This post is also available in: German
As cool as ice: The success story behind the ice cream shop Eisperle
„I’m sorry, we’re not open yet “, Mariane Leyacker-Schatzl apologizes as yet another potential customer opens the door to the ice cream parlour Eisperle. It’s early in the morning but the people in Graz seem to have an insatiable appetite for one of her ice creams; even for breakfast. On second thought, does that really come as a surprise? After all, freezing minus 16 degrees due to an unexpected drop in temperatures were not enough to stop her regulars from enjoying their first ice cream at her reopening in March, wrapped in thick coats and warm scarfs.
The new ice age
There probably isn’t a single child in the world that doesn’t love ice cream. In Mariane’s case, however, this love resembled more of a– in her own words – “full blown obsession”: From a young age, she spent her entire pocket money on scoops of the delicious treat, preferably on her all-time favourite hazelnut. Given the choice of a super power, she would have opted for the ability to endlessly multiply her ice cream to satisfy her cravings. “Had my mother told me back then that one day I would make my own ice cream, I would have believed her on the spot”, she laughs at the memory.
After a change of career, Mariane has fulfilled her childhood dream much to the joy of her customers in Graz. In order to learn her craft from scratch, she attended a professional ice cream school in Germany. There, she mastered the art of classic gelato, a skill which is obviously paying off now: Within a year of the opening, she has been honoured as Entrepreneur of the Year, currently manages over 14 employees and is considering expanding her start-up by opening a second shop. The willingness of her customers to wait up to 40 minutes for an ice cream as well as the long queues right across the street underline the mind-blowing demand. However, this seemingly effortless success is just the tip of the iceberg. There is more to the Eisperle’s skyrocketing triumph than meets the eye.
Breaking the ice
„This is delicious, but I want more. More nuts, more chocolate, more strawberries”, Mariane realizes during her training at the gelato school. She doesn’t let her teachers’ warning about using a high amount of product discourage her. “I’m convinced the customers are willing to pay more if they can really taste a difference”, she stands firm.
So, after graduating from school and equipped with the basic skillset, Mariane starts developing her own recipes. Mother of two by day, she retreats to her garage to experiment at night after taking her children to bed. Over the course of two years, this is where she has been transforming her ideas creatively, hugged by a warm coat to combat the cold.
“My inner calling pushes me and gives me a lot of satisfaction. Sometimes, I lie awake at night and think about all kinds of combinations or recipes”, she describes her unfailing motivation.
From the very beginning, her social circle has been part of the project: “I gave my neighbours, friends and family a questionnaire to evaluate the ice cream.” Feedback is an important source of inspiration for her: “I get a lot of ideas from customers. Also, I appreciate the suggestions of the market-women at Lend- and Kaiser-Josef-Platz. Colours play a central role too, just like the balance between acidity and sweetness”, she explains.
Despite unexpected obstacles like the seemingly endless search for the perfect location, Mariane has not let doubts stop her in her path. “I honestly never felt scared. Quite the contrary, I was always convinced that I was doing the right thing. Fear can paralyze you, it blocks your thoughts. On the other hand, the feeling of freedom motivates and energizes you. Of course, the pressure during the renovation was extreme, since I doubted whether it would work out as I had envisioned. I wasn’t sure whether clients would truly appreciate the quality or rather opt for cheaper alternatives. I also felt under pressure to show the people who had helped me the final result. But the safe feeling always won.” After four long years of preparation and experimenting, Mariane was finally able to make her dream come true by opening Eisperle in 2017.
Mother of pearl
Loosely translated as „pearl of ice (cream)“ in German, the name of the store alludes to its concept: “A pearl is the most precious part of a shell. When I’m making my ice cream, I challenge myself to extract the best, the most valuable element of my products. Along the same line, the corporate design also fully concentrates on what is essential: the product.”
Hence, it’s no wonder Mariane spends a considerable amount of her time sourcing the raw material for the ice cream on display in her 14 pozzetti. Seasonal, perfectly ripened fruit from the organic farm Fattinger, the best on offer at the local markets as well as freshly ground and roasted coffee from neighbouring cafés alternate turns in gracing the ice machine with locally distilled gin or Fevertree tonic water. Whenever possible, Mariane prioritizes home-made ingredients: in a time-consuming process, citric fruits are pressed by hand, she bakes vegan cakes and cookies, stirs up fruit coulis and makes the salty caramel sauce herself, as a scar on her arm bears witness.
Does that sound too sweet to you? No need to worry, these treats are absolutely guilt-free. Since Viennese-born Mariane pays a lot of attention to a healthy diet, she substitutes the addition of regular sugar by using agave syrup, coconut sugar or simply the natural sweetness of ripe fruit. Surely, her former teachers would gasp at the 80 percent fruit in her sorbets!
The final product absolutely justifies the incredible effort. How come? Well, the ice cream is highly aromatic! Yes, despite the fact that cold usually tunes down aromas, Mariane’s ice cream actually gives off an irresistible scent. Hence it is not by mere chance that pedestrians follow their noses right off the street and into her ice cream parlour. Often, her neighbours are lured in by the symphony of enticing scents. Did Mariane ever anticipate becoming the local ice cream dealer? “Most of our neighbours are regulars. Often, they knock on the window of the kitchen in the back, while they are on a short break and feel like an ice cream”, the successful entrepreneur beams with joy.
Nevertheless, the triumph of Mariane’s project was not a given. After all, she only sells purely vegan ice cream at Eisperle. “How can I make something delicious without an animal having to suffer, while still creating a product of outstanding quality?”, was the thought that drove her to open her own business. Mariane adopted the vegan lifestyle a long time ago and was avidly engaged in protecting animal rights in her youth.
“At Eisperle we don’t merely focus on being vegan. Veganism is certainly a great thing, but our main aim is to achieve high quality.” For example, only carefully selected Piemont hazelnuts make it into her ice cream concoctions. But Mariane is also willing to invest in other resources: the cups are recyclable, the spoons made from corn starch, and she purchases many products packaging-free.
She doesn’t shout her philosophy from the rooftops, however. The flavour of her products speaks for itself and has won her a huge, predominantly non-vegan fan base. Her claim is relatable: “I’d never give my children an ice cream if I weren’t convinced or didn’t know the ingredients. Since this is important to me, I also pay more attention to the raw materials”, the mother of two explains. And what do her daughters have to say? There is a hint of pride in her voice, as she answers: “At school, they say: ‘My mum makes the best ice cream!’”
It would seem that the different story lines in Mariane’s life come together quite naturally in Eisperle and bear fruit there. She radiates a tangible aura of peace, her eyes shining gently as she recounts her beginning. Has she found her place at Eisperle? “Yes, I belong here, and I love it! Of course, it is hard work but when I go home, I don’t have the impression that I’m working. Instead, I feel I am creating something. When I implement an idea, whether it is a new ice cream flavour or something else, I have the feeling that I am creating my own path. That is the reason why I started my business: To be able to do things the way I envision them.”
Mariane is the living proof for how someone can make their dreams come true thanks to an unfailing trust in themselves. As was the case for her, it might take more patience than what one bargained for in the beginning, it might require a deep and unconditional trust in one’s personal vision. One must not be afraid to invest a lot of work as well as time and unfailing passion into the project. These are the key ingredients for the recipe for success, turning an unassuming grain of sand into a beautiful pearl.