By Fleming Smith
Photos courtesy of Fleming Smith (C’19).
For Lisa and Avery Kelleher, opening Sweet Ellie’s Ice Cream and Treats is a dream come true. After emptying their fiftieth tub of ice cream last week in less than two months of being open, the Kelleher family can finally call that dream a reality.
Sweet Ellie’s opened its doors in Cowan, just down the street from Fiesta Grill, on December 1. Besides ice cream, coffee, and sweet treats, the shop offers a daily soup and the occasional sandwich.
After living in Sewanee for more than four years, Lisa and Avery Kelleher decided to add to their list of businesses, including All Blown Up party rental, by starting Sweet Ellie’s, named for their 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth.
“It’s been a dream of mine for about 10 years, but we decided in the summer, ‘Okay, let’s do this,’” Lisa Kelleher explained. “We have started our own businesses, and we just love starting new things. And ice cream makes everybody happy. It makes the world right again.”
The couple decided on Cowan for the shop’s location, as Lisa Kelleher calls it “the cutest little town ever.” To create that welcoming, small-town feel, the inside of Sweet Ellie’s combines pink and green pastels with chalkboard and wood, and the smell of ice cream and baked goods feels like a flashback to a 1950s ice cream parlor or grabbing a cone at the beach.
Beyond 12 flavors of ice cream and a variety of sweet treats, the shop now offers daily soups and often sandwiches. After visitors kept asking the Kellehers about a lunch menu, they decided to expand their options.
Sweet Ellie’s will see some renovations in the coming month to fulfill that expansion. The Kellehers plan to cut a window out of their chalkboard wall to install a sandwich shop, which will include a few soups and salads as well.
The Kellehers want to include “a little bit for everybody,” Lisa Kelleher said. In the future, she hopes to add vegan and gluten-free options, as well as juicing.
From talking with the Kellehers, it’s clear that having something for everyone, along with introducing their customers to something new, gives them the most joy. According to Lisa Kelleher, her favorite part of the job is meeting people.
“We have such good conversations with people. You hate for them to leave because it’s just like, ‘No, we still need to talk!’” she said. “It’s the people, it really is. That’s what makes this whole thing joyous.”
Even during the busy lunch hour, the couple still starts a conversation with every customer, inviting them to try something fresh from the oven.
Her husband Avery is always behind the counter, whipping up a new treat, like a crustless apple pie, or putting together a sandwich or soup. The Kellehers announce their daily offerings on their vibrant Facebook page, already followed by more than 1,100 people.
“If you have a vision in your heard of what you want to put together, we will do that for you,” Lisa Kelleher said, whether it comes to ice cream or anything else on the menu. With a laugh, she added, “It’s not Burger King, but you can have it your way!”
She recommends banana splits, her favorite, and says they can make any ice cream into a milkshake. The couple makes their own waffle cones in-house, along with all their other treats.
By spring, they hope to add four more flavors of ice cream to their menu. Right now, their most popular flavor is “Jacked Up Tennessee Toffee,” which they sell out of regularly.
The Kellehers may also transition into opening earlier and adding a barista who can do special coffee orders. They sell Black Rifle Coffee Company products. Offerings include flavors like “silencer smooth” and “gunship,” and the Kellehers say the coffee is just as popular as the ice cream in their store.
Black Rifle Coffee Company, founded and operated by veterans, donates 10 percent of its profit to veterans and currently operates a roasting facility in Manchester.
“This is my little way of giving back,” Avery Kelleher explained.
With coffee, ice cream, sweet treats, and now sandwiches and soups, the Kellehers have been kept busy by Sweet Ellie’s, and they say the shop’s success “blew away” their expectations.
“I have to say I’m not really honestly surprised. We did have people say, ‘Oh, it’s Cowan, you’re not going to succeed, you’re not going to get the business.’ And I thought, ‘Yes, I am. I will get the business.’ If you stay open, you’ll get the business,” Lisa Kelleher said.
“And when people come in, you make them feel welcome and at home, they’re going to keep coming back. It’s a sense of community, a sense of family,” she explained.
The couple has big plans for their small-town store. Pointing up at their sign, a wood representation of Tennessee with a star marking their current location, Avery Kelleher says that he hopes to add more stars in the future. Already, he’s working on a way to deliver food past Cowan.
At heart, Sweet Ellie’s is a family business, a family dream. Lisa and Avery Kelleher have included their five children in their work to show them that no matter their goal, it’s not out of their reach.
“Whatever idea you have, just go with it. Run with it. Don’t let anybody talk you out of it,” Lisa Kelleher said, sitting in the middle of her own dream. “Be fierce about it, be tenacious for it. It will all come to pass if it’s really what you want.”
Sweet Ellie’s Ice Cream and Treats: 112 Tennessee Avenue S, Cowan. 11-8 Monday-Saturday, 1-6 Sunday. 931-313-5597.