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Monday, May 17, 2021

Northern Kentucky Bounces Back to Life: The Parlor (Sponsored by meetNKY)

How Some Businesses Survived the Pandemic and What They Learned

Cake Batter Edible Cookie Dough. Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.  

by Robin Gee
Photos by Phil Armstrong

Parlor Ice Cream and Cookie Dough | 1013 South Fort Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas | Sunday - Thursday 12:30 pm - 8 pm; Fridays and Saturdays 12:30 pm - 9pm | Carry-out - call (859) 441-0924

Welcome to another installment of "Northern Kentucky Bounces Back to Life." In this series, sponsored by meetNKY, we sit down with local business owners to ask them about the past year and the year ahead.

The owners of Parlor Ice Cream and Cookie Dough opened not one, but two locations in the past year. The first, located in Ludlow, Kentucky, opened its doors on November 3, 2020, and the second, in Fort Thomas, opened this year on March 19.

Owner Joshua Bolin had experience selling cold treats through his fleet of Kona Ice trucks and with the Parlor franchise as well, but his partner Keith Hazelwood was coming into the business new. In fact, said Hazelwood, "It might be that if it weren’t for the Covid pandemic, I might not have even gotten into this business at all."

Owner Keith Hazelwood. Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

A longtime Fort Thomas resident, Hazelwood had recently moved back to his hometown in Ludlow. Bolin and another partner, Adam Sommers, had been planning to open a Parlor location in Ludlow but had put their plans on hold when the pandemic hit. Hazelwood decided to meet with the pair and encourage them to move ahead with their plans. In fact, he ended up becoming a partner in the project.

Hazelwood had been concentrating on the Ludlow business, but said he kept thinking about Fort Thomas. He had the idea that maybe the Parlor owners might do a collaboration with Jason Williams, owner of Fort Thomas Ice Cream. He set up a meeting between Williams and his Parlor partners, and in the end, they bought the Fort Thomas business from Williams with the agreement that he’d stay on board doing what he does best, handcrafting ice cream.  

Handcrafted ice cream. Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

A unique combination for Fort Thomas

The Parlor franchise includes locations in Cincinnati — Mt. Washington, Milford and Pendleton. The Ludlow location is their first in Northern Kentucky. The franchise is known especially for its edible cookie dough and soft serve ice cream treats. The Fort Thomas location offers these same treats — but with the bonus of handmade, hard packed ice cream that has been the signature of the Williams’ Fort Thomas ice cream business.

The edible cookie dough puts the Parlor on a level "above and beyond" that of a traditional ice cream parlor, said Hazelwood. "I don’t think you can find that at any other establishment to this date, to my knowledge. It’s our niche. Right now we offer four main flavors — chocolate chip, sugar cookie with sprinkles, cake batter and brownie batter cookie dough. And, then we have a flavor of the month. In May, it’s peanut butter."

The Parlor. Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

Perhaps the most popular option for the cookie dough is what the Parlor calls the "side by side," soft serve ice cream paired with a cookie dough of choice, Hazelton said.

"The other thing we offer is our espresso drinks like java whips...That’s typically vanilla, but sometimes the chocolate, soft serve with one or two shots of espresso depending on how you want it. We also offer iced coffee floats."  

Another popular item is the "affogato." "An affogato is a combination of espresso and ice cream in a cup. Sometimes people will add a scoop of cookie dough as well," he explained. 

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

“We also work with Jason for his handcrafted ice creams. We carry about a dozen of his flavors... as far as knowing what flavors to make and when to make them, what sells the best during certain times of the year, we let him take that over since he’s pretty much familiar with it. We concentrate on making the cookie dough and making sure we have the inventory to supply toppings and syrups and so forth,” Hazelwood said.

He added that since the store is so new and even the Ludlow location is only six months old, it’s hard to determine how things will go – but he has many ideas of collaborations and new offerings.

On Easter week, for example, a collaboration with Nick Papas of Papas Candies resulted in an opera cream swirl flavored ice cream. He is hoping to do more and is hoping to explore ideas for the off season (fall and winter). Right now, he said, both locations are gearing up for what promises to be a very busy summer.

Takeout treats kept business going

Hazelwood would not say that his product was pandemic-proof, but because the Parlor is mostly a takeout business, he said he felt they were not as impacted as they might have been in another type of food establishment.

"I would need a year under my belt to be able to compare non-Covid versus Covid sales to see if there was any ramification...Our business opened in November in Ludlow, a place that was very welcoming. I felt we got a lot of walk-in foot traffic. People didn’t mind ordering and leaving with their order. So, it’s hard to say...It’s hard to pinpoint how we were affected in a direct sense. Obviously, there were people who never came in, who were not going anywhere because of Covid," he said.

The company did add delivery by Grub Hub and Door Dash, and Hazelwood said he thought that might have addressed any gaps they may have had in sales.

Planning for a big summer

Hazelwood said he is excited for the summer. "I have a feeling we are going to have a great summer above and beyond what a typical summer might be, but, then again, this is all new to me, this is my first summer in this type of business."

Despite opening in the off season and during a pandemic, Hazelwood said the Ludlow location did better than they expected. April and May this year have been colder than usual, but they’ve already seen business pick up.

"We’re hoping by Memorial Day we’ll really be ramping up," he said. "Our concern is ensuring we meet the demand. I am pretty sure that we will have a higher than normal demand this summer because everyone just wants to get out and get back to some normalcy."  

Looking ahead, he said he wants to figure out ways to expand the menu in the fall and winter. The owners are exploring new ideas, including adding more coffee drinks and adjusting hours.

Both locations are open from 12:30 to 8 p.m. on weeknights and until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. About 15 or 16 people work at the Parlor, mostly part time for the busy summer months, and many rotate between the two locations. A great opportunity for high school and college students looking for summer jobs, staff needs cut way down during the colder months.

Hazelwood is bracing for his first summer in Fort Thomas. He has ideas already for the fall, for expansion and additions to the product line. But first, he said, summer business is about to hit. "I think it’s really going to take off!"

Photos: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

The Parlor is located at 1013 S. Fort Thomas Ave. Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

The Parlor is sandwiched by Midway Cafe and Grassroots & Vine. Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters. 

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

Photo: Phil Armstrong. Fort Thomas Matters.

RELATED: "The Parlor" Ice Cream and Cookie Dough Shop to Open Friday, March 19 

About meetNKY Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau

For more than 40 years, the Northern Kentucky CVB has provided outstanding meeting and convention services, and comprehensive travel information for business and leisure visitors to the Cincinnati and NKY area. In 1974, the Kentucky Legislature approved legislation allowing Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties to form the Bureau, which initially was called the Northern Kentucky Tourist, Recreation & Convention Commission.

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