in support of their former employees, who worked not only at Bottega but also at Highlands and Chez Fonfon. “Geri-Martha and Ryan O’Hara’s entrepreneurial spirit and their commitment to quality and honor drive them to excel, which is apparent in the success of Big Spoon Creamery,” the Stitts said.
Alabama’s Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year Award is named in honor of the late Mickey Gee, a former Alabama Retail vice chairman and UAB professor. Gee, who worked in retail all his life as owner of The Pants Store, played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in the development of the Retailer of the Year awards. The Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year Award goes to an innovative and effective Alabama retailer who has been in business for at least two years, but less than five years. According to the award criteria, the Gee award is only presented in years when the judges determine a candidate is worthy of the Gee name.
“Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara are retailers of the year EVERY year to the Big Spoon Creamery customers, their 28 employees and the entire Birmingham community,” said Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown.
Big Spoon Creamery was one of 14 Retailers of the Year honored at today’s luncheon. This year’s winners came from a pool of more than 90 nominees. The Alabama Retailer of the Year awards, started in 1999, honor retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities.
The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, our 4,200 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living. Since 1943, we’ve worked to promote what’s best for the retail industry in Alabama. Whether voicing the retail view when public policy is made, educating members about issues that impact them, negotiating rates for benefits and services or communicating the retail story, the Alabama Retail Association and its members are better together.