by Sabrina Khaleque
Laura Mack, the owner of an independent ice cream parlor called lu•lu Ice Cream in Vergennes, Vermont, won a $200,000 Existing Dairy Processor Expansion Grant from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NEDBIC) in November.
What sets lu•lu apart from other ice cream brands is that they make their ice cream from scratch, starting with raw ingredients rather than using a pre-made base mix. This unique, homemade approach helps lu•lu Ice Cream produce distinctive flavors, like their Basil Ice Cream, which was highlighted on the Food Network’s “50 States, 50 Scoops” feature.
“We do make it all a hundred percent from scratch right there,” explained Mack. The store has a glass window showcasing the production process to customers. Visitors can observe the pasteurization, churning, and crafting of the end product, allowing customers to see the care and effort involved in making the ice cream.
Born and raised in Vermont by restaurateur parents, Mack grew up with knowledge of food but never envisioned herself owning a food business. lu•lu Ice Cream only came about when Mack’s sister decided to turn her ice-cream making hobby into an actual business. The sisters launched lu•lu in 2014, though Mack was still working in New York City at the time.
“I would fly home every weekend to Vermont, make ice cream with [my sister], and then fly back to work my job in the city,” Mack recalled.
This intense routine lasted almost a full year before Mack took over as sole owner, moving back to Vermont to run the company.
“Ice-cream sort of just fell into my lap, but it was the greatest epiphany to happen in my life,” said Mack.
In the decade since establishing lu•lu, Mack has grown the business by winning several grants and competitions.
After launching the goat milk gelato, Mack met Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Anson Tebbetts. He urged her to enter the 2023 Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition, administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA) with a grant from the NEDBIC.
Mack won $20,000 as a top 10 finalist in the competition, then secured an additional $55,000 as one of three grand prize winners.
“The people at Cornell have been phenomenal,” Mack said. “CREA has been enormously helpful with answering questions. And then, having the opportunity to highlight my business was really remarkable.”
A major accomplishment from Mack’s time in the competition was working with mentors to make her goat milk gelato lactose-free, a game-changing improvement to the product.
Later in 2023, Mack showcased lu•lu Ice Cream as an exhibitor at the Grow-NY Summit, a $3 million global business competition for top innovations in food, beverages, and agriculture.
“It was an amazing experience to be in a room with such intelligent people that are doing incredible things in agriculture,” Mack said. “[It was wonderful] to be able to have a conversation with someone that either understood that doing pasteurization is an extra step that makes [ice cream] really unique and wonderful, to suggestions on great connector pieces that might be helping us build our business.”
Mack plans to leverage the connections she made through Grow-NY, the Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition, and the NEDBIC to propel her company and support other local agricultural businesses in Vermont.
“We are buying all of our ingredients from local farm partners. So, we are able to take amazing things that are being created around us and [turn it into a sweet treat for everyone],” Mack said.
The new funds from the NEDBIC will also help Mack expand and upgrade equipment to take lu•lu Ice Cream to the next level.
“We currently are doing everything in 15-gallon batches,” Mack said. “I’m expending a lot of energy that could be saved with better equipment and better space.”
lu•lu was one of 35 businesses to win an Existing Dairy Processor Expansion Grant, with a total of $12.2 million awarded to dairy businesses across the region.