Ajoa Mintah sent out an interesting social media request last spring: bring me your ripe bananas and I’ll reward you with a sweet treat.
The overwhelming response to Mintah’s ask provided one of the main ingredients for her tasty concoction – banana toffee ice cream. In return for the bananas, people received a small ice cream cone from Four All Ice Cream, Mintah’s startup.
“It went over so well that we didn’t need to buy bananas,” she says. “I think we ended up having some left over when we were ready to move on to something else.”
The Waterloo Engineering alumnus is the primary developer of the multiple flavours of ice cream created at Four All Ice Cream since it opened its doors about 18 months ago. Both the company’s production facility and storefront known as the ”tasting room” are located at the back of the former Bonnie Stuart shoe factory in Kitchener, ON.
Founding and operating Four All Ice Cream is a far cry from the past two careers Mintah had since graduating from chemical engineering in 2001. After receiving her degree, she worked in the automotive sector designing car interiors for six years and as a consultant for nine years.
Fulfilling a creative need and scooping up sweet success
A few years into her consulting position, Mintah’s boss asked her what she saw herself doing in five years.
“The response I gave him was that I wasn’t going to be working for him, which is probably something you shouldn’t say,” she says. “I was looking for something creative. While at the time I was doing something interesting, it wasn’t fulfilling the creative need in me.”
Mintah knew she wanted to work in the food sector, but wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do.
“I thought wow, it would be really cool if I could make something amazing,” she says. “I looked around this community to see what exists, what doesn’t exist and what I liked.”
She came up with the idea of making ice cream, which would allow her to use her engineering background in an imaginative way.
Mintah set out to source ingredients that are natural and local. High on her priority list was that people with milk sensitivities, including Mintah and her oldest daughter, could enjoy Four All Ice Cream’s products.
She connected with Jim Eby of Eby Manor farm, just north of Waterloo, where Guernsey cows are raised. Eby explained to Mintah that people tolerate the milk protein from Guernsey cows much better than the protein in the milk of other breeds, including Holsteins.
“He gave us a few bottles of milk to try,” she says. “I felt wonderful and so did my daughter. It was a clear choice to use that milk.”
The fours in Four All
Mintah’s company has four standard varieties dubbed the core four – vanilla bean, chocolate milk, mad cat espresso (named after a Cambridge business that supplies the coffee beans) and salted caramel. There are also an additional four flavours of the month that have ranged from Lavender Honey to Caramel Popcorn. The company also produces a vegan ice cream.
Mintah dreams up a lot of the flavours, but also asks for suggestions from her customers and others. Recently, she ran a social media campaign requesting ideas for four different Halloween concoctions. She gave herself a mere two days to develop the flavours.
“I work well under pressure,” she says.
This past summer, Mintah opened up a second retail location in the Graffiti Market in Kitchener’s Catalyst 137 tech complex. Her ice cream is also available at a number of specialty stores, movie theatres and restaurants in Waterloo region and area. It’s also been scooped by Mintah and her employees at a number of local events and will be included as part of the menu for next June’s Waterloo Engineering reunion.
Mintah says her engineering background comes in handy in all aspects of her career.
“Problem solving was a big part of what I learned in engineering,” she says. “I feel that I apply it every single day in terms of how I approach issues.”
Mintah is currently looking for a larger home for the company’s production facility. At just 500-square feet, with 100-square feet of that devoted to the storefront, Mintah says her current location is the smallest licensed dairy plant in Ontario.
“I feel that it’s time to grow, but we can’t grow in the space we’re in now,” she says.
Looking back, Mintah says her obsession with ice cream began during a heatwave in August 2003 when she was living in Toronto. Fully intending to buy a fan on a shopping trip, she came home with an ice cream machine.
“When it came to choosing between a fan and an ice cream maker to stay cool, the ice cream maker was the obvious choice,” she says laughing.