Coffee With Impact: Amy’s Ice Creams founder embraces 'small business' title

Amy Simmons, founder and president of Amyu2019s Ice Creams, speaks with Community Impact Newspaper CEO John Garrett in late September about how to succeed as a small business as part of the companyu2019s ongoing u201cCoffee With Impactu201d series.

Amy Simmons, founder and president of Amyu2019s Ice Creams, speaks with Community Impact Newspaper CEO John Garrett in late September about how to succeed as a small business as part of the companyu2019s ongoing u201cCoffee With Impactu201d series.

Want to try Amy’s Ice Creams? You’ll have to go to one of 15 locations in three cities—even if you’re a family friend of Amy Simmons, who founded the Austin-based ice cream shop in 1984.

“My kids would always bring their friends over, and the first thing their friends do is open the freezer door, and there’s nothing in there—they’re sort of disappointed,” Simmons told Community Impact Newspaper in late September. “We don’t have it in our house; it’s something we go out and experience and really value.”

Simmons, who started Amy’s Ice Creams at age 23, credits her business naivety for turning the small business into a success story.

“I still thought money was kind of evil; it was greedy, and that was not my purpose. My purpose was to do a better job—care for the people, care for the community,” she said. “So that was a great advantage to me because you could open your mind to, ‘How do you build this?’ … and it made us very unique.”

As increased competition continually challenges Austin-area small businesses, Simmons said it is important that local entrepreneurs differentiate their efforts.

“We have to understand if we do something different, we’re going to make that experience extremely satisfying,” Simmons said. “It might not work for every industry, but for the ice cream business, we’re going to thrive.”

Get to know Amy of Amy’s Ice Creams

A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan,  Amy originally wanted to go into medicine. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology at Tufts University in Boston.

While in school and after, she worked at Steve's Ice Cream, launching new stores in Manhattan and Coconut Grove, FL. When Steve's Ice Cream was sold to a publicly traded real estate company, Amy decided to start her own company where she could focus on the quality, community, and customer service values that first lured her into the ice cream business.

Why did you start Amy’s Ice Creams?
I was only 23, and really I was pushed by momentum. Entrepreneurship is where there’s a need that people have in the community, and you’re the one to fill it—and you can do it well.

Did you always plan to name Amy’s Ice Creams after yourself?
I didn’t want to name it Amy’s—it was the last thing. … Naming it Amy’s was just the complete opposite of what I believe in.

How do you define business goals?
Money is important to all of us, but what’s more important is kind of the game—winning feels good, even the small ones.

3 small-business tips for aspiring entrepreneurs
Amy Simmons opened her own business more than 33 years ago, expanding eventually to also establish burger concept Phil’s Icehouse and local business alliance Choose Austin First, among other efforts. She offers this advice to entrepreneurs:

Define success
“I think we react to society’s expectations of us that we don’t even question. … Your definition of success becomes grow your sales, grow your units, and then I’ll be really proud when my friends ask—but that might not be the best thing for your organization to do.”

Slow before you grow your business
“First, make sure you’re optimizing your single locations. … It’s really difficult to manage multiple locations. … If you can think about how you might double your sales in the unit you have now, that’s the first thing to do.”

Maximize resources once you do grow bigger
“Business is so risky—95 percent of new small businesses fail—so you think about it as legs to stand on. … If you have two legs to stand on, you’re a lot more likely to keep standing when you get one knocked out, so that’s a big reason for little growth.”

Amy’s Ice Creams locations throughout Austin
Established in 1984, Amy's handcrafts artisan ice creams, dairy-free fruit ices and frozen yogurt. The growing business has more than 350 flavors in rotation and now has shops in Houston and San Antonio.

The 12 Austin Amy's locations span from 6th Street to South Lamar to Anderson Mill.

By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.


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