Local ice creamery and scoop shop chain The Comfy Cow has quietly taken steps during the past six months or more in an effort to return the business back to its former stature following some tumbles in 2017 and 2018.
“Comfy Cow invested in the community, and the community invested in Comfy Cow,” said Earl “Chip” Hamm, a local attorney and investor who assumed ownership this time last year.
That relationship changed starting in May 2017 when Comfy Cow’s then-owners, Tim and Roy Koons-McGee, issued an apology for ice cream shortages that lasted for weeks; some locations only had a few flavors on hand as the company struggled to juggle churning out enough ice cream for its shops and its grocery wholesale business.
The next blow came a few months later in August when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required Comfy Cow to toss out large batches of its ice cream and deep clean its equipment because of concerns about an E. coli contamination, further setting the company’s production back. Shortly after, the business closed its own production facility and outsourced the ice cream making to an unnamed company.
After Hamm took ownership, he shuttered Comfy Cow’s New Albany scoop shop, and in September, the Jeffersonville location closed, but the month before, he’d made a significant reversal and brought ice cream production back in-house.
“We can be more imaginative, flexible, nibble,” Hamm told Insider last week, adding “everything’s gotten better.”
Comfy Cow is serving favorites like Strawberry Fields Forever, Cake “Batter Up” and Bourbon Ball but also is experimenting with new flavors.
“We have worked really hard to bring it back in,” said Kasey Hicks, Comfy Cow’s production manager.
Kylie Tate, Comfy Cow’s full-time ice cream maker, has worked for the company for three years in various capacities. Tate told Insider that she and customers can taste the difference.
The business is making 110 to 120 gallons each week for its remaining five Louisville locations. The next goal is to expand that to 200 gallons, Hicks said.
On Feb. 8, it will introduce four flavors — Chocolate-covered Strawberry, Decadent Chocolate Cake, Salted Malted Brownie and Mmmm Bacon — for an event called Chocopalooza, which will run until the flavors are out.
“They are all so good,” Tate said.
Hicks chimed in, “Usually, there is a clear favorite.”
With the Chocopalooza flavors decided, the next testing will be Derby flavors, and while a past specialty Derby flavor may return, Hicks and Tate said they want to play with new ideas and ingredient combinations.
Comfy Cow also is launching a specialty flavor called Polar Bear Freeze in partnership with the Louisville Zoo for its 50th anniversary. The white chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips and Oreo pieces will be sold from March to October at the zoo, and a portion of the sales will benefit the zoo and the nonprofit conservation organization Polar Bear International.
For Hamm, events like Chocopalooza, unique seasonal flavors, community engagement and local production are crucial to Comfy Cow’s identity.
“It’s about fun and events and authenticity,” he said.
Hamm’s betting on them to put the business back in the good graces of customers who abandoned the chain amid ice cream shortages or production outsourcing and to keep customers returning.
Take-home pints of Comfy Cow ice cream will be available this spring, and Hamm said its ice cream may be available at some local restaurants and small groceries. However, Comfy Cow won’t be hitting the shelves at large chains like Kroger and Whole Foods again for the foreseeable future.
Large-scale production brings with it big risks as evidenced by the company’s production troubles in 2017.
Right now, Hamm said, he is focused on predictable organic growth. The ice creamery may add a flexible space like an ice cream cart that can be wheeled around, but there are no plans for any new scoop shops, at least until Comfy Cow can regain some of its former prominence in Louisville.